It’s been a couple weeks since we found the empty tomb and things are just not getting back to ‘normal.’ After that first night, when Jesus just appeared in our midst, James and John started talking about heading back to Jerusalem. They wanted to put Jesus on a warhorse instead of a donkey this time, and march into the city. What could stop Jesus from taking His rightful place in the temple, or in the palace for that matter?
But then a few days passed. Thomas returned and we couldn’t even convince him that Jesus had risen from the dead. We hadn’t seen Jesus in days. We got together every day in the same room where He appeared to us that first night. At first we had met there to avoid capture by the Jewish leadership. After watching the way they got rid of Jesus, we were afraid for our lives.
Since that first appearance we met there everyday, always expecting that Jesus would show up again. I wasn’t sure everyone would be back after the Sabbath, but we all know what we saw. We hoped He would join us again.
Finally, after eight long days Jesus appeared again, and this time Thomas was with us. Jesus offered his hands and His side to Thomas. But again, no word about what was next.
Of course Jesus never gave us much warning about what was next. It always seemed like He knew just what to do and when. But we never had the week’s itinerary before hand. We’d get up in the morning and Jesus would say we have to go to Samaria, or let’s head over to Cana, or sometime it was “head across the lake, I will catch up with you in Capernaum.”
In the last three years, I can’t remember any stretch of eight days when we weren’t off doing something.
But now, silence.
Yesterday morning I was pretty frustrated as we sat and waited. It was past midday and I had to do something. I said, “I’m going fishing” and about half of the guys followed me out the door. We left the rest of them there waiting, but I could not stand another day of doing nothing.
Fishing has always been what I do when I don’t know what to do. It’s been like home to me since I was a boy. I used to go out with James and John on their father’s boat. There is so much there that’s familiar. It lets my mind work out problems. It’s where I screwed up enough courage to ask for my wife’s hand in marriage. It’s where I learned to pray. It’s where I met Him, on the shores of the lake.
The others who came along, did so not because they loved the idea. It was more likely they, like me, just didn’t know what else to do.
It was a long night, and it was not helping. Usually out here in the calm of the night, under the patchwork of stars and clouds, my mind and heart opened up. But this night it was shut up tight. Something was weighing on me. I’m not even sure what it was, but there was a pressure building on my inside.
Besides all that – not one fish – every net – every cast – empty. Even Andrew, who loves to drop a line off the back of the boat while we work the nets, was coming up with nothing.
It reminded me of the first time I met Him. We had been out all night – just like tonight, and like tonight caught nothing. As we sat cleaning our nets, He just walked up with a huge crowd of folks pressing in on Him. He walked right up to me and asked if I would take Him just off shore so everyone could hear and see him.
Well, the crowd spread out on the hillside, and we put out a couple dozen cubits. Then He taught them. At first I kept busy with the cleaning of our nets, so they would be ready for the next day, but as He spoke, His words drew me. They had a force, a pull, that I couldn’t resist. I noticed James and John sat on the shore, nets in their laps, listening too.
I have no idea how long He spoke, but after a bit He turned to me and said:
“Let’s go get some fish. Take us out a ways, will you?”
I remember thinking, “This young zealot may know everything about God, but He doesn’t know much about fishing. If there were going to be fish, they would have been there last night. Now it’s the heat of the day, and we won’t be seeing any fish till evening.”
Still, I was so impressed with His speaking, it would be a chance to spend another hour with Him, even if nothing came of it.
So I cast off and headed out. I can remember John making some mocking remark as we headed back out to fish, and Jesus and I just laughed. There was such joy in Him. He could be so serious at times, but the joy was always there, like bedrock at the core of His being.
Then I let out my net, and this part I remember like it was yesterday. First I heard a patter against the side of the boat. When I looked over the gunwale, it was as if the water was alive, more fish than water. And as we started to draw the net back, I thought our little boat was going to capsize. Then the nets started to tear.
I signaled back to James and John who were just loading their nets back into their Father’s boat, and they headed out to help us. I think we got more fish in that one afternoon outing, than we had taken in the last month. That was the moment I fully grasped that He was indeed Messiah. That was also the day He told us He was going to teach us to catch men.
As I thought back, some of that tension I was feeling lifted, but then I saw that the horizon was beginning to brighten. It was morning. We were out doing what we did best, and had nothing at all to show for it. My funk, which had lifted slightly, slammed down with such force I thought I felt the boat shake.
It was then that I heard Him. From the shore I heard Him calling, at least I thought it was Jesus. I couldn’t tell for sure, but there He stood on the shore, beside a roaring fire, signaling for us to come in. I looked at Andrew, Thomas looked at John, and all at once we said “It’s Him! Is it you?” we all called.
“Drop your nets on the other side.” He called from the shore. As we did, there it was again. That patter on the side of the boat. The fish were jumping into our nets before we even got them into the water. It was like the only reason they were alive was to find their way into our nets.
As soon as I saw what was happening I hit the waves. As I swam toward shore, I can remember thinking “I should have asked Him to let me walk again.” I got a mouth full of water as I laughed at that.
When I got to shore, I figured it out. As soon we embraced, I realized what was dragging me down, what kept haunting my days and leaving my bed empty at night.
I had denied this One whom I loved more than I had ever loved anyone. This man who had given me three years of His life, stood alone before the Roman Empire and the Jewish power system, and I couldn’t – wouldn’t – even admit that I knew Him.
We ate fish for breakfast. Some of the fish we caught, and some that He already had on the fire. It seemed everyone around the fire that morning was exploding with joy, but I was quiet.
Jesus caught my eye and said,
He had given me another name, “Peter,” but in tender moments He would still call me my given name.
“Simon, let’s walk.”
As we left the group He put His hand on my shoulder and asked,
“Do you love me more than these?”
What was He asking? Did He want to know if I loved Him more than my fishing companions? Was He offended that we left the upper room and headed to the boats?
“Yes Lord, You know I love you,” I said, with a defensive tone.
He said, “Tend My lambs.”
We walked along the beach in silence for a few minutes.
“Simon, son of John, Do you love Me?”
“Yes Lord, You know I love you.”
This time He said “Shepherd My sheep.”
We walked along and came to a large driftwood log, and He sat down and gestured that I should join Him.
This time He almost whispered the question.
“Simon, son of John, do you Love Me?”
“Yes Lord, You know everything. You know I love you.”
“Tend My sheep.”
It was then that I realized the last time we talked one on one was when He told me I would deny Him three times. Now He gave me three chances to acknowledge Him, three times to declare myself for Him.
Three failures redeemed. Three wounds healed. Three chains holding my heart, broken off and thrown into Galilee. Jesus would never speak of these three failures again. The evil one could never use these three denials to accuse me. These three sins were GONE, and I was free.
As we walked back to the others, we talked of other things, but just before we reached them, He said, “Follow me.”
My heart cried out, as it did the first time He said those words to me, “I will follow You.”
A few minutes earlier I would have been afraid to make any promises, after my last failure, after my last promise ended in such disaster. But everything in me knew I would be following Him till my last day. And this time, if need be, I would die with Him.
I will gladly take up my cross and follow Jesus.
If this retelling of Peter’s story ministers to you, would you please share it with a friend.
If you would like to read more stories from the gospels retold in this way check out:
What Am I Lacking? – A rich young man’s encounter with Jesus.
What I Found at the Well. – A Samaritan woman’s meeting with Jesus.
Blood in the Sheets. – A moving account of the woman who touched the hem of His robes.
Fictionalized John 20 and 21 and Luke 5