May 5, 2019
by Maureen McCann Waldron
Creighton University Retired
click here for photo and information about the writer

Third Sunday of Easter
Lectionary: 89

Acts 5:27-32, 40B-41
Psalms 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11-12, 13
Revelation 5:11-14
John 21:1-19

Daily Easter Prayer

Celebrating Easter Home

Weekly Guide for Daily Prayer

Our Hope for Everlasting Life

Letting Myself Be Reborn

I picture Peter churning with emotion.  So much upheaval during those weeks. That last trip to Jerusalem.  The Passover dinner when Jesus washed their feet.  Peter had been so reluctant.

Then Jesus had told everyone at the table that Simon Peter would deny knowing him.  Irritated, Peter shook his head in annoyance and gestured around the room in his larger-than-life way, assuring Jesus that even if everyone else in the room disowned him, Peter would not!

The arrest and trial.  He didn’t want to think about it. He didn’t want to remember how standing around the fire that night, the servant girl had accused him of being a follower of Jesus.  He wanted to forget how he had responded.  He wanted to block out what had happened. How he had denied knowing Jesus over and over, shrugging and playing dumb, getting annoyed and cursing at the crowd, his anger fueled only by fear.

The crucifixion, the chaos.  How they hid.  Days later, the terrified disciples had gathered in a locked room.  Somehow Jesus was standing there with them, and they were thrilled, breathing in his peace.  But Peter didn’t speak to Jesus directly that day.  Not really.  Then he was gone.

A week later he came again when Thomas was there.  Again, the joy and peace.  Again, Peter didn’t exactly talk with Jesus.  And he had so much to get off his chest.  But, what could he say? He felt so burdened by what he had done.  How could Peter have pretended not to know Jesus — three times?

Now, Peter in his turmoil returns to what he really knows.  The familiarity, the routine of fishing.  He announces his plan.  A moment of normal life.  An escape from the fears, the guilt, the self-recrimination.  His old friends say they will come, too.

They push out into the sea at night but find nothing.  Hour after dark hour.  In the silence, Peter, repeatedly tossing out the nets, trying to push aside his thoughts, not wanting to remember.  He pulls in the nets, empty again.  What will happen to the group?  What will happen to him? Tossing out the nets again.

He can’t forgive himself.  How can Jesus? Pulling in the nets.  Peter knows in his heart he must speak to Jesus.  He has to say something.  Nets come in empty.  If he ever gets a chance to see him again, Peter will speak up.  This time, he will admit everything.  Ask for forgiveness. 

It’s dawn and no fish in the nets.  It fits with Peter’s mood: empty.  They head toward the land. Then the man on the shore asks if they had eaten yet.  No.  He calls to them across the water, telling them to drop their nets off the right side of the boat.  They shrug and drop their nets which are suddenly teeming with large fish.  As Peter struggles with the net, he tries to remember. What was it?  When?

And John gasping in astonishment to Peter: It’s the Lord!  Impulsively, Peter looks up and jumps in the water, swimming toward Jesus on the sand.  The boats pull into shore, dragging the net of fish.  Jesus has a fire going and bread and fish and he cooks breakfast for them.  Peter can’t say anything beyond asking for bread.  None of them ask why Jesus is there.  If Peter thinks about why Jesus might be there, he is afraid.  He can’t look at Jesus.

Finally, Jesus looks at Peter with a long loving gaze.  Simon, he says warmly.  When Peter raises his head, Jesus says, “Do you love me more than these?” gesturing toward the men, the boats, the world around them.

Of course, Peter says.

“Then feed my lambs.”

Peter sat in silence.  They all did.

Jesus look at him again.  Simon, do you love me?

Peter is surprised at this second question.  He had just answered it.  Yes, he said.  You know I do.

He squirmed a little.  What was Jesus getting at?

“Tend my sheep.”

Peter looked at him, then the ground.

Jesus look at him a third time.  Simon, do you love me?

Simon Peter was embarrassed by now and a little exasperated.  “Lord you know everything!  You already know I love you.” 

“Feed my sheep,” he said.

As Jesus continued to speak, Peter suddenly thought of an earlier time.  A different night of futile fishing.  When Jesus had told them to drop their nets in deep water. The enormous catch of fish.  And … something... What was it…?

Then Peter remembered and could picture himself.  The other time.  He had been astonished at the huge catch and had dropped to his knees, declaring that Jesus should depart from him – he was sinful.  But the deep and tender look Jesus had given him that long-ago day had let Peter know: Jesus knew exactly who Peter was and he was choosing Peter.

 “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus had said that day. 

Now, years later, sitting at this breakfast fire Jesus had built, Peter suddenly understood.  He really got it.  He did not need to be afraid.  Jesus knew and had already forgiven him. Jesus had loved him then, and he loved him now.  Tears ran down Peter’s face as he realized the turn his life had taken that day years ago – and again today. 

Jesus smiled as he looked across the fire at Peter and said simply, “Follow me.”

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