He was quitting. He was going back.
The sting of his failure was upon him. Perhaps all’s well that ends well with the resurrection and all. Nevertheless, Peter’s promises of loyalty and steadfastness now seem hollow, something that came out of the mouth of a younger, more earnest and idealistic man.
So his proclamation, “I’m going fishing,” is a step back to getting real, a reality perhaps not far from cynicism on the way to despair. I feel so much better now that I’ve given up hope, as the joke goes.
The early encounters seem so distant now. John tells it where Andrew, Peter’s brother, excitedly brought Peter to Jesus with the intoxicating message, “We have found the Messiah!” Matthew tells a later story where Jesus got into Peter’s boat to preach a beach-side sermon. The gear was put up after a fruitless night of fishing.
“Throw the nets into the sea,” Jesus commanded. Undoing the tidying up and putting away, Peter did just that and caught a huge cache so much so that the nets began to break. For reasons unclear, this hit Peter viscerally. In a moment of emotional angst, Peter ordered Jesus, “Depart from me! For I am a sinful man.”
Jesus’ gentle reply won the whole man over, “Do not fear, Peter. From now on you will be catching men.” It was at this point that Peter and the disciples left all – the business, the way of life, the old way of thinking – and followed Him.
Afterwords, the years with Jesus flew by. There was the miracles, the ministry, the confrontations, and the healings. But this was all under-girded with the trust that they were involved with something greater than themselves. They were really making a difference. They were ushering in something that the thirsty and confused world really needed.
But in the end, it all fell apart for Peter and the disciples. The fight and the resistance to evil was just not there. The promises had no substance. The picture of the godly revolutionary he thought he was was without depth or volume.
In short, there is nothing here for Peter. It’s time to go back to the old life and the old ways. It is time to say good-by to a three year fantasy. It is time to go fishing.
They had another night of fruitless fishing. From the shore, Jesus called, “Children, do you have any fish?”
No. No fish.
Jesus ordered them to cast the net further out into the sea and this time it was filled to capacity. Unlike the earlier miracle, the nets did not break.
Peter made the connection. They all did. In another visceral upsetting of emotions, Peter wrapped himself in his cloak, cast himself into the sea and rushed back to Jesus. It was there over breakfast, that Peter’s call was renewed, perhaps even enlarged. From being a fisher of men, a rallyier of those to come to Jesus, he was to be a shepherd and caretaker of the sheep.
A late night e-mail from a friend reminded me that Jesus had earlier warned Peter that Satan would sift him like wheat. And Satan did. Peter failed spectacularly and in the future, he would fail again, publicly called out by Paul for his part in the Jewish-Gentile racism debacle in Galatia.
It is at these times that we may wonder if there was anything there at all. When everything we thought we were and everything we thought we had and all the promises we swore to keep had somehow dissipated, the natural thing is to conclude that there was never anything in the first place. It was all a dream, perhaps a hoax. It was the stuff of youthful zeal and it is time to be a grown up and get back to real life. It is time to go fishing alone.
But Jesus goes on to say to Peter, that after Satan sifts you like wheat, to strengthen your brothers and sisters. You are to feed the sheep. You are to care for those around you. It is time to take the grace you have received and give it away. It is not time to quit. It is time to be a shepherd.
In good times, I enjoy listening to teachers and keepers of doctrine and right thinking. I enjoy zealots of change who want to get out and make a difference. But in times that I’ve lost my way, have obscured sight of what life is all about, and want to lay on my bed just hoping that time will pass, it is Peter who I need. Renewal comes somehow from those who have been there – those who have walked through failure and defeat but have discovered, instead of despair, the Lord waiting on the other side making breakfast. I need to find a shepherd.