When our old life comes calling

After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter found himself amidst great confusion. The past few months had been such a roller coaster ride. All this talk about “Kingdom come” and the “Kingdom of heaven is now”, followed by the arrest and crucifixion. Before Peter could even begin to wrap his brain around the fact that Jesus had just died, that the warrior he had been expecting to set the world straight was now dead, Peter is whip lashed with the news that Jesus had risen from the dead. Yes, Jesus had tried to prepare them for all that was to come, but only when they found themselves living out what Jesus had prophesized could they begin to grasp that they had had the story all wrong.

Now Peter found himself at a loss. He found himself lifting his head to the wind as it brought back the familiar smells of the coast. His old life was calling to him. In his confusion, Peter forgot who he had become. Maybe he didn’t want to be “the rock” any more. Maybe the life of a simple fisherman would be better.

This is Peter’s story. Step with me for a moment into his shoes. Walk inside Peter’s mind and listen to his heart. His story you might just find is your story:

“I remember just heading out one day. Aimlessly in the beginning but as my feet took more and more steps I found myself back in familiar fishing ground. Thomas, Nathanael and two other disciples and I had been chatting, trying to make sense of what all had happened. As I felt the pull of the sea I turned and said to them, ‘I’m going fishing…’ they decided to follow along and we spent the night fishing.

Soon the night began to shift towards day, those early hours just before the sun peaks over the edge of the world. The birds were beginning to stir in their anticipation of a new day. It was in this moment between night and day that I realized fishing didn’t bring the same pleasure that it once had. The change in the temperature brought the tangy smell of fish to the air taunting the fact that we had not caught any fish that long night. The comfort I had sought in revisiting my past was not here.

I sighed, and said, ‘It is time to head back in. We are done here.’ The morning music caused me to face the fact that this was not where I belonged. This was no longer my place.

The oars creaked against the weight, the water dribbled across the water all in a sing song lyric mocking me… telling me that I am even unable to do what I had done before. I am a complete failure in everything.

As I lifted my head to the shore I noticed a figure dressed in the colors of the dawn. He called to us, asking if we had caught anything. There was something special and familiar to the way that person walked and stood waiting. He tells us to cast our net out the other side. We did and soon our nets were full. In a heartbeat my breath caught in my throat. No, it couldn’t be…

Just at the moment of my realization another disciple cries out “It’s our Lord!” I couldn’t decide what to do next. I scrambled around. I forgot how to row the boat.  In my excitement I forget that I am already undressed and end up putting my clothes back on right before plunging into the water. We were only a hundred yards from the shore but I needed the distance between me and Jesus closed in NOW. Over the side of the boat I go trying my best to make it quickly to his side. I must reach Jesus. I must be close to my Lord and Savior, my friend.

Upon reaching the shore, I notice that Jesus has prepared a breakfast for us. Then it hits me. The smell of the charcoal fire that Jesus had used to prepare our breakfast fills my nose and I am instantly transported back in time to another moment and another place. To another charcoal fire…

The night before Jesus was crucified I really thought I was ready to follow Jesus anywhere. When Jesus answered my enthusiasm with a prediction of not just one denial of him but THREE before the rooster crowed the next day, my heart just could not believe it could possibly be so. (Luke 22:33-34)

Another thing I never would have believed could happen was Judas bringing the temple guards straight to us while we had gathered in the garden to pray. This is it! I thought but instead of allowing us to take up arms, Jesus allows them to arrest him. The rest of the disciples scattered but I still just couldn’t believe this was it. That this was all there was after all I had seen and heard. So I followed the group back to the temple, holding out hope. (Luke 22:47-52)

When I entered that court yard in front of the priest’s house, I just blended in around the charcoal fire with the group that was gathered. I was trying to see what I might hear. Trying to make sense of what I had just seen. Then to my dismay a servant woman saw me sitting in the firelight. She stared at me and said, “This man was with him too.” But I denied it, saying, “Woman, I don’t know him!” A little while later, someone else saw me and said, “You are one of them too.” But I said, “Man, I’m not!” An hour or so later, someone else insisted, “This man must have been with him, because he is a Galilean too.” But again I responded, “Man, I don’t know what you are talking about!” At that very moment, while I was still speaking, a rooster crowed. (Luke 22:54-60)

When the rooster crowed, I looked up into my Lord’s, my friend’s eyes just as Jesus turns to look at me. I remembered the Lord’s words, “Before a rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” I could take no more. I simply left. My heart felt broken. (Luke 22:61-62)

Those moments feel like they will define me for the rest of my life. They feel etched on my heart.

I blink back to the present as Jesus invites us to sit and eat. Woodenly I sit down, not too near, not too far. I go through the motions of eating as the excitement of seeing him drains away and a cold liquid fear takes its place. Then the moment arrives. All of a sudden it seems that Jesus realizes that I am too quiet. He turns to me. I dread his inquiry. What will he ask me? Will he ask why I ran? Even I am not sure if there are answers to those questions.

Finally, as the quickly as night turns to day, Jesus speaks.

‘Peter, do you love me?’

Even the birds hold their song as if they too await my answer.

I swallow and cough. ‘Uh, yes Lord’ I stammer weakly around the bite I have been pretending to eat. ‘You know I love you.’

My head goes down. I refuse to meet those eyes I had denied as he then replies, ‘Feed my lambs.”

After a moment of down cast eyes and painful silence, Jesus again breaks that infinite silence with words, ‘Peter, do you love me?’

This time I don’t even pretend to look at him as I whisper, ‘Yes, Lord you know I do.’

His reply is not a strike of his hand as I felt I deserved but instead he reaches out and lifts my head. I still refuse to look up. Quietly he says, ‘Take care of my sheep.’

That hand. I had watched it turn over tables, heal the sick, raise the dead. This is the same hand that now touches me.

A sob catches in my throat. -Could it be? Could he really still want me after hurting him so deeply? Could I still be ‘his rock’?

Gently smiling Jesus says, ‘Peter…’ He waits patiently with his hand still under my chin for me to meet his eyes and when I look him straight in the face he continues, ‘Peter, do you love me?’

Faintly, through blurred eyes I squeak firmly, ‘Lord, you know everything. You KNOW I love you.’ I realized in that moment that I really did love him. In this latest storm I had forgotten who I was, whose I was. With each question raised I was canceling my past denials. Jesus had wiped my slate clean.

Jesus grasps my chin tightly. ‘Feed. My. Sheep.’

Jesus knew that I needed an opportunity to recant my denials. He didn’t need to hear the words of affirmation but he knew I did.

With conviction still ringing in my ears I realized that I was now ready to leave those shores. No longer would I chase after the past now that I had renewed my purpose. With my call clear in my heart once again I was ready to leave that shore and move on to new ground. God’s promises were back in my heart.”

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Is Peter’s story yours? From one who had fallen farther than any of us could ever fall, came a strength that built a church. As Peter found his way back to Christ he brought others along with him just as he had brought them along to fish. Peter was not a failure. He just forgot to look up in the storm into the eyes of Jesus, the source of his strength. We get a glimpse of Peter’s story in all four gospel accounts. Let us now hear Luke’s version from chapter 21:1-14:

1 Later, Jesus himself appeared again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberius. This is how it happened: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two other disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter told them, “I’m going fishing.” They said, “We’ll go with you”. They set out in a boat, but throughout the night they caught nothing. 4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples didn’t realize it was Jesus. 5 Jesus called to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” They answered him, “No.” 6 He said, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” So they did, and there were so many fish that they couldn’t haul in the net. 7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard it was the Lord, he wrapped his coat around himself (for he was naked) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they weren’t far from shore, only about one hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire there, with fish on it, and some bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you’ve just caught.” 11 Simon Peter got up and pulled the net to shore. It was full of large fish, one hundred fifty-three of them. Yet the net hadn’t torn, even with so many fish. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples could bring themselves to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. 15 When they finished eating, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Jesus asked a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 He asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was sad that Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” He replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. (CEB)

God builds on our failures. He uses our weakness and turns them into strengths.

From her book Illuminated Life, Joan Chittister says,“Faith is not belief in an afterlife based on today’s moral litmus test. To the contemplative “bad” and “good” make no matter. Each has capacity to become the other. Out of bad much good has come. It is often sin that unmasks us to ourselves and opens the way for growth. Mature virtue is tried virtue, not virtue unassailed. Great good, on the other hand, whatever its effects, has so often deteriorated into arrogance, into a righteousness that vitiates its own rightness. But both of them, both bad and good, lived in the light of God, blanch, are reduced to size in the face of the Life that transcends them.”

Heavenly Father, you know our hearts. You know everything about us. You know our every moment. You know the darkness we try to hide in our hearts, yet you still call to us… woo us to come follow you. You call us to come be more than we are. You ask only of us in return to bring others with us as we move into Your Light. Amen.

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