Restoration (John 21)

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My 1984 Jetta, after the 1999 car fire which nearly claimed my life and my baby’s life, just three weeks after the death of my mother-in-law.

Copyright 2013 by Sarah G. Pemberton

Peter said, “I’m going fishing.”

This time, it was not with the old passion for the sea in which he and his brother Andrew had been raised by their father. So much had happened since the day he had excitedly left his chosen profession to follow the new young rabbi, Jesus. Peter had witnessed more miracles in three and a half short years than he had ever read of in the entire Tenach. And the Nazarene’s teachings carried a weight of awesome authority and wisdom, exceeding that of rabbis with twice as much education. Did it not seem only sensible to imagine this young, vibrant rabbi to be the Messiah for whom they had prayed all their lives?

But then, over just three days during this year’s Passover, their entire world had been turned upside down. Jesus had kept saying crazy things about being betrayed, arrested and being crucified. It had seemed impossible that things could go downhill so rapidly. Sure – many of the Sanhedrin, many Pharisees, Sadducees, priests, scribes, and lawyers had been arguing with Jesus since day one of His ministry. But hadn’t the people been so excitedly receptive to Him on the first day of the week, when He fulfilled the prophecy of the King riding into Jerusalem on a donkey? Peter could see the palm branches waving, the children singing so sweetly, “Hosanna! Blessed is He Who comes in the Name of the Lord…!”

But by the end of the week, apparent victory had turned into a nightmare. When Jesus had warned them again about His death – “I told Him,” recounted Peter now to his brother, as they gathered the nets to drag them through the waters yet again, “’Lord, this must never happen to You!’ He actually said to me, ‘Get behind me Satan! For yours are not God’s interests but man’s!’ He had only just praised me for hearing God tell me that He was the Messiah, the son of the Living God. ‘What kind of Messiah is He,’ I thought to myself, ‘that He talks of dying, instead of conquering our enemies, as the prophets foretold? Why would He rebuke me as Satan, for my not wanting Him to suffer so horribly?’ I tell you, Andrew, I still don’t understand what has happened…”

As they cast the net over the side of the boat – yet again, as they had tried all night – they continued talking together about the confusion of the night they celebrated the Passover, only to have it end in Jesus’ favorite prayer place, Gethsemane, with the shock of Judas Iscariot leading a crowd to arrest Him.

But the most embarrassing and confusing thing of all, thought Peter, was the shame that he didn’t understand himself. “I wanted to be strong for Him, Andrew! Really I did! I thought I could be brave and risk my life for Him. Instead, when I tried to defend Him with my sword, He miraculously healed Caiaphas’ servant’s ear, which I had sliced (One would think that alone would have inspired the guards to let Him go!) I can’t even swing a sword right! Yet, after He earlier had said two swords were ‘enough,’ He scolded me, warning me that ‘He who lives by the sword dies by the sword.’ What did I misunderstand, Andrew?
“…But at the courtyard of Caiaphas’ mansion, I couldn’t even be brave in front of a little slave girl! I denied Him three times! I ran away, while John at least followed Him to the top of the hill. I just couldn’t face Him after that…
“He was right. I was a fool, not a hero fit for Messiah King. So even though it appears He has risen from the dead, as the women claim, what use is it? I’m not fit to serve such a King. I would be ashamed to see Him again….” Peter toyed with the rigging, as the sea lapped gently against the sides of the boat.

“…Have we any fish yet, Brother? …Still not one? …Achh, we’ve fished all night and caught nothing! [Sigh!]
“There are no more ministry funds coming in, Andrew! We’ve lost our touch! We’ve been itinerate preachers too long…
“Still nothing? Oy, vey…!”

Now the light of the dawning sun was beginning to sparkle like topaz upon the water, as the two brothers, along with their friends, James and John Bar Zebedee, also in their nearby boat, as well as Thomas “Didymus” and Nathanael were beginning to collect their nets and talk of heading to shore.

“My children!” A distant voice echoed across the lake, in the affectionate address of an elder of Israel, “Have you caught nothing yet?” Difficult to see at this distance the Face of the One calling.

“No,” echoed back a chorus of weary men’s voices. (“Why,” questioned Peter inwardly, “am I feeling like I’ve been in this moment before?”)

“Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find a catch!”
(“That voice… those very words… I heard the same words long ago, and they changed my life…”) The thoughts tumbled through Peter’s mind as he said, “What can it hurt to try once more…?”

“Accchhhh!!!! Oyiiii!!!! Andrew, help me! I… [grunt] can’t… [groan] pull it… [huh!] in!”

But of course! “It’s the Lord!!!” cried John.

(Forget the fish!)

“I must go to Him!” said Peter, as he put his robe on. But sailing ashore would take too long, so urgent was his need. He simply dove in and swam to the One Whom He had denied, swam to the One Whom He had abandoned. No more hesitating, no more running away in shame. Never mind that he had left his partners to handle the fish without him. What was a day’s catch of fish compared to the One Who authorized such a miracle?

As Peter sloshed upon the shore, and his partners pulled the boat ashore with an amazing catch – quite reminiscent of that first miracle they had experienced three and a half years ago, when they first met this amazing rabbi, who called them, saying, “Come Follow Me!” – Peter saw that it was indeed Jesus, grilling fish on the fire, flatbread baking on hot rocks by the fire. That fire would feel good with these wet clothes. (Now how had the Lord caught His own fish, while they had fished all night, catching nothing – apart from what they caught obeying His Word?)

“Bring some of the fish you caught,” said Jesus. Peter counted the fish in the net, now dragged ashore by the other men. “…One hundred fifty-one, one hundred fifty-two, one hundred fifty-three! Such a catch!”

As he reminisced, he recalled another Great Catch long ago – so great that their nets had begun to break. But this time, there was not the slightest tear to his net. At the first time, Peter had told the Lord, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man!” Yet Jesus would not accept any excuse, but said, “Come! From now on, you will be catching men!”

“Come!” The word interrupted Peter’s reverie. “Have some breakfast!” Peter looked into the Face of the One Who issued the invitation: a Face so wonderfully familiar, yet somehow so different since the Cross – so different they had difficulty recognizing Him in everyday situations. How could He just show up where they were so readily, time and time again the past few days? Walk through walls, yet was solid, not ghostly? When they were still in Jerusalem, had He not invited first even Thomas, who had most doubted His rising, to feel the holes where He had been so brutally wounded just days before? Had the Cross been only a few days ago, or wasn’t it an eternity ago? It all seemed so surreal…

But then again, having one’s Messiah rise from the dead – and roll away a stone, too heavy for fewer than several strong men together to roll away – doesn’t happen every day, so as to seem “normal!” Yet who could doubt the reality of that warm Hand with the still-visible wound, handing a plate of fish to each of the hungry disciples, and eating fish with them? Ghosts don’t serve breakfast, let alone eat it with friends…

“Simon Peter Bar Jonas!”

There was such affection in every syllable, rolling off of Jesus’ tongue – hardly the scolding tone with which Simon’s mother used to call him by his full name when he had disobeyed as a child. Jesus called him even by the name He had given him when he made the faith proclamation, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!” The name connoted strength. However, Simon didn’t feel much like a Rock, a “Petros,” anymore.

“Do you ‘agapao’ Me more than these?” Jesus used a word for love more intense than average conversation called for, a love Peter had utterly failed to deliver, while standing in the courtyard of Caiaphas’ house, warming his hands, trying to be the brave and loyal friend he had boastingly promised to be. Peter had sworn, “Even if all desert You, I won’t!” How hollow his promise echoed again in his ears now, as His Rabbi asked him, “Do you love Me more than these?”

Peter’s head dropped. “Lord, You know that I have great brotherly affection for You.” Phileo was the only honest love Simon could honestly claim anymore, his bravado deflated like a smashed child’s balloon, made of a sheep’s stomach.

“Good. Tend my lambs.”

When a carpenter says “Tend My lambs,” He is definitely illustrating a point. When the carpenter is a descendent of David, and believed by His closest friends to be the promised Messiah, the Son of David, the point is quite clear. Jesus is asking Peter to take a nurturing, leadership role to guide the immature amongst the people of Israel.

“Simon Bar Jonas!” This time, Jesus did not use the personal nickname of strength and faith, upon which He had once said He would build His Church. “Do you ‘agapao’ Me?” That word again, calling for a self-sacrificial love Simon painfully knew was simply not in him. His voice beginning to shake a little nervously, he answered, “Yes, Lord! You know the affection in heart for You!”

“Shepherd my sheep.”

(“I’m a fisherman. If You wanted a shepherd, why didn’t You call a shepherd to be one of Your disciples?” Peter thought with agitation.)

“Simon Bar Jonas!” the Lord spoke to him again. “Do you truly love Me like a brother?”

The pain of Peter’s shame and failure exploded in him, not understanding this odd, redundant conversation. And now this third time, Jesus no longer said, “agapao” but “phileo,” which was the humbled, honest answer Peter had been giving Him all along. “Lord, You know all things,” he pleaded, almost in tears now, recalling the curses he had called upon himself a few days ago, as he had told the bystanders, “I swear I don’t even know the Man!!!”

“You know how I love You!” Peter’s words echoed across the peaceful morning waters of the lake, ringing back in his own ears. The other disciples had watched this odd exchange in silence, as they ate.

“Tend My Sheep.” Not once had Jesus raised His voice. Not once had any note of condemnation, anger, hurt, or sarcasm even been hinted – just the steady gaze of those deep, piercing, brown eyes, those liquid pools of love pouring back into Peter all that he had lost last week.

Peter wanted to run. (But to whom should he go? His own words from months ago resounded in his heart: “…You have the words of eternal life!”)

(His mind still screamed within him, “Don’t You know the horrible things I said that night, Lord? Don’t You know how disqualified I am? Don’t You know I even feel unworthy to claim brotherly love for You, when I denied I even knew You – that’s not the way love treats a brother…”)

“You know, Peter,” the Lord gently continued, “It’s true that when you were young, you used to clothe and gird yourself, and walk anywhere you wanted. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.”

Then He stood to His feet, revealing the nail-prints in them, too, held out His wounded Hand and said, “Follow Me.”

Peter began to understand. This was his re-commissioning service. Far from disqualifying him, Jesus was restoring him, calling him, as He had in the very beginning, a fresh appeal to be a disciple, one appeal for each original denial. And the price tag for that promotion was now far too clear. Yet Jesus was always right in His prophecies. Did this prophecy not imply that where Peter had failed to lay his life down in the priest’s courtyard, Jesus is seeing a far distant future when Peter would fulfill his vow?

Far too painfully aware of the potential cowardice of his own heart, Peter turned around and looked at John, who was following them up the path: Faithful John Bar Zebedee. He had always been Jesus’ best friend. He was the only one who had even stood the test of following Jesus to Golgotha, that horrid, gruesome hill of Roman brutality.

“Lord, what about him?” Peter was stalling, being evasive – he knew it. He felt more uncomfortable than he ever had in his life. One would think seeing his Lord alive again, after His anguished torture just a week past, would have Simon now dancing. But instead, he was uneasy, wanted to run away, felt he had spiritually regressed, as if he had learned nothing at all in three and a half years of following the Nazarene Rabbi.

In Jesus’ always honest, straightforward way, He simply gave Peter The Look: “If I want him to remain until I come again, what business is that of yours? YOU! Follow ME!”

That was it. No pitying, “Oh, you poor thing! I know you were so embarrassed when the cock crowed!” No angry, “That’s it, Peter! You get demoted to water boy for the other disciples! I’m putting John in charge of the ministry when I leave!”

Just the simple words, “Do you love me? …Feed my sheep.”

Peter girded his still-damp robe around him, and walked in the Footsteps which had a still-persistent Hole in the middle of them.

My 2000 Mother’s Day gift from God:  a brand, new Jetta.

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