April 1, 2016
- Today, the gospel reading was very vivid to me. The following is the way I picture it. -
In one of the previous chapters of John, it was said that another disciple ran faster than Peter to the tomb. This says to me that Peter’s belief in the reports of the Resurrection were not as strong as some other disciples, because the motivation to get to the tomb was not as great as the other disciples. Peter was probably still feeling the weight of his immense sin, betraying His Lord, and this was weighing him down. For all he knew, that sin went to Jesus’ grave. And it did… but Peter did not know that Jesus rose from the grave, shaking death off Him, shaking sin from all of Mankind, including the sins, like Peter's, from those so close to Him. The last time Peter saw Jesus, it was after he had denied Him.
I can imagine Peter, full of rumination, walking around his old stomping grounds, questioning everything that had happened.
Was it all just a phase? - probably the most crippling accusation the evil one can insert into our minds, a quiet dismissal of the powerful work that Christ began. This was probably a question running through St. Peter's mind.
But then, at some point, Peter decides to go fishing: a sign of the return to his old life, pre-Christ, before anything crazy happened to him.
He was not fishing just for his own sustenance, but a return to his trade. The phase of his life as a disciple of Christ seemed to be over, so he needed to do something to keep himself busy. They probably reached the point where they couldn’t just talk the same questions or claims anymore; they needed to do something to avoid insanity and try to retain a semblance of normalcy.
Peter’s leadership is seen here: he says he’s going fishing, the disciples follow. I imagine the disciples sitting around, after a few rounds of the ol': “What do you want to do?” “I dunno… what do you want to do?”. Several disciples were probably still in disbelief over the reports of His Resurrection, and Peter seemed to still be skeptical. Not all the disciples had seen Him yet, and so I’m sure there were pretty heated disputes and conversations. But... it was probably all pretty exhausting, and they needed to get out and do something instead of sitting around talking through the same questions.
The disciples were in their boat for the whole night, and I’m sure Thomas was telling Peter about how he put his fingers into Christ’s wounds. Peter had not yet seen the Lord (from what I can tell from previous readings), and so I’m sure this was the thought wrestling in his head: “Are they telling the truth? If so, why have I not seen Him? Why hasn’t he come back to all of us? If this is true, what does this mean?” The Twelve were a varied bunch, to say the least, and did their fair share of comparisons and judging, and I’m sure the time of Jesus’ appearances was one that was wrought with these old habits.
And so, Peter does not catch any fish. No one catches any fish for the whole night. They spend the long hours on the boat, probably talking and waiting, doing whatever fishermen do. I think that's just a lot of waiting. (Much like evangelization. Who would have thought there would be similarities.)
But then, as the dawn breaks, there is Jesus on the shore, calling out to them. The light on the horizon is just peering out, the water is gently rocking the boat, and out of the silence, they hear this voice calling them “children." He is 100 yards away, but sound carries over the water. They hear a faint voice over the water, from a man from a football field's length away. He asks them a question He knew the answer to: they have caught no fish. They are unsuccessful. But He tells them to try something new, which they do, probably because they were bored and desperate.
All of a sudden, after a barren night, the fish start teeming into the nets; they could not pull all of them into the boat. (A sign of things to come!!! The CHURCH!!! The HARVEST!) And in the midst of this joyous chaos, St. John, the Beloved disciple, knew in his bones that it was Him before St. Peter could. But John doesn’t jump out of the boat when he figures this out, he tells his leader, giving him this information. This action, in and of itself, is a sign of great mercy: giving precious information to someone else before acting upon it for your own benefit.
St. John never left Jesus’ side; he was the only one of the men who stayed at the Cross. He was the disciple who Jesus loved, and this is why he could tell that it was Jesus who yelled from the shore. It’s like when a husband or wife hears their spouse’s voice from across a crowded hall - their ears perk up, they feel a closeness by proximity, they know that it is their lover who is near.
So, St. Peter jumps into the lake. Nearly-naked St. Peter. This is one of my favorite images of the whole Gospel, because it shows that St. Peter had more trust in Jesus’ mercy than he was even aware of. Even though he knew of the weight of his sins, the desire to see Jesus far outweighed this guilt. It was an impulsive thing to do, which is not a far cry from other Peter behavior, but it was a lovingly impulsive thing to do. Then, He swims a football field’s length to Jesus! That is not a trivial length, my friends… he must have been exhausted when he got to the shore.
And Jesus already had the fire going - He was anticipating their needs, as He always does. Jesus is just hanging out by the fire, but no one says "JESUS!!! IT'S YOU!!!" Because everyone by that time knew it was Him. This is a bit eerie when you think about it... it shows some hesitancy, still some caution. Maybe St. Peter slowed down at 50 yards out and started to get anxious.
But Jesus was not around just any fire, He was around a charcoal fire, the same kind of fire that was going when Peter denied Jesus three times. He is giving Peter the chance to reclaim his love for his Lord.
Later on in the passage, moving past today’s reading, He asks Peter three times if he loves Him, allowing Him the chance to cover the wounds caused by his denials with affirmations and healing. This is the Resurrected Christ reaching out to one who is still suffering from his sin that is now redeemed through His Body. There is redemption sitting literally in front of him, talking to him, telling him it’s not over, it’s only beginning. Now, it’s time to be fishers of men again, but now, you must impart to those whom you catch what He is imparting to them: Redemption, new life, new words of healing.
Now... after all this... St. Peter knows what this means: to follow into death, to follow into darkness and betrayal, to follow into redemption of fickle men like himself, who do not deserve it, but are given the gift out of Jesus’ love. It is not Peter’s love that brings him back to Christ, it is the rootedness of Christ’s love in the depths of Peter’s heart that brings him back, it is the openness of Peter’s childlike trust and excitement at the thought of seeing his friend again.