Don't you just love stories that are full of suspense and surprise? Don't you also enjoy stories set in the great outdoors with the characters enjoying times of good fellowship and good feelings? Well, if you love that kind of story, the Gospel story for this week is just that kind of tale. It is taken from the Gospel of John, chapter 21, where the resurrected Jesus meets his disciples on the beach of the Sea of Galilee.
Peter had just about had all he could take of the togetherness of the other disciples as they hid behind closed doors hoping the Jewish authorities would not barge in and arrest them because they were followers of Jesus Christ. So, he and all the rest returned to Galilee, far north from Jerusalem, where they could be safe and they could return to some resemblance of life before Jesus had been crucified.
Peter told the others, "I am going fishing," and they replied, "We will go with you." That must have seemed like the most sensible thing to do. After all, many of them had been fishermen before they dropped their nets and began to follow Jesus as his disciples. They knew how to fish and they had made a living doing that task long before Jesus had called them as he walked on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. They went out in the boat and fished all night, as was the custom in their day, and had no luck at fishing. The fish were just not biting that night.
Right after the sun had begun to rise in the east, a figure stood on the beach and shouted out to them, "Children, you have no fish, have you?" They must have wondered who this stranger was and why he would be trying to interfere in their lives. "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some," continued the voice. Those fishermen must have thought, "What nerve trying to tell us how to fish! We have fished all night but the fish just are not biting!" But they obeyed the voice of the stranger and suddenly they had so many fish in their nets that the nets were beginning to try to break.
One of the disciples recognized who was behind the voice of the stranger and shouted to the others, "It is the Lord!" Peter had been fishing with no clothes on at all, as some fishermen did in their day, and he put on his clothes and then jumped into the sea and swam to shore. The others directed their boat to the shore, dragging along the net full of fish with them. They all wanted to see Jesus who waited for them on the beach.
Jesus had prepared a charcoal fire and was beginning to cook some of the fish they had brought in. He was fixing breakfast for them because he knew they were hungry from all their work. They all recognized that it was Jesus who was preparing the meal for them and they were filled with so much joy that they could hardly speak.
After breakfast, as they were sitting and looking at Jesus and wondering why the resurrected Lord was there, he began to speak specifically to Peter. "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter looked at Jesus and responded, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus then commanded him, "
Feed my lambs." Jesus asked him a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter again said, "Yes Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus again commanded, "Tend my sheep." Then Jesus asked Peter the same question the third time and Jesus commanded him in like manner the third time. Peter was getting a bit aggravated at this repeat of that question of his love for Jesus but he remembered that he had denied knowing Jesus three times on the night of Jesus' betrayal and now Jesus was asking him three times to state his love for him.
Peter knew that he had sinned when he had denied even knowing the man he loved so much on that dreadful night when Jesus was on trial and then executed. He regretted his actions and words and that was all that he could think about. Perhaps this was Jesus' way of letting Peter know that he was forgiven and that Jesus had further work for him to do for God's Kingdom into the future. Jesus fed his physical body with the fish on the beach but also fed his spirit as he gave him the forgiveness he needed so desperately.
All have sinned and come short of God's glory, according to the Epistle to the Romans. Peter knew he had. Paul knew he had. The disciples as frail and weak men all knew that they had not stood with Jesus on the most trying night of his earthly life. All of them needed absolution and Jesus granted it to them by appearing to them as the Lord, victorious over death and the grave. He gave them work to do to show them they were still needed and could do something useful for God for the future.
We all are needed to continue to spread the good news of God's love through Jesus Christ to our world for the future. None of us are perfect but all of us are forgiven as we continue to work and love and live so that others will be blessed by God as God continues to work through us to bring about peace, love, and justice in the world around us.
God still needs you to be active in the world. How will you answer the call? How will you help to feed the sheep and tend the lambs, even as Jesus commissioned Peter to do the same?