Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” Because of this, the rumor spread among the believers that this disciple would not die. But Jesus did not say that he would not die; he only said, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”
This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.
Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
What do you do when you don’t know what to do? Where do you go, or to what do you turn to when you’re lost and confused, when you’re disillusioned, stressed out, when everything you’ve known to be true is turned upside down and you’re left wondering, “what now?” For guys like Peter, James, and John, it means you go fishing. Or, in other words, you go to what’s familiar to you.
When I think of this story in John 21, of the reason behind why these seven men spent the night on the water, rather than assume their behavior was that of disobedience, or the result of their abandonment to Christ’s call to be “fishers of men,” I tend to lean towards this aquatic activity as one based simply out of comfort, of familiarity. And it makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, what are fishermen most acquainted with, most comfortable doing? It’s fishing. Even unsuccessful fishing—or, perhaps, especially unsuccessful fishing, depending on who you ask!
And the same is true of us, isn’t it?
For some of us, when we’re feeling confused or stressed out, our familiar place is our work; it’s busying ourselves with more: more tasks, more emails, more meetings added to the endless marathon that already exists in our calendars. For others, it’s engaging in physical activities like hitting the gym or escaping to the mountains. “Just push harder,” we tell ourselves, “just stay busy, and everything will be okay.” But will it?
For others of us, our comfortable place is to retreat, to get away from the noise, the chaos, from other people; to withdraw deep into the safety and familiarity of our homes or of our own minds. And for others yet, our familiar place is one filled with indulgence, of searching for comfort or satisfaction in anything from food to sleep, to shopping to Netflix.
But if we were really honest with ourselves, each and all of these familiar activities are really just like the disciples’ experience here in John 21, aren’t they? We spend the night working, toiling, attempting to satiate, to soothe, to find safety or assurance or some kind of reorientation in what’s familiar, but in the morning, and much to our chagrin, our nets come up empty.
Yet this is where the story in John 21 takes a turn, for it’s here that the kindness and grace of Jesus are, once again, on full display.
“Friends, haven’t you any fish?” Jesus calls from the shore, almost tongue in cheek. In other words, has what you thought to bring you comfort, peace, assurance, safety, (fill in the blank) – has it worked? No? “Then come join me on the beach,” He beckons. “Come, sit with me. Eat and fellowship with me. Come, let me strengthen you, restore you, assure you, reorient you. Come, let me be your familiar place,” He invites, “For you will always receive what you need in my presence.”
May Jesus always be for us – for me, for you – what is familiar. In times of trouble or confusion, or when we don’t know what to do, may we always endeavor to return to the beach where Jesus beckons us to come, to join Him, and to find exactly what we are looking for.
Jesus, thank You for beckoning us to come join You. May we always endeavor to return to You. Amen.
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