“I am going fishing…” I have always imagined Peter saying those words with a sigh and sunken shoulders, feeling a bit defeated by his attempt at discipleship, burdened by his betrayal of Jesus, self-critical over his continual misunderstanding of Jesus’ message, and resigned to retreat to his former life, catching fish. Yet today I hear it in a different way. What if there is some excitement in his tone, some lilt in his step, even an exclamation point on the phrase: “I am going fishing!” You see, for the previous two stories in John’s gospel, Peter has been in a sort of self-quarantine: gathered with the community of first disciples, yes, but locked up behind closed doors out of fear of the religious authorities. Now, perhaps finally trusting and activating the Spirit’s breath of life and reconciliation and mission bestowed by the risen Christ, he’s back in the world and yearning for something familiar, something “normal.” So it’s easy for me to imagine him energized by the smell and sound and spray of the sea, the mystery of the dark expanse of sky, the thrill of lowering the nets into the deep, the companionship in the boat. And yet, their normal way of doing things ends up being quite unproductive, unfulfilling… until the stranger on the shore suggests going about their familiar routines in a slightly different way.
As I write this, there’s a lot of speculation and planning—unsurprisingly even heated discourse—around how fast we might “re-open our country,” never mind who will control it and by what authority. Clearly, there are vital considerations and ethical dilemmas imbedded in these issues: who will benefit, and who will suffer, and how will our actions affect those who are most vulnerable?
One way another, sooner or later, the day will come when we will be able to return to our “normal” life, and I expect we’ll be excited to go about our familiar routines once again, like Peter: “I am going to work!” “I am taking the kids to school!” “I am going to class – in a classroom!” However, I suspect that we will quickly discover that we will have to go about things differently—casting the nets over the other side of the boat, so to speak. It’s hard to say exactly what that will look like right now, but this gospel assures us that when the time comes, the risen Christ will direct us and nourish us.
I find that it’s better not to live too far in the future these days, and it’s Easter after all, so this scripture’s good news is also for us today, wherever we find ourselves. This story, like other resurrection stories, reminds us that the risen Christ is not obvious. That stranger on the shore ends up being the Lord! Most every time Jesus appears to disciples after being raised from the dead, they need to look again or look more closely. It takes a minute. If you’re not quite perceiving where the risen Christ is today, be gentle with yourself. Then look again. And again. But keep looking. As for those first disciples, Jesus will appear. There will be rejoicing. There will be abundance. There will be a charcoal fire prepared for breakfast.