The Lord of second chances

John 21.1–19


In contrast to Adam, Peter does not allow his shame to stop him from moving toward the one he loves. Peter does not hide any longer in shame but leaps toward the risen one in joyful desire. — Feasting on the Word, Year C Vol.3 

At dawn and for the third time, the disciples travel the path from ignorance to knowledge, belief, and fellowship with the Lord. Believers yet to come will share this path, despite their geographical and chronological distance from the disciples’ experience. At first Jesus is seen, but not known; the disciples hear him, but do not know the voice of their shepherd—yet (10: 27). — Feasting on the Gospels, John Vol.2


Did you notice how today‘s Gospel Reading began? 

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias [Galilee]…

It was early dawn. Seven disciples, led by Peter, had gone back fishing. They’d had a fruitless night. In the half light, they see someone asking if they’d caught anything, and suggesting they throw out the net on the other side of the boat. They do so, and catch a massive haul of fish. 

Does that ring a bell? 

Think back to the early days of Jesus’ ministry, when it was all starting out. Luke tells us that Jesus was standing by the Sea of Galilee, and saw two boats:

[Jesus] got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets’. When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken… (Luke 5.3–9)

Does it ring a bell now?

Jesus first calls Peter to discipleship on an ordinary day that became very extraordinary. Maybe this time, Peter needs to do something ordinary to get his head around what had happened, this whole resurrection thing… But now, again, something extraordinary happens. Jesus, the risen One is there, once more. 

And he’s grilled some fish for breakfast! Breakfast is such an ordinary thing, but—Jesus is the cook. 

And he’s grilled the fish on a charcoal fire. A charcoal fire: does that ring a bell?

John’s Gospel tells us that just after Jesus was arrested, and Peter followed him to the high priest’s house, a woman spoke to Peter:

‘You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?’ He said, ‘I am not.’ Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself.

Peter was standing by a charcoal fire when he denied Jesus…and now Jesus is by another charcoal fire… That rings very loud bells to me. 

I do think something would have clicked in Peter’s mind too. Did he feel nervous? I wonder if his heart skipped a beat? Mine would’ve. 

That first time by a charcoal fire, Peter was trying to pluck up his courage, to back Jesus up, to stand by him. But the game was lost, it was all over. Jesus was in custody, they were intent on his death, and Peter was afraid. 

So this second time by a charcoal fire, we see Jesus asking Peter: ‘Do you love me?’ Will you trust me, have courage for my sake, will you follow me to death if necessary? Peter can now honestly say it: ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ 

Maybe Peter thought he’d passed the test, but no; Jesus asked a second time, and then a third, one for each denial by that charcoal fire at the high priest’s house. Each time, Peter said ‘Yes’. It hurt, but Peter was restored. 

Notice what Jesus didn’t do here: he didn’t ask Why did you deny me; he didn’t blame; he didn’t extract a promise from Peter that it wouldn’t happen again. The only confession he asked of Peter was a confession of love. 

Jesus re-called Peter as a disciple that day too. Not with a promise that he would fish for people in the future, but a call to feed Christ’s flock. 

This is how Jesus showed himself, on an ordinary morning in an ordinary place called the Sea of Galilee. 

He shows himself to us too, on ordinary days. Jesus comes as we’re getting breakfast together. It might be before your first coffee, he may still come! You may not have even brushed your teeth. he doesn’t care about that. 

Jesus often comes to us when we’re failing at something. The disciples were failing at their old trade, but Jesus showed them another way. Peter had failed big time, but Jesus loved him unconditionally. It’s not such a bad thing to fail; it can open our hearts to the risen crucified One by our side. 

Jesus can also show himself to us when everything is going well. When we do something like catching so many fish that we can’t get the net into the ship, and have to drag it in. We need to keep our eyes open when we are doing well, so that we can remember to give thanks to the Giver of our gifts. 

In the end, Jesus was showing himself, his nature, by giving Peter a second chance. Doing it without hesitation, without rancour or resent. The risen One gives you and me second chances too, and third and fourth chances. When we look back on our failures, at the times when we disappointed ourselves, we can be tempted to think that there are no more chances for us.

But Christ is the Lord of second chances. And he comes anytime, on any ordinary day, which may become an extraordinary day.

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Filed under Easter, RCL, sermon

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