Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Jesus and Peter
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
~ John 21:4-17 (NRSV)
Did any of you find today’s scripture reading confusing? Were you surprised to hear that the disciples were fishing? Hadn’t they left their boats and their nets when they decided to follow Jesus? And yet Jesus hadn’t been gone very long at all when the disciples went right back to where they were before they met him. Hadn’t Jesus taught them and fed them and encouraged them and sent them out to baptize and to share the good news?
Maybe they just wanted to get on with their lives and put the sadness of losing their friend and the uncertainty of what they were supposed to do next behind them. Perhaps they didn’t know what to do after Jesus left, and at least they knew how to fish. Maybe heading back to their boats brought them comfort because they knew the water like the back of their hands. They knew how to fish and could support themselves that way.
Scripture goes on to say that Jesus appeared to them on the shore and found that they were struggling catching fish. Had they forgotten how to do it? Jesus told them to go and cast the nets on the opposite side of the boat, and when they did, they brought in more fish than they could handle! Simon Peter quickly realized that it was Jesus on the beach, and as scripture says, he swam ashore to see him.
Not only did Jesus help them catch a boatload of fish that day, but he also had a breakfast of bread and fish waiting for them. Even though the disciples had gone back to fishing and weren’t really doing what Jesus had asked them to, Jesus continued to help them, and feed them, and encourage them.
Now, Jesus is still teaching by example at this point, but then he calls Simon Peter aside and he begins to state things more directly, asking some tough questions. He asks, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” To which Simon Peter replies, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” Then a second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” And Simon replies, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” And Jesus says then
“Tend my sheep.” Then Jesus says a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” And Jesus replied, “Feed my sheep.
For years, Jesus had fed and taught and nurtured his disciples in hopes that they would continue his work, feeding, nurturing, and teaching others. But once Jesus was gone, the disciples quickly returned to their old way of being. And the same is true for us, isn’t it? We can come to church on Sunday and feel really good about our faith. We can be moved by scripture and inspired by worship, but then we simply go home and life goes back to what it was before. Days like today, we even meet at the table where we are physically fed the bread of life and the cup of salvation, but as soon as we leave the church parking lot, we get busy and we forget what we are called to do. Like the disciples who went back to their fishing boats, we return right back to the comfort of our lives, and we forget about our faith and what it calls us to do.
So, I guess the question is, “What are we called to do?” Earlier in the Gospel of John, Jesus told the disciples exactly what to do. He commissioned them and sent them out to do His work. He told them that they were filled with the breath of God and that they should go out and serve others as he did. But without Jesus right there with them, they lost sight of the goal. They started doing things their own way, and they headed back to what they knew and what they were comfortable with. Unfortunately, they found that when they chose to do things their own way, they could work all night—or fish all night—and still catch nothing.
It’s human nature, my friends. We all think we know the best way to do things. But the truth is, sometimes we need to stop trying to control everything, or trying to do the things that make us the most comfortable. We need to take a deep breath and take time to listen for the voice of our still speaking God. Just like in today’s story, when the disciples needed to listen for Jesus’ voice again and to follow him, rather than returning to their old ways.
The next interesting part of the story is the breakfast that Jesus offered the disciples on the beach. Jesus had just led the disciples to an amazing catch, more fish than they could fit in the boat, Yet Jesus didn’t use the fish they had caught; He already had fish and bread cooking for them on the fire. I guess that’s just a reminder to Peter—and to us—that God can handle things. We don’t have to do it all. Sometimes, we just need to have faith.
Friends, here in the church we sometimes think that we are in control—that it’s up to us to organize everything and to work hard to carry it out. Of course, that is important in many things, but we need to remember that we don’t make the sun rise in the morning or set in the evening. On the contrary, if we truly strive to live out our faith, we remember that it’s not about us at all, because the breath of God guides us to think and pray and love and hope.
We often say that we are the” hands and feet of Jesus” on this earth, meaning that we are here to teach and feed and encourage others. But friends, the important part to remember is that we may be Jesus’ hands and feet, but we are not Jesus. We were not put on this earth to fix and save everything, but instead, we are here to love and to serve.
When I was in seminary, and I was doing my field education working in the church in Hopedale, that was the hardest thing for me to understand. I thought that, as a pastor, it was my job to have all the answers and to know just what to say in every situation. I was so nervous all the time, and I felt the weight of the entire church on my shoulders. But I quickly learned that it was not my job to be Jesus; it was simply my job to follow him and to help others to do the same. I think that is something that we all need to remember sometimes. Sometimes, we can face big challenges and questions in our lives, and we can make long lists of pros and cons. We can worry about every detail. We can argue about the process, or we can pray about it and have faith that God will bring us through.
Friends, as followers of Jesus, we know that we are fed, not so that we will be comfortable, but so that we might feed others. As disciples, we are taught, not so that we might hold all wisdom, but so that we might teach others. And as children of God, we are loved unconditionally, not because we are perfect, but because we are called to go out and love others the same way.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, don’t worry about being in control of everything, and don’t think that you need to carry the stress of the world on your shoulders. Remember that you are not Jesus; you are simply a follower of Jesus. So have faith as you step out into the world to feed, to teach, to nurture, to encourage, and to love others.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen.