A John 21 Story by Bob Lupton
What do you do when you’ve invested three of the most intense years of your life travelling the country working tirelessly day and night to get the candidate you believe in elected? When you have given it your very best, when you have reached deep down into your reserves and offered up all there is of you, when you have sacrificed your career, neglected your family, spent your resources, all in the belief that this man, this unusually gifted and inspiring man, would become – must become – the nation’s next leader. What do you do on the morning after a crushing defeat when the vision that stirred your soul has vanished, when there is no more adrenalin left to summon, no more crowds to cheer you on. It is over. The awful finality lies like lead in your viscera.
What will you do now? Plans for a career in national leadership have evaporated like the morning mist. Can’t just sit around brooding over your coffee, feeling sorry for yourself. Might as well go home and try to pick up the pieces of the life you walked away from three years earlier, humiliating as the thought may be. Small comfort having six disheartened associates trudging alongside you, friends who you influenced, all heading home like whipped pups, tails between their legs. “I’m going fishing!” you declare in your most upbeat voice. “We’ll go too,” they all chime in. Why not? What else was there to do?
And that’s where they were, fishing at the same lake three of them, Peter, James and John, had landed the record catch three years earlier. And again, no luck all night long. Dawn was breaking and they were just about to call it a night when a man on shore called out to them: “Good morning! Did you catch anything?” “Naw,” they hollered. “No luck.”
“Why don’t you throw your net off the right side of the boat and see what happens?” the man called back.
Nothing to lose, they suppose. And then it happened again, just like three years earlier. The net started tugging with fish, big ones. Seven weary fishermen were instantly wide eyed with excitement. In no time the net was so full of fish that the men could hardly pull it in. “It’s the Master!” John exclaimed. The realization hit Peter at the same time. It had to be the Lord! Peter immediately dove into the water and swam for shore. By the time the others hauled the bulging net to the beach, Peter was warming his hands by a crackling fire talking with the Master.
How good it was to be back in the familiar landscape of rural Galilee where people know your name! And, oh, the joy of breaking bread with their Leader once again! It was just like old times, Jesus, son of Joseph, modeling His servanthood theme by serving up a hot breakfast of fresh-caught fish and biscuits. It was Him, wasn’t it, the One they had left their nets to follow, the One they were quite sure had been executed? It looked like Him, same voice, same mannerisms. But how could this be? Yet no one dared ask. They just enjoyed the food and the fellowship.
When stomachs were full and good friends relaxed around the warm embers, the Master directed the conversation to Peter. “Simon, son of John…” It was the first time in three years Jesus had called him Simon. It had always been Peter, the rock, a foundation stone for the new movement. But that was then. Things were obviously different now.
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” The Master motioned at the boat and net and that abundant catch Peter had a hard time keeping his eyes off of. It was “these” that Peter had walked away from three years earlier after making the most profitable haul of his career. A “fisher of men,” Jesus had told him his new calling would be. With a new identity. But now he was once again Simon, son of John. Back at the nets, fishing for fish. What could you expect? That’s what he knew how to do. It was his default role. He was a commercial fisherman.
The question hurt Peter. Admittedly, the Master had good cause to question his loyalty. After all, he had only days ago disavowed any knowledge of the Master, not once but three times. But the question still stung. Surely the Master realized Peter’s deep affection, even if he had behaved cowardly in crisis. “I do love you, Master,” Peter reassured Him. “Then feed my lambs,” Jesus directed.
What does a fisherman know about tending lambs? Leaving your business for an exciting national campaign is one thing but becoming a shepherd to a scattered flock that has run for cover all over Palestine, that’s entirely different. “Do you love me, Simon, son of John?” the Master repeated. “Yes, Master,” Peter replied again, “I do love you.” And again Jesus instructs, “Feed my sheep.”
The group was hanging on the Master’s every word, still trying to make sense out of His amazing, almost unbelievable re-appearance, holding back blatant questions about whether He was a ghost or a reincarnation or what, when the Master looked directly at Peter and for the third time asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” What was He getting at?! Had He noticed Peter eyeing that lucrative pile of fish again? It was obviously upsetting to Peter. “You know everything there is to know, Master,” his frustration was noticeable. “You’ve got to know that I love you.”
“Then feed my sheep.” The message was abundantly clear. Simon, son of John, was being called once again to leave his nets behind and resume being Peter, the rock, fisher of men. “You follow me,” the Master’s call was plain. And this time Peter did.
Any meaning in this episode for us? A call is still a call no matter how badly we screw up? Or a default safety net is not an acceptable fall-back position when Jesus calls us to risk all to follow Him? Or Jesus chooses flawed, conflicted people to build His church? The application is left for us to decide.