FEED MY SHEEP: PETER'S RESTORATION

Scripture:  John 21:1-19

GOING FISHING
To be honest, I wasn't really sure what I was supposed to be doing at that point.  I mean -- It was all amazing, wasn't it?  The tomb was empty.  Jesus had risen, and I had seen him.  He had appeared to the whole group of us two different times.  We had spoken to him.  He had shown us his wounds.  He told us that he would always be with us - he had given to us the Holy Spirit, promising that his presence would go with us wherever we went.

Yes.  It was certainly amazing.  But I wasn't sure what I was supposed to do with all of those experiences.  Christ had risen, but that wasn't going to put food on the table or pay my taxes.  That wasn't going to make the world safe or take away all of the fear.  The fact that he had risen didn't do anything to dull the pain of seeing the hatred of the world put him to death.  And it didn't change the fact that I had shamed myself by denying that I had ever known Jesus.  Even being with the twelve at that point didn't exactly feel right - the tensions were still high.

So, I decided to do the one thing that I knew how to do - I would go back to fishing.  It was the one thing that I knew that I was good at.  The thing that was comfortable, the thing that was safe, and that would make enough money to support me while I tried to figure out what to do next.  I went back to my father's home and dug out my old fishing nets - they needed a bit of mending after sitting unused for three years, but I was able to get them into working shape without too much work.  Six of the others agreed to join me, and we set out early in the evening on the Sea of Tiberius.

A STRANGER'S ADVICE

Now, when we first set out, I expected to be a bit rusty since it had been so long since I had been out on the sea.  I knew it would take some practice before I was able to get my bearings again.  But when we kept pulling in net after net after net without a single fish, it was frustrating.  If I didn't even have fishing, what did I have?  We kept at it for a few more hours, but as the sun came up in the morning, we pulled the net in and decided it would be best to count our losses for the day.

But just as we were beginning to row toward shore, a man called out to us, "Friends, have you not caught a single fish?"  It was a rhetorical question, really, because we knew that our faces reflected our failure.  He called out again, "Cast your net on the other side of the boat and you'll catch some fish."

It seemed like silly advice...  How could switching sides of the boat possibly make any difference?  But there was something about the man's voice that made it sound like he knew something we didn't know...  And at that point, we were pretty desperate.  So we decided to go ahead and humor him, so we gave it a try.

Almost as soon as we dropped the net, I felt the lines go tight.  The net was filling faster than I had ever experienced - even heard of happening - before.  It was a struggle for us to hold the lines, let alone try to haul in the net due to the increasing weight of our catch.  In the middle of the chaos of trying to hold onto the net while rowing in toward shore, one of the other disciples turned to me, and he said, "Peter!  The man who called out us?  It's the Lord!"

IT'S THE LORD!

[Laughing]  Before my brain had a chance to catch up with my feet, I was in the water, swimming toward the shore.  As soon as I heard him say that it was the Lord, I wondered how it was possible that I didn't notice earlier.  Of course it was him.  Who else could speak with such authority?  Who else could promise an abundant catch when we had been coming up empty all night?

As I stood up on the shore, and walked up to him, there was no doubt - it was Jesus.  He had a charcoal fire burning, and he was cooking some fish and warming bread.  I stood there and warmed myself by the fire as I waited for the others to arrive with the boat, and I began to feel uneasy.  

The smell of the burning charcoal triggered something in my mind, and the memories of that day came flooding back.  I was taken back to that moment in Jerusalem, as I stood around that charcoal fire, and I denied Jesus three times.  It was the time that Jesus needed me the most, and I had completely failed as a disciple.  And now, here I stood again, feeling the fresh sting of guilt, shame, and regret.  I had broken my promise, and we both knew it, though neither of us spoke about it.

When Jesus asked us to bring some of our fish for breakfast, I volunteered.  I needed a chance to get away from the fire and breathe...  And I didn't want the others to see my tears.  When I came back with the fish and gave them to Jesus, I could tell that he knew that I had been crying.  He didn't say anything at the time, but he gave me that look - the one that says, "We need to talk."

"THE TALK"

We all ate breakfast together, and afterward, Jesus pulled me aside.  I thought to myself...  This is it.  This is the conversation I have been dreading.  The one where he tells me how disappointed and ashamed of me he is.  Where he tells me I have failed, and that I can't be a part of the movement anymore...  That I need to move on and get away.

But that's not the conversation that we had.  Instead, he looked at me and smiled...  And he asked me, "Simon Peter, do you love me more than you love fishing?"

It was a strange question...  Of course I did!  He knew that!  I had given up fishing three years earlier in order to devote my life entirely to following him and learning from him.  So I told him, "Yes, Lord!  Of course - you know that I love you!"  He told me, "Then feed my lambs."

Before I had a chance to respond and ask him to clarify, he asked me again.  "Simon Peter, do you love me?"  Again, I told him, "Yes, Lord!  You know that I love you!"  And he said, again, "Then take care of my sheep."

He asked a third time, "Simon Peter, do you love me?"  My heart sank in my chest.  Did he not believe me?  Was I giving him the wrong answer?  But then it dawned on me...  He asked me three times.  I had denied him three times, and here he was offering me forgiveness and restoration - the opportunity to reclaim relationship with him - three times.  And this time, I wasn't going to mess it up.

I responded, "Yes, Lord!  You know everything.  You know my heart, you know my desires, my hopes, and my dreams.  You know that I love you more than anything."  I realized at this point that I was shouting, because the others turned their heads to see what was going on.  Again, Jesus said to me, "Then feed my sheep."

FEED MY SHEEP

After he asked for the third time, I realized that he wasn't asking about how I felt or about my emotional state.  He was asking about my willingness to continue to share with others what I had learned from him.  He wasn't just asking if I loved him, but if I was willing to share that love with others.

Because it is not enough for me to be changed by my experience of the risen Christ.  I was called to share that experience with others. 

It is not enough for my life to be changed by his teachings.  I was called to teach others.

He was calling me to go into the world and continue the work of transforming it into the kingdom of God.  The very kingdom that Jesus had talked about and promised.  He was telling me that it is not enough for me to go back to fishing.  I can't go back to the life that I lived before, because I have been changed.  And as a disciple of Christ, it is my call to help change the world.

Jesus asked me, "Do you love me?"  And then he told me to do something about it.
"Do you love me?"  Then live that love.
"Do you love me?"  Then continue following me.
"Do you love me?"  Then share that love with others.
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