At least the disciples have managed to get themselves out from behind locked doors. For as you may recall, when last we met up with them in John’s Gospel, that is exactly where they were when they last encountered Jesus. Paralyzing fear can do that to us, of course, and perhaps it is so that the appearance of Jesus not once, but twice, in that closed off room at least loosened the grip of that fear. And so as we catch up with them today, at least Peter and the rest no longer seem to be held hostage by that sense of terror. In fact, it seems to me that today they have almost allowed themselves to go ‘home.’ Or at least to a place that felt a whole lot like home — particularly to those in the group who had been called away from their places on fishing boats just a few years before.
And so it is today as we meet them on the beach by the Sea of Tiberias, I can’t help but wonder this:
Why do you suppose it was that Peter announced to his companions that he was going fishing?
Do you suppose it was that he did not know what else to do with himself in this in-between time as they waited for whatever it was that would come next? Do you suppose that is why Peter returned to what was most familiar before his world had been turned upside down?
Or rather, might we believe that part of Peter actually yearned to go back to when his world was simpler? You know, back before Jesus called him out of his ordinary life and led him on a journey he certainly could not have imagined for himself?
Or was it something else altogether?
In John’s telling we are offered no motives, of course, so it is ours to fill in the blanks. And yet, I find it fitting, somehow and certainly in keeping with much of what I know of human nature and experience that this would be Peter’s impulse at this time. In times of crisis or uncertainty there is often a tendency to return to what we know the best. Maybe it stems from force of habit. Maybe it is simply comfortable. Or perhaps it is the result of our hope to recapture something we thought was forever lost.
And yet, if this was their hope or intent, it appears this is also so: there really could be no actual going back for the disciples:
- Not once they had met Jesus in story and meal, in healing and in hope.
- Not having confronted the worst in themselves even as they witnessed the best God had to give in Christ’s suffering and dying.
- Not once they had glimpsed God’s Promise fulfilled on Easter Day.
Indeed, how could they ever really go back? Or at least if they did, how could they go back unchanged by all they had experienced in the last three years, not to mention those last couple of weeks?
Indeed, maybe that is why there would not be a single fish caught that night. Maybe for all of what may have been their inclination to leave those last three years behind them, maybe in the depth of that long night where their nets hung listless from the side of the boat, maybe their hearts really weren’t in it at all. And maybe in the quiet murmurs they shared with one another they recognized a common yearning to be part of something more again.
Indeed, we can’t know for sure whether the disciples were running from something or running towards something or if they were just passing the time on that fishing boat that night. What we do know is this. Jesus met them there. He came to where they were and he appeared to them in a place which was perhaps familiar — which maybe felt something like ‘home’ but could never really be home again — and he served them breakfast. And then singling Peter out, he spoke to them of all that they will be called to now. No longer would they be hauling nets full of fish on shore at dawn — also meant to feed people — but they would specifically be called upon to feed those who had also heard a call to something more. And just like the last time Jesus showed up and called them from their old lives to follow him, this call would also take them to places and people they surely could not yet imagine.
And yet, with all of this, this is what I find myself wondering today:
- Do you suppose the disciples, much like all of us, had to make a definite choice this side of the Resurrection? And do you suppose that long night on the boat helped set the stage for them to decide to continue to follow Jesus into whatever came next?
- Do you think that maybe they were able to hear the voice of Jesus best in a place they knew so well? I mean, how often do we need to retreat to a place that is safe and sure and free from other distractions so that we, too can hear the voice of God?
- Do you know what I mean when I say that they couldn’t really go back — at least not unchanged? If so, have you found this to be so in your life? What new understanding, what experience, what hard earned wisdom has led you to live your life differently — whether you actually changed physical location or not? And how has this been so in your seeking to follow Jesus?