Reflection 14th April Easter 3: John 21

Jesus and Peter have breakfast

Preacher: Emily Hayes


So we’ve made it! After 8 weeks reading through the gospel of John, we are in the final chapter. Although, those of you who are loving John as much as me will be pleased to know we have not actually finished with John. Next week we will dive into one of his letters.


But today, in this final chapter, John narrates Jesus 4th post resurrection encounter with his followers. First he appeared to Mary Magdalene, then some of the 12, then Thomas, and now a group of 7 who have decided to go fishing.


In many ways it doesn’t make sense. Jesus, their teacher, leader and friend has been tortured, crucified and died. He has then risen from death and appeared to them. And they go fishing. Really? Why?


As is often the case we will never really know their motivation but this return, retreat perhaps, to that which is familiar and safe does in fact make sense given all that have been through. The fear as they journeyed towards Jerusalem and the cross, the harrowing experience of waiting out Jesus crucifixion, the disappointment of watching a movement they had placed their hopes on die, the grief of losing someone they loved and then the confusion and bewilderment of his return.


And of course, the shame they are carrying. For Peter, this would have been most searing. But the others too fled at a time when Jesus needed them.


And so they return to a place that makes sense to them, a vocation they know and perhaps feel somewhat competent in. Perhaps to a place where they think Jesus won’t be and so they don’t need to face up to their failures.


But, fortunately for them (although it takes them a moment to realise this) there is no time or place in our stories where Jesus isn’t. Jesus comes to encounter them.


And this fourth encounter with this group of 7 reminds us of Jesus encounter with Mary. Firstly it happens early in the morning, “just as day is breaking.”


There seems to be something important about this time. As a night owl, this is quite a shame for me because it is not a time I often see. None the less I recognise there is something holy and sacred about dawn. That every day the sun rises and shines a light on the dark night is actually miraculous. It is a daily reminder to us that the light does shine in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.


For Peter and the others in this story who have had a hard night, wrestling with themselves and everything they thought they knew, wrestling with their empty nets I imagine the coming of the dawn was a great relief.


And like Mary, when Jesus appears on the shore, these 7 disciples do not recognise him. Now it could be because they were in a boat and he was on the shore and the light was still dawning but it does seem to be a bit of a theme. Those nearest to Jesus find it hard to recognise him post resurrection.


I do not really know why this is, Jesus is clearly carrying the same body and the scars of crucifixion. But I do find it somewhat comforting because the truth is I too often find it hard to recognise Jesus when he shows up. Luckily for them and for us, He keeps showing up and waits patiently for us to recognise him.


And Jesus asks his followers if they have caught any fish. And they tell him they have not. And so he tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. They do this and there are so many fish they cannot haul the nets in. And in this moment, they come to recognise Jesus. Mary recognised Jesus when he said her name, Thomas when he touches his scars and this group in the abundance of fish.


There is so much abundance in John’s gospel. He turned enormous amounts of water into not just wine but the very best wine. He fed 5000 people with so much food that they all had: ‘as much as they wanted,’ and there were still twelve baskets left over. This is the Jesus project: ‘I came,’ Jesus said, ‘that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ Here, in our reading, Jesus is at it again with a net full of fish after a dark and empty night. Nothing, this text tells us, can stop the abundance of God, not even death.


And Peter responds with abandon. He jumps into the water and swims to shore where he is met by Jesus and “a fire of burning coals. “Something I am sure he particularly appreciated in his wet clothes. And Jesus has cooked them breakfast. I love this moment so much. It is such a tender and humble gesture.


This fire perhaps evokes memories for you of standing around a fire and staring into the flames. No doubt for Peter it did. This fire must remind him of the last time, just a week or so earlier, when he denied three times that he even knew him


And when breakfast was over, and as they continued to warm themselves around the crackling fire, Jesus asked Peter not once, but three times, “Peter, do you really love me?”  Three times Peter replied, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”  And then three times Jesus responded, “feed my sheep.”


John says that “Peter was hurt” by Jesus’s query.  Again, that’s because the triple query by Jesus evokes the painful memory of his triple denial.


Peter stood by two fires. In the first one he stood in the courtyards of power. Overwhelmed by fear and a desire to save his own life, Peter, through three cowardly lies, abandons not just Jesus but his other friends and his own vocation.


By this second fire Jesus, through 3 restoring questions, picks up the pieces and repairs what was broken. He does this not by denying it, pretending it didn’t happen, but by confronting it.


By this fire, Peter’s shame meets Jesus’s grace, and Jesus’s grace wins. It seems shame cannot tolerate the resurrection.  When shame encounters the God who is Love, it burns to ash and scatters.


When I was high school I was part of group that was not always kind to our peers. I have a feeling we made school life not always easy for others.


Thankfully by the time I was in year 12 I had mostly grown out of this. At that time I started volunteering at a Uniting Church homeless drop in centre in Kings Cross called the Wayside Chapel. I was telling my society and culture class about this one week for some reason. In the week following a class mate named Lesley, gave me this book called chasing the dragon about a woman who had gone to live in the slums of China.


And in the front she had written this, “Dea Mil, my hope and prayer is that you will continue to bless people’s lives through Jesus.”


This was an extraordinary act of grace on her part, as I had not always been kind to Lesley in our younger years and the truth was I do not think I was changing anyone’s life. But I guess she saw something in me that I wasn’t able to at that point. Her act of grace called me to something better.


I have no idea where Lesley is now or what she has done with her life but I have a feeling she probably has blessed many people’s life. And if by chance through Jesus I have too then I want to acknowledge her as part of that journey.


I wonder if perhaps you too have had someone offer you such an act of forgiveness.


Last week Stella quoted Sarah Bachelard whose book, “Resurrection and the Moral Imagination” argues that if we do not fear death, we do not operate out of a sense of scarcity and are freed to behave in more moral ways.


In this story, even though Jesus speaks to Peter of his death, Peter is no longer driven by a fear of death. Rather he is driven to live life, abundant life.


And this transforms him.


Peter, in light of Jesus resurrection and grace is able to pick up the broken pieces of his life and become the movement’s unlikely but undisputed leader. He is able to take up the role Jesus is handing over to him of the good shepherd who feeds and cares for the sheep. Who unlike the hired hand who runs away, the good shepherd lays down his life for his friends.


I want to finish with a poem by the Bangladeshi-American Dilruba Ahmed. This poem which is all about forgiveness is called “Phase One.” It is called this I believe because forgiveness is the beginning of discipleship. It is grace that allows us too to be free from shame and to follow Jesus no matter what he calls us to do.


Phase One
by Dilruba Ahmed

For the seedlings that wilt, now,
in tiny pots, I forgive you.
For conjuring white curtains
instead of living your life.

I forgive you for hideous visions
after childbirth, brought on by loss
of sleep. And when the baby woke
repeatedly, for your silent rebuke

in the dark, “What’s your beef?”
I forgive your letting vines
overtake the garden. For fearing
your own propensity to love.

I forgive you for leaving
windows open in rain
and soaking library books
again. For putting forth

only revisions of yourself,
with punctuation worked over,
instead of the disordered truth,
I forgive you. For singing mostly

when the shower drowns
your voice. For so admiring
the drummer you failed to hear
the drum. In forgotten tin cans,

may forgiveness gather. Pooling
in gutters. Gushing from pipes.
A great steady rain of olives
from branches, relieved

of cruelty and petty meanness.

I forgive you. For feeling awkward
and nervous without reason.

For treating your mother
with contempt when she deserved
compassion. I forgive you. I forgive

you. I forgive you. For growing
a capacity for love that is great
but matched only, perhaps,
by your loneliness. For being unable

to forgive yourself first so you
could then forgive others and
at last find a way to become
the love that you want in this world.




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