I'm going fishing
“I’m going fishing.”
What do you do when you’re at a crossroads? When you need to think? When you’re feeling a bit lost, or a little down. When you need to pray? Where do you go? What do you do?
“I’m going fishing,” says Peter.
Peter was certainly at a crossroads. It’s been some time now since Easter. The initial shock, the joy, the wonder of encountering Jesus risen from the dead has had time to wear off a bit. Peter and the disciples are still hanging together, but they’ve left Jerusalem and their back in Galilee. What do we do now?
For three years, Peter had been a disciple of Jesus. When Jesus had said, “follow me”, Peter had done just that, following Jesus, walking with Jesus from village to village, sharing meals and learning at his side. A Rabbi and his disciple. Peter following Jesus in the exact literal sense of the word. But what does it mean to follow Jesus now?
Peter was lost. At a crossroads. He couldn’t follow Jesus any more, not the way he had been. His life of the past three years, his very identity and purpose, was gone. Now what?
Peter went fishing. What would you do?
Me, I go for a walk. When I need to think, when I need to pray, when I’m feeling a bit lost, when I need some inspiration, when I’m at a crossroads in my life, I go for a walk.
Sometimes I go for a long walk, like the Camino de Santiago, an 800 kilometre walk across the north of Spain. One of the things I love about walking the Camino is that you meet a lot of people who are at a crossroads in their life and trying to figure out what to do about it.
There is an old church in the village of Grañon which puts out mats and invites pilgrims on the Camino to sleep on the upper floor of the annex to the church. In the evening, the volunteer hospitaleros serve a wonderful communal meal in the hall below. The night that I stayed there, when the dinner bell rang, I found a seat at the long table. Sitting beside me was Jane, a solo traveller from England with short-cropped gray hair. We got to talking. She told me that she was walking alone, but that her husband’s family were all coming to Santiago to meet her upon her arrival there.
“That’s great,” I said. “So you’re married then?”
“Yes, I’m married,” she replied. She paused and her voice faded a bit. “But my husband died a year ago.”
She and her husband had been planning to walk the Camino together for twenty years, a retirement project of sorts. But he had become ill, and now she was on her own.
Later that evening, we were invited into the church for evening prayers and reflection. A candle was passed around, and we were invited to reflect on why we were walking the Camino. When the candle was passed to Jane she said,
“I’m walking the Camino to find out if I’m strong enough to do it alone.”
I think Peter was at a crossroads like that during those days in Galilee. Jesus was gone, Peter’s identity and sense of purpose had been shaken, and there was still that lingering guilt and loss of confidence that he was still dealing with in the aftermath of denying Jesus three times just before his death.
“I’m going fishing!”
Maybe Peter thought about that other time he went fishing, the day three years before when Jesus had been walking along the beach and called to Peter, “follow me”, and he and his brother Andrew had left their nets and followed him.
The encounter with Christ can happen right in the middle of our ordinary lives if we’re open to it. Moses encountered God while he was looking after sheep. Paul saw Jesus on the road to Damascus. Peter met Jesus while he was fishing. Not once, but twice.
Peter went fishing, and the others went with him. They weren’t very successful; they caught nothing. They’re just about to call it quits, when they see a stranger on the beach, when they hear him call to them. “Cast the net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”
Now Peter and the others, they know fishing. They’ve been doing it all their lives. They’ve been out all night, they’re tired, and they’ve caught nothing. It doesn’t really make sense to cast the net out one more time. It’s already been a long night of empty nets. But they do it anyways. For some reason that they probably don’t understand themselves, they’re open to this encounter with the stranger on the beach.
And suddenly the net is so full they’re not able to haul it in. Memories start to flood in with the fish. The wedding at Cana with all that wine. The feeding of five thousand with a few loaves and fish. All the times that they ate together. The last supper.
“It’s Jesus!” one of them realizes, and Peter dives into the water.
First, they eat together, a breakfast of bread and fish beside a charcoal fire. Then after the meal, Jesus turns to Peter.
“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”
“Feed my lambs.”
The last time that we saw Peter beside a charcoal fire, it was in the dead of night in Jerusalem, when he denied Jesus three times. Now, gathered once more around a charcoal fire, at daybreak as the light cuts through the darkness, Peter declares his love for Jesus three times. This is the act of reconciliation and of redemption that Peter needed. Sometimes we have to face our fears and our failings in order to move past them.
Beside that fire, on that beach, Peter is given the direction he needs, a new identity, a new calling, rooted in his love for Jesus. Follow me, Jesus tells Peter, just like he said before, but now it means something different. Following Jesus used to mean walking with him from village to village. But from now on it will mean caring for the community, being their shepherd, just as Jesus was the good shepherd for Peter, leading them and feeding them and eventually laying down his own life for their sake. Just like Jesus did. Love one another the way that I have loved you. Follow me.
On a beach, beside a fire, over breakfast, after a long night of fishing. The encounter with the risen Christ happens in the midst of our ordinary lives, if we are open to it. And it is a powerful, transformative encounter.
I met Jane again a couple of days later. It was a miserable day on the Camino, cold and rainy, with a driving wind that whipped the rain hard against your face and forced its way inside your rain gear. I had to cross a long open stretch, ten kilometres of slippery red clay until finally I made my way, barely, into a little café attached to a monastery. It was packed with steaming, wet pilgrims. There was nowhere left to sit. At that point, I was ready to go home. Then I heard a voice call me over. “Mark, I have a chair here for you next to the fire.” I shuffled through the maze of bodies, and sat down next to Jane. She was in remarkably good spirits, and she ordered me a coffee and fed me with chocolate, and soon enough my spirits started to improve too. And I in that moment I had no doubt that she was indeed strong enough to continue her journey on her own. I think she knew it too.
When you’re at a crossroads in your life, when you’re feeling a little lost or down, what do you do? And in that go-to place of yours, whatever it is, wherever it is, there, in the midst of your ordinary life, are you open to a life-changing encounter with the risen Christ?
Yr C Easter 3, May 1 2022, Trinity
Readings: Acts 9.1-20; Psalm 30; Revelation 5.11-14; John 21.1-19
Image by Sabina Kallari