I can’t really imagine what it must have been for Peter and the other disciples as they gathered on the lake shore that night. There is certainly nothing in my own experience that parallels what they have been through: to watch Jesus crucified, and to have participated in it by their own denial and quickness to flee, hoping that would somehow ensure their own safety. And then the shock of the resurrection, the wonder of having Jesus actually appear to them and now simply trying to get their own minds around this new, utterly unprecedented reality. No, there is nothing in my own life experience which compares, but I do believe I can understand their reaction now. I can understand their deep desire to return to the familiar — Peter’s yearning to simply do what he can do without thinking about it… pushing the boat out into the lake, lowering the nets and raising them again, hoping for a good catch. In fact, I’m thinking Peter can do this with his eyes closed and he probably is doing just that as he continues to work out in his mind and in his heart the unbelievable events of these last days.
I understand that, for we do the same it seems to me. In times of crisis, or loss, or fear, or uncertainty, we grasp for what we know for sure, returning to familiar routines until our mind and heart can catch up with one another. Until we find ourselves ready to step out in faith and hope again.
So I understand that, and although it does not compare, I think I can also understand something of their state of mind then. For I believe I found myself in such a place not that long ago.
This is how it was for me. I had entered into a new and different kind of work, believing it would use my gifts well and that it would give me the opportunity to deepen those gifts and to develop some new ones. I began it thinking I could be a part of making a difference. It didn’t work out that way. Before long I found my most deeply held values at war with one another. I discovered that many more days than not I was being required to do work which did not begin to use the gifts I had been developing my whole life long. I was deeply unhappy and found myself covered with a shroud of uncertainty and fear. I did not know what to do next.
I had been in this place only a couple of months by then and had begun to share some of my struggle with some trusted friends. One of them told me then that another friend had told her to tell me, ‘You tell Janet to start writing again.’ This was offered with the best of intentions, I know. But even so, in my darkness, even that I was not able to receive well. In fact, I can remember my reaction was one of deep grief, for by then I was literally not certain I had anything to say.
I am still shocked at how little time it took to erode my confidence and my hope. At how quickly I seemed to lose my way. At how hard it was to find my way out of it. I truly didn’t think I had anything left to say. It was much worse for the disciples, of course, but think of how quickly, they too, lost their way. How suddenly a world full of promise became one of despair and uncertainty…
And then on a morning commute a few days later in those dark mornings before Christmas I remembered a Christmas story I had told before. I went home and wrote it down. I called a friend with the idea for this blog and tentatively I began to write again. I was wobbly at first, but soon I found my stride, and whatever else has been true in the last eighteen months, this has also been true. In this sharing of the journey in this way, I am living more deeply into my own faith and discovering daily what it is to follow Jesus again.
So, yes, I do have a little sense of the utter fear or uncertainty or hopelessness that may have enshrouded those disciples on the beach so long ago. I know what it is to feel caught and to only know to return to what one knows the best. It is what the disciples appear to have been doing and it is what continues to happen after Jesus makes himself known over a charcoal fire and a meal of fish and bread. For pretty soon we hear Jesus pull Peter into a private conversation asking him over and over again the most basic of questions, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” What do you know for certain, Peter? What have you staked your life and hope on before? Only this conversation does not end with only a spoken affirmation of Peter’s deepest held values. Rather, it offers concrete direction for Peter, and I would venture to day for all of us as well as Jesus puts the call into the simplest of terms: Feed those whom I love. Care for them. Give them what they need. And then Jesus ends it where he began with Peter three years before, with the simple invitation to “Follow me.”
I have to say though that as far as my writing goes, I don’t know if I was returning to what I know best or stepping out in faith trying to discern where Jesus was leading me next. I expect it was and is a muddled up combination of the two. Mostly though I know it’s pretty basic and whether it is this or some other gift or avenue any one of us might be called to move deeper into, for people of faith it must always begin with the same question from Jesus, “Do you love me?” And our answer does always find its most basic meaning in the call to care for those whom Jesus loves, wherever it is we live our lives. And yes, I expect it does also mean stepping out in faith every single day, one step at a time sometimes, as we listen and watch for Jesus going before us, following him from darkness into light, from doubt to certainty, from despair to hope, from death to life…
- Have you ever found yourself in the dark place of fear or uncertainty the disciples appear to be in at the start of today’s story? What was that like? How were you led out of it? Or are you still there? If that is the case, how might this story offer direction or hope to you now?
- The question and the command posed to Peter are meant for us as well. What does it mean to you to say that you love Jesus? How are you called upon to “feed Jesus’ sheep” where you are today?