It was one of those dark and gloomy nights. The Disciples of Jesus gathered in the dark room. They had probably been skipping meals. They can only think of one thing. Everyone is waiting for the other to start a conversation. Because they all know that when that topic comes up, nobody will want to take the blame. A Man was crucified three days back. But they don’t know exactly when. They had not been counting. But it seemed like ages, like a sleepless night that refuses to end. And now they hear that this Man has risen again. How could they know it was not a dream? The tension was so terrific that they were not even sure where the line between sanity and insanity was drawn.
Peter slowly gets up. He is unusually slow that night. He is one of those characters who have to be talking all the time. And when he is not talking, he needs to be involved in some other activity. That’s why he could not tolerate the silence anymore. The stillness was unbearable; it was like a union between silence and terror; the eerie union between the silent onlooker and the terrorist who commits the crime. And this crime was committed in silence. To him the stillness of that night was like a string stretched so tight. Too tight and sharp, that if it was stretched tighter, it seemed that it might break with a noise like thunder and lightning right in his ear.
“I’m going fishing”, declares Peter in a deep and formless voice. The others mechanically and slowly follow because they have no other choice. After all, this was the only thing they best. They moved toward the shore of the Sea of Tiberias, walking as men who have no purpose or aim walk, men who go where their feet take them. They had been to this shore a thousand times. So they walked this shore again, naturally.
They were rough and ordinary fishermen. They’ve had tremendous experience with a Man they had met on the same shore about three years back. He talked with the authority of a King and served like a slave. While with Him their ordinariness became so extraordinary. Together they had been to the gates of eternity at the mount of transfiguration. But they were simple men and did not quite understand everything that had happened. Perhaps their knowledge of prophecy was cluttered because they could not comprehend how a King could give himself to be crucified among criminals.
The last few days that had passed had been intense. They had been depressed from the night they had heard the cry of that Man upon the Cross on the hill. They were torn between commitment and safety; between loyalty to One and acceptance by the mob, even confused which one was right. They remembered how they ran. They ran not because they were losing the battle, but because they could not comprehend the salvation plan. What they thought was too small a plan was in fact too big for their natural eyes to see. It was like the sun reflected in a dewdrop. And they saw only the dewdrop. They missed that victory tone in the cry.
So they ran, like we often do from loyalties, from that still small voice that beckons us to hear and obey.
It was a frightening flight. Every face they saw reminded them of the loyalties they had left behind. Now their master was no more with them. With feelings of remorse, regret and shame, they did not leave the room until their Master appeared one evening. And one morning. But it was too short a visit. Almost like a dream.
As they stepped into their boat that night they felt different. Their passion for fishing had died. Their minds kept going back to the Cross stained with black gore.
They remembered Jesus telling them that they would be fishers of men and they questioned themselves quietly in their hearts, “then what the heck are we doing here?” Each felt within his heart that he knew the answer to that penetrating and disturbing question.
But no one spoke a word. Because they also knew that if they had to answer it honestly, they would have to go back at the foot of the Cross they fled. Where was Peter’s enthusiasm to walk on water? Where was their zeal? They had been running from it again. It was much like the flight of the materialistic man from the supernatural to the ordinary; from the spiritual to the material. Their memory of their Master had dimmed. Confused they threw their nets without any aim. They caught nothing.
Morning came and they saw a Man on the shore shouting, “Have you any food?” They had nothing to give. The man shouted again pointing with his thumb, “Cast the net on the right”. Technically they knew they had been doing the right thing all night. But they were too tired to argue. And they were glad they didn’t. Immediately they detected their Master’s trademark. It was a miracle only Jesus could do.
“It’s the Lord”, John shouted. Immediately passion and enthusiasm rushed back into Peter and he plunged into the Sea. All wet and their nets overflowing with fish, they reached the shore and saw a fire of coal there, and fish laid on it, and bread. And Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.”
What grace and mercy, what love and understanding that God should appear in the midst of human frustration and suffering with fire to dry our tears, and bread and fish to satisfy our hunger.
Peter was enjoying the breakfast. He probably ate too much. When Jesus finally spoke he asked Peter,
“Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my lambs.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John do you love me more than these?”
Perplexed and hurt Simon turned and saw the net full of fish; the beautiful boat and the warm appealing sea reflecting the sun rising against the clear blue sky. His stomach was full. And he knew what Jesus meant. The lure of the material things was strong. The friendship was hard to break. But he also remembered the crowing of the rooster and the blood flowing down from that lone hill, the betrayal and the sacrifice. Grieved, but with firm determination he said, “Lord, you know. I love you more.”
Peter was a man of action. But he learned that morning that all his actions must be under girded with a genuine love for his Master. Without this love there was only the resounding gong and the clanging cymbal.
The scene that morning was beautiful. All these happened as the sun slowly rose against the dew on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias. The sea was clam. Everything was perfect. Protection and providence from loving and guiding hands: a delicious breakfast: a wayward disciple restored back to grace. A glimpse of the resurrected Christ brought it all. The background was the Cross at Calvary and the empty tomb.
What a perfect start for a day. Breakfast with the Risen Lord. You and I ought to try it more often.
(This article is based on John 21)
(The writer can be reached at [email protected])