The extraordinary meeting of the risen Christ to Peter and his companions on the shore of the lake in the mysterious 21st chapter of John, marks the absolute pinnacle of the post resurrection accounts. It is mysterious in that biblical scholars say it is not really a part of the rest of John’s Gospel but seems to have been added on. Where did it come from? What was its source? No one knows. Yet there is hardly a more detailed, moving and powerful story anywhere in the gospel accounts.
Today’s Gospel passage is the second half of the story. We remember that it began at the lake. Was it the same lake on which Jesus first met Peter in Luke 5? Another extraordinary story where Peter fell on his knees and begged Jesus to leave him because he knew he was a sinner, a breaker of the Jewish Law. “Do not be afraid!” said Jesus. “From now on you will be fishers of men!” And they left everything and followed him.
And yet, in John 21, Peter says that he is going fishing. He returns to the one thing he knew before Jesus found him. It is as if everything is over. There is nothing more to be done. The Lord whom they had followed, haltingly, ignorantly, hopefully, is dead. It is all over, it seems.
And yet, there on the shore, after a night of frustration, someone calls. “Throw your net starboard” he cries. And they do, and the miracle of Luke 5 is repeated. It is the mysterious “disciple whom Jesus loved” who speaks, seemingly in a whisper, “It is the Lord!” And none of them will ever be the same again.
Here in today’s Gospel passage, it is as if Jesus and Peter are meeting again for the first time since Peter’s three time denial of the Lord during his passion. And Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me?” Yes, says Peter, three times and with pain and sorrow. “Feed my sheep,” the Lord tells him and then prophesies Peter’s own death to glorify God. It is a tremendously poignant and moving scene. “Follow me,” Jesus finally says.
We can take from this many things. Perhaps one is that the past is no obstacle to the future. That with God’s grace, nothing in our past can keep us from true freedom if we surrender to the Lord. Peter surrendered finally here. It did not mean he was no longer just Peter, though. Jesus would shortly ask him, “What is that to you? You follow me.” But Peter is transformed. A transformation completed at Pentecost that we celebrate this Sunday. He would spend the rest of his life doing nothing but proclaiming the risen Jesus as the one savior of the world. We too can be transformed by God’s grace. Just follow Jesus.
Another is that we should always be willing to see things completely anew. We never understand fully what is happening or what we are doing or how we know the world. We must be willing to allow things to unfold and reveal themselves. We must be ready to see things even in an entirely different light. Nothing is etched in stone. It is all fluid and changing. Never allow yourself to get in a rut of understanding. We know nothing except as it is revealed to us. Every day is new and open. Allow it to renew you in ways you never imagined. That is the power of God’s grace. Peter experienced that power that day by the lake. But we must also remember that it was accompanied by pain. We cannot change without pain. But as Jesus said, it is like a woman in labor, who suffers until her babe is born, and then she forgets her suffering at the birth of a new life. New life is what Jesus always proclaimed. Life in its fullness! It is God’s gift to us. Accept it with joy and gratitude. Accept it through Christ our Lord.