Making mistakes, speaking before thinking, jumping the gun, and reckless abandonment are all his attributes. He was far from perfect, actually he was pleasantly imperfect. He seemed to enjoy life and when he was in, he was all in. So when he fell, he fell hard. ‘Go big or go home’ seemed to be his life motto. But he was also the one you wanted around if you were struggling. He seemed to know what to do to help. He was that kind of friend. And this time, he has been hurt. He let his fears get the best of him. It was irrational, he knew it as soon as it happened. It wasn’t part of his character, anyone who knew him would know this. Regardless, here he was, trapped in his own despair, understanding the mistakes made and wondering if redemption was even possible anymore. All he once knew had been pulled out from under him and he was left trying to catch himself. He just wanted to be free – free of the guilt and shame, free of the despair, free of the fear, free of the chaos. He simply wanted to be free. So he did what many of us might do when he found himself in a difficult spot, a place where there seemed to be no resolve, he went fishing. It was in his blood. The water was his resolve. He could clear his mind and focus when he was in the middle of the water simply waiting. He wasn’t alone – good friends know when company is needed. Fishing seemed like a good first step in a situation which felt more like a whirlwind of grief, despair, with an all too dim glimmer of hope. It was all so confusing. Maybe the water would have the answers.
Most, if not all of us, have been there. We thought things were going great. We felt good about our path. We were on the right road. Then, out of nowhere, it all fell apart. Everything we knew collapsed. Life as we knew it simply exploded into unrecognizable pieces, scattered as far as our eyes could see. It’s a frightening place to be. We long for something familiar, something to take our mind off the things which cause such despair. We just want things to return to normal, so we seek some sense of normalcy in a place where our hope and faith is wavering, maybe now more than ever. We cling to the things which hold familiarity and cause us to have some sense of control, even when we actually have none. We look for solutions as we cry out to God.
This is the place I feel Peter has found himself in this scripture. Jesus, his best friend, teacher, faith guide, and Messiah has abandoned him. Jesus called him out of the ordinary and to the extraordinary and wow, had it been a ride. He saw demons flee, dead men rise, lame people walk, blind people see. He watched Jesus out-smart those who were in control, over and over again. It was crazy but it was also very peaceful. Jesus’ presence had made all the difference. He had given him everything and just being with him made everything better. It felt as though they could conquer the world – until they didn’t. Peter was ready to fight for Jesus, only to have Jesus tell him this wasn’t the right way to fight – no swords allowed. What do you do when your only weapons are not physical? You run, that’s what happens. You run for your life and take out anything in your path. It was the most frightening time ever. And you run so far that you forget the destruction you leave in your path – denials and such. At least that’s what Peter did. It all came apart so quickly. And now, Jesus is back, sort of. All of it doesn’t seem to make sense just yet – this here but not just yet. And what does Jesus think of all this running Peter did? Surely he knew. Peter knew and that made all the difference. So, he went fishing.
It wasn’t really about the fish, was it? Peter wasn’t really fishing to feed his family that day. He just needed the familiar, something he could hold on to. He needed to find his place one more time. So the fact nothing was caught wasn’t necessarily a problem, probably just an annoyance – fishermen who can’t catch fish seems about right for where they are in life at that moment. And Jesus did what Jesus does – he begins to turn it all around. Fish appear, John proclaims it is Jesus on the shore, Peter swims ahead of the group. The others had to be thinking – it would have been nice of Peter to help with the fish. But they also likely weren’t surprised, this is Peter.
There is breakfast – Jesus made them breakfast. Jesus spent a lot of time around a table, sharing meals with so many others. He ate with the most despised and avoided. He gathered around wedding tables and preparation for death tables. He ate with friends and enemies alike. He shared bread with those who were willing to sell him for a price. And he loved immensely around those tables. This breakfast would have been no different. There are fish and bread and most of all, fellowship and love. The table – whether a plot of sand around a fire or an actual structure in a home – was a place where stories are shared. I don’t know this, but I am guessing Peter probably did a little more listening at this table than usual. What did he have to say? They had abandoned Jesus but Peter ran with full force in the other direction. Peter had denied him.
And Jesus continues to do what Jesus always does – he begins to heal Peter. He begins by asking him of his love – it isn’t that Jesus doesn’t know how much Peter loves him. It is more that Peter doesn’t know how much he loves Jesus. And so the questioning isn’t to convince Jesus but rather Peter. It is a part of the healing process. It is forgiveness. Jesus’ love doesn’t change. It doesn’t fail. It is perfect in every way. It is our love that seems so fragile and situational. It is our love which is often so flimsy and flippant. Jesus restores Peter because he isn’t done with him yet. Peter’s sins, his flaws, his fears, do not stop Jesus from loving him and calling him. Jesus’ love isn’t dependent on us. He loves us despite ourselves. And this is what forgiveness looks like. It looks like restoration, redemption, and healing. It looks like Peter being called to follow, one more time.
We can feel so broken, so unworthy. We can beat ourselves up for things not said or too much being spoken. We can give up on ourselves, knowing we are not the disciples we are called to be – it’s too hard, there are too many things going on, our lives feel in utter chaos. We may run to the safety of what we know. But that urge, that deep longing to follow, will remain. We can’t run far enough to escape God’s love – the Psalmist reminds us of that over and over. There is no where we go where God is not. We haven’t run too far or become too hopeless. Our situation does not define us and neither do our mistakes. We are not useless or abandoned. We are God’s. And he isn’t done with us yet.
Despite what our situation may tell us or the lies in our minds may feed us, we are not too far gone. We are a child of the King. We are God’s beloved. We are made for good things and called according to his purpose. We may look like are nothing more than a hot mess, but God doesn’t see what we see. He knows our heart and our longing. And just like with Peter, he restores us and calls us to follow. Follow me – he says to us even when we feel like we have let him down. Follow me – he calls when feel unworthy. Follow me – when everything else has collapsed. Follow me.
What restoration and healing do you need today? Where have you run so far only to find there really isn’t any place to go? How have you felt unworthy? God is not done with you. He sees something in you that is beautiful and treasured. He sees good where you see flaws. God knows you and he calls you to follow. What will your answer be?
Peter followed all the way to death – may we do the same.