This is the question that the disciples appeared to have in our text for this morning. Here is a brief review of the past few days in their lives:
- Jesus is killed on a cross and they all flee.
- Yet 3 days later, on Sunday morning Jesus appears to Mary, though no one believes her.
- Yet, that night Jesus appears again to the disciples in the upper room.
- A week later, Jesus appears again, this time to the disciples including Thomas.
- Yes, they were joyful…..but also scared.
- Jesus had told them to go to Galilee….he would meet them there.
- But no real explanation… and it may have been many days since Jesus last appeared.
- They were still perhaps scared of the Jewish leaders.
- What could all of this mean? What should they be doing???
Our text finds 7 of the disciples (5 of them named) at the Sea of Galilee. They are no doubt feeling as though they are at a dead end. What has the past three years been all about? So much disappointment. Despite their promises to always stick with Jesus they had all fled in the hour of trouble. They had all failed him. It’s true that following his death and burial he had miraculously appeared to them on two different occasions – and while they expressed joy, they were also afraid. What did this all mean? What were they to do now??
So Peter decides to go fishing and the others agree to come along. They fish all night long with no luck, not even a single fish caught. In the morning, Jesus – who they don’t recognize – calls to them from the shore. “Any luck? Any fish?” “No”, they answer. “Throw your nets down on the right side of the boat, and you’ll find some.” When they do that, sure enough, they experience a catch so large they can’t even haul it in. Did this scene remind them of their original call by Jesus recorded back in Luke chapter 5? Did something seem unusual and yet similar? We don’t know….but John appears to have recognized the man on the shore as “the Lord”. Peter jumps in to hurry ashore. The others follow with the boat, net, and fish. Jesus waits for them, having already prepared a fire and some food. “Bring some of the fish you’ve just caught. Let’s have breakfast.” The disciples know it’s Jesus but are too hesitant to confirm it with questions.
In the remaining portion of chapter 21 we read the important conversation between Jesus and Peter. Three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Three times Peter answers, with rising consternation “Lord, you know that I do.” “Then feed my sheep. Take care of my lambs” Jesus tells him. It seems clear that Jesus is recommissioning Peter for more work – despite having denied Jesus and failing him three times prior to the crucifixion. While Peter and the others had all deserted the Lord in his hour of trial, he yet intends to send them out again, just as he had three years prior. He had already breathed the Holy Spirit on them and offered special peace. We will soon see that Jesus instructs them to wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes on them with special power. Then their true calling would be more deeply understood and accomplished.
While this account begins with the disciples sensing a dead end and confusion about their future, we find the story ending with a doorway. The disciples (and especially Peter) are invited back in…. are re-commissioned for fishing. They are not only forgiven but given meaningful work. Take care of my sheep. Follow Me. And so what began as a disaster, ends with an open door for continued fishing / service.
How about us…..personally…..and as a church? Have we ever felt like we were facing a dead end? Have we ever felt a lack of clarity… not sure what was next?
The days and months following the great earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown in Tohoku, Japan on March 11th of 2011 brought such a time to all of us. How should we function as churches? How could we bring relief to the hardest hit areas? What did God want us to be doing? How could we best coordinate our efforts and steward our limited resources? While NOTHING we did could ever take away the grief, the sorrow, the terror that so many had gone through….yet, as the months and years of relief work continued it became clear that over and over, what had appeared to be a total dead end…..was in many cases a door that God opened for new ministry. The Holy Spirit was indeed working through many weak and often fallible servants to bring about kingdom fruit.
As I’ve read this account this week, the following points remain in my mind for further reflection:
- Keep fishing! (don’t give up, just because we fail)
- Try something different. (try the right side of the boat!)
- Bring some of the fish that you’ve just caught. (God will work with us, but desires to use our gifts and abilities.)
- It might feel like a dead end at times. But God may be opening new doors!
Holy Spirit, help us to apply these wonderful examples to our own life together here at JCC!
(the above is a summary of the message shared during our worship time on April 30, 2023.)