Third Sunday of Easter (Easter 3)

Called and re-called

Let us pray:
Living God,
Christ is indeed worthy of all praise;
he died, and is risen from the dead.
Feed us with your grace,
that in times of success or failure
we may find life
in following you
for the sake of Jesus the Lord. Amen.

Reading
John 21.1-19

Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed!

The sun came up one day and shone on Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John, the fishermen. It was an ordinary day. They set out in their boats and had fished all night. They caught nothing and came back to shore disappointed.

A teacher came and sat in Simon’s boat, and taught the people. Then he said to Simon,

Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.

Despite his better judgement, that’s just what Simon Peter did with his brother Andrew. There were so many fish that their nets threatened to break, so they called James and John, their partners, to come and help. And they brought the fish to shore.

The name of the teacher was Jesus; Simon wanted him to leave, because in the presence of Jesus he was made more aware of his shortcomings. But Jesus told Simon,

Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.

Their lives were never the same again.

They followed Jesus. They became disciples, ‘learners’ or ‘students’. Jesus was the master artisan who was teaching them a trade—the trade of proclaiming the coming kingdom of God in word and deed.

Jesus taught in parables and riddles. He healed and cast out demonic forces. He embodied the message of God’s kingdom. In time, the disciples were to realise with amazed awe that Jesus was embodying God.

The disciples followed this teacher. And often, they just plain got it wrong. They don’t understand, they are slow to believe, Jesus says that they are people of little faith. He must have been exasperated with them sometimes, but he kept going with them. Jesus never sent any of them away.

But you know, the time came when Peter nearly blew it for good. It was the night Jesus was arrested. You remember the story: at the Last Super, Jesus tells the disciples that they will all run; Peter says Not I! Jesus says that Peter will deny him three times before the cock crows twice.

And that’s how it played out. Peter was in the courtyard of the high priest’s house. He was intimidated by a servant-girl among others. He denied knowing Jesus, and when the cock crowed the second time he went out and wept bitterly.

What could Peter do?

We heard last week the story of the Risen Lord Jesus appearing to the disciples in a locked room. They were there in fear when Jesus appeared to them.

I sometimes wonder what Peter thought Jesus would say to him. Would he tell him it was over? That he’d blown it once too often? Remember what happened:

Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’

Peace be with you. Including you, Peter. We don’t hear about Peter’s reaction here. The spotlight was on Thomas. But today, we turn to Peter at Lake Galilee, where he says:

I am going fishing.

That’s all Peter says. I’m off fishing. I wonder what he means? I wonder if he means I’ll go back to fishing. I’m only good for what I used to do. Jesus is risen from the dead, he can do anything. He doesn’t need a failure like me any more.

The others go with him. Perhaps they’re at a loose end. Doesn’t it boggle the mind? Christ is risen—and they don’t know what to do with themselves. It seems that in John’s story of Jesus, it’s been a while since Jesus had appeared. The disciples were at a loose end. Perhaps they thought that was all there was.

So they’re fishing. And just like right at the beginning, they catch nothing. Nada. Nowt.

A figure tells them to to throw the net on the right side of the boat. They’re not expecting Jesus, they don’t see it’s Jesus.

They do what the stranger says, and it’s happening all over again. The nets are straining.

Peter twigs. It’s the Lord! he shouts and puts on some clothes and jumps into the water. In his joy, he leaves the others to drag the net in. And you know, they don’t seem to mind.

Then comes a twist in the tale. Jesus speaks personally to Simon Peter.

Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?
—Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.
Feed my lambs.

Simon, son of John, do you love me?
—Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.
Tend my sheep.

Simon, son of John, do you love me?
—Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.
Feed my sheep.

Students of Greek sometimes get hung up on this passage. the Gospel of John, like the rest of the New Testament, was originally written in Greek; and there are two words for love here in this passage. I won’t bother you with what they are, because on this occasion it’s irrelevant.

John was using different words for love, and different words that do translate into English (feed/tend, sheep/lambs) for stylistic reasons. I can still hear my English teachers saying, Don’t use the same word twice in the same sentence! John used different words for variation.

The point is not which Greek words are used. The point is this:

Jesus is both showing Peter that he is forgiven for denying Jesus, and he is re-calling him to God’s mission.

This whole episode has taken Peter back to the beginning, where faith was new and fresh and exciting, and it has re-connected a sadder and wiser Peter to that beginning.

Once again, Jesus has shown the fishers where the fish are. But something else has happened: he has shown Peter that there’s a second chance. Three times Peter denies Jesus; three times Jesus calls him back. Remember that last question? John says,

Peter felt hurt because Jesus said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’

Peter finally got it, and he felt hurt. Jesus put his finger on a sore spot, the hurt that was keeping Peter from following Jesus, the hurt that led him to go aimlessly fishing. But even when Peter was aimlessly fishing, Jesus found him.

That first day, right back at the beginning, Jesus said,

Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.

Now it’s ‘Feed my lambs… Tend my sheep…’ But it’s the same call to follow Jesus. This time though it’s given to a Peter who had lost the way, a Peter who is being called back on track. And this time, it’s to follow a risen Lord who has overcome death itself.

When we read about Peter and what happens to him, so often we find that we’re reading about ourselves. Perhaps like me you can remember times when it was exciting to be a Christian; perhaps you can also remember when it seemed that Jesus didn’t appear for a while, and it all seemed a bit lame. A little bit pointless.

But Jesus is still there. Sometimes, we don’t see him because we’re carrying an unnecessary burden of sin. Just like Peter was. The guilt of denying Jesus was crushing him, and he needed Jesus to set him free. Perhaps we too need to ask forgiveness.

But Jesus always waits for the right time to come to us. He could have had this conversation with Peter earlier. Why didn’t he? I wonder if Peter would have heard earlier. I wonder if Peter would have even realised that the stranger on the beach was Jesus. I think Jesus chose the time when Peter was ready to hear that he was freed to serve, free to really live.

And finally, perhaps Jesus does come to us sometimes, and we don’t realise he’s there. We don’t want to let go of what is keeping us from him. We’d rather drift away, thank you very much.

Jesus calls us to follow him, and he re-calls us. Perhaps he needs to re-call some of us several times. He wants to restore us, to give us true resurrection life and purpose in following him on God’s mission.

Let’s spend a few moments with the Lord, silently listening to what he brings to our minds here and now.

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