Talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words. Or as Rachel Held Evans (an amazing Christian author who died suddenly this past week) has said:
Christianity isn’t meant to simply be believed; it’s meant to be lived, shared, eaten, spoken, and enacted in the presence of other people.
Rachel Held Evans passing this week is a true loss for the modern church. Yet her contributions to building the kingdom of God through her written witness to faith, spirituality and the church remain a treasure for all of us. Today, I invite you to reflect on her words (above) through the lens of a wonderful story from the gospel of John.
Later, Jesus himself appeared again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. This is how it happened: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus ), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two other disciples were together. Simon Peter told them, “I’m going fishing.” They said, “We’ll go with you.”
Now recall with me: what had Jesus told the disciples to do?
As soon as I hear this story, my mind goes to a similar story from the other gospel. A story where Jesus meets the disciples for the first time and calls them from their boats, from fishing for fish to begin fishing for people. And when You think about that story and this one, you cannot help but wonder why the disciples have gone back to exactly the place that Jesus called them from. They have gone back to doing the very thing Jesus called them from. Instead of fishing for men, they are right back to fishing for fish.
[The disciples] set out in a boat, but throughout the night they caught nothing.
They caught nothing! Go figure. Jesus has called them to fish for men, right? That is what they are supposed to be doing. So no wonder that caught nothing. Jesus had spent time preparing them to fish for people. Of course they catch nothing. They have stopped following Jesus and started following fish!
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples didn’t realize it was Jesus.
Again, this story is sounds a lot like the disciples call story from the other gospels. A story not told by John. But clearly John has something he wants to say about this story from the other gospels.
Jesus called to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”
They answered him, “No.”
He said, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”
Jesus calls them children like he had done before. But the disciples don’t get it. They don’t recognize its him. But they do follow his instruction. Maybe because they hadn’t caught anything and they had nothing to lose. Maybe because subconsciously they did know it was him. They had been here before. And here they are again.
So they did, and there were so many fish that they couldn’t haul in the net. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!”
Oh, ok. So, you catch fish and NOW you get it. Maybe the disciples had honestly forgotten that first encounter from years ago. And maybe it took the full nets to finally jar that memory from the back of their hearts and minds. Whatever it was, just imagine that moment of clarity. Imagine the light bulb going off! For Peter it was pretty powerful…
When Simon Peter heard it was the Lord, he wrapped his coat around himself (for he was naked) and jumped into the water.
Now this has to make you stop in your tracks reading. He’s naked? What in the world is he doing fishing in a boat naked? That is not the way I fish, for sure. And most definitely not with a bunch of other guys. I mean if I was going to fish naked, I tend to think I would do it alone. So something weird is going on here.
In fact, some have connected this scene to Adam and Eve being naked in the garden. They describe Peter as this new Adam who once awakened covers himself and runs to God instead of running away like Adam. And it is Jesus, of course, who entices him to run. Jesus being the son of God who beckons us to stop running and brings us back to God. Maybe so. I like the idea. But I’m not 100% sold.
I’m not sold, in part, because naked here doesn’t necessarily mean buck naked. It is a relative term and could just signify he had an outer garment off because he was hard at work. When he saw Jesus, he quickly throws it back on and starts swimming, indicating his excitement and hurry.
Whichever it is, the image certainly cause you to stop and think about Peter going toward Jesus. And that is significant because not too long ago Peter had run away from Jesus by denying his relationship with him. But, Peter is no longer running from Jesus. He is fervently moving towards him. And that is, I think the larger point here.
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.
When they landed, they saw a fire there, with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you’ve just caught.”
I have to pause again here. Paying attention to similarities and patterns in the Bible is so important. What does this sound like here?
Let me remind you the beginning of another story from an earlier chapter of John:
After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.
Sea of Tiberius. Sound familiar? It should!
A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.
Jesus tests Phillip by asking him how they could feed all the people. Phillip says no way they can. And Peter’s brother, Andrew, mentions a boy who has five loaves and two fish.
Bread, fish, and the sea of Tiberius. You think there might be some connection between these stories? Yeah, I think so. This story is inviting us to recall the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. It’s a story of communion, a story of serving people, a story of following Jesus instructions, a story of people deciding to following Jesus because of food service and provision. Keep all this in mind as we keep reading!
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. 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. Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Again, we are reminded of communion. Jesus taking the bread and fish. (I know fish sounds strange to us, but there are many images from the early church of communion being a meal not of bread and wine, but of bread and fish. So this is really not an unusual communion image at all.)
I love this next line: they couldn’t bring themselves to ask if it was Jesus because they knew it was Jesus. You would think they would at least cry out Hey Jesus! It’s you! Your back, again…a third time. What’s up? How it going? How’s heaven? How’s God doing? Everything good up that way?
But nothing. No greetings, no questions, no real conversation. Jesus just says to come eat. They do. And it’s like Jesus serves them in silence.
I have to wonder what that silence might be about. Peter has just swam from the boat all excited to see Jesus. But, he’s just silent. And so I can’t help but wonder what’s going on. Are they feeling something? …realizing that something’s not right? Like, “Uh oh, Jesus is back….again.” Like a parent checking in on the kids to see if they are doing what they are supposed to be doing. And the kids – knowing they aren’t – just sit still. Silent. Waiting to see if they’re in trouble. Well, we’ll see….
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.”
In fact, I just swam all this way to get to you. Of course I love you!
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
Uh oh. The disciples gotta know that there is definitely a reason Jesus is here now, right? He’s got something to say. But he’s not cracking down on us. He doesn’t seem angry or anything. I mean he is feeding us after all. But he clearly wants us to do something.
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.”
Oh, um ok. Yeah, I mean Jesus we were just fishing, you know. We needed some food and you know this was kinda our thing before you came along. And it’s been really hard without you. And so fishing just kinda seemed like the thing to do…. but Jesus interrupts…
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?”
You have to know what this third time meant to Peter, right? Peter denies him three times. And now Jesus ask him if he loves him three times. I gotta believe Peter is thinking to himself, “What am I supposed to say? I messed up. I know that. But I’m different now. I get it. I’m sorry. What do I do? Does he not believe me? What else can I do?” So…
He replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. I assure you that when you were younger you tied your own belt and walked around wherever you wanted. When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and another will tie your belt and lead you where you don’t want to go.” He said this to show the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. After saying this, Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me.”
Follow me. And there it is. Jesus hints that Peter will follow him even to execution (And tradition tells us that he was executed in Rome under emperor Nero in AD 64). Jesus calls Peter to feed his sheep even if it means his life. Feed sheep because that is what Jesus did throughout his ministry.
Follow me. Feed my sheep. Don’t go back to fishing for fish. Fish for people! Don’t ever fish for fish again. I have already called you away from that. You may think I am gone and so you stop following me. But I am not gone. Keep following me! Follow me until you die!
In other words, if you love Jesus, then do something about it.
This story is about living your faith. If you have decided to follow Jesus, then do something, take action, feed and tend those who are Jesus sheep.
Now, a little insight from the language that is used in this story. When Jesus says to feed and tend his sheep…
Feed – βόσκω (bosko) – means to feed, nourish, support, maintain, keep
Tend – ποιμαίνω (poimaino) – literally means, act like a shepherd
The first is about nourishing, supporting, sustaining. The second is about protecting, guarding, directing, leading (in the sense of servant leadership, not commanding cause sheep don’t respond to commands. They respond to one who cares for them, serves them, and bring them back to the flock.
Jesus doesn’t just call Peter to this work. This story is here at the end of the gospel of John to call us all to feed and tend Christ’s sheep. As Jesus asks Peter who denied him three times, so Jesus asks each of us who have probably throughout our lives done things that have denied Jesus far more than three times. He asks Peter and he asks us, “Do you love me?”
Jesus says to us today: Will you go back to your old life? Will you seek the fish you once sought? Will you chase the things of this world? Or will you love me? Will you follow me? Doing so means taking care of those I love…and I love everyone.
This isn’t an argument about faith or works saving us. This is a message about faith and works. This is a story of how inseparable they are. Faith calls us to work. And work speaks of our faith.
So, brothers and sisters, what will you do to love Jesus? What will you do to believe? How does your faith show up in your work? How does your work speak of your faith? And, in your life, how is Christianity more than belief?