Acts 5: 27-32, 40-41; John 21: 1-19
“I’m going fishing.” It seems like a rather odd response from Peter, knowing that John tells us that this is now the third time Jesus has appeared to the disciples after being raised from the dead, and in actuality, it’s the fourth time in John’s Gospel that he appears and all that Peter can think of is going fishing, and not only Peter, but all the disciples follow along.
After all that has taken place in the previous days, all they can do is return their old lives, with nowhere else to turn. Imagine the deep grief Peter must have felt through it all. The failure that he experienced in following Jesus by denying him, and now, going back to the only thing he knows, fishing, he fails at that as well. John tells us that they caught nothing. Their hearts weren’t into fishing.
Of course, things change once Jesus once again appears and the Beloved recognizes him and relays the message to Peter. They catch a large number of fish, have breakfast, and then things start to turn for Peter.
Not only has Peter failed Jesus, but now he gets singled out. Again, imagine all that was going on in his mind. The charcoal fire, a similar setting where he denies Jesus; again, the failure of being true to discipleship. All of this going on in his mind and then he is called away from the others and is asked, “do you love me, do you love me, do you love me more than these?” It’s not Jesus reprimanding Peter for what he had done, but rather, inviting him into deeper relationship and discipleship rooted in love.
They had to have a romanticized view of Jesus as time went on in the gospels. They saw the miracles, heard the stories, explored different locations with him, and all the other things we know about their journey; then the cross. Peter, the disciples, and each of us, is being called to that discipleship rooted in a deeper love. We see it played out in Acts even today. Peter has no fear as he goes and teaches “in the name”. From disciples rooted in fear of rejection, abandonment, failure, they gradually move to this deep love which uproots all fear…no fear of that rejection or alienation, no fear of imprisonment, no fear of social betrayal, no fear even of death. The Peter we hear in Acts now lives his call out of love rather than fear. Jesus confirms that with him in the Gospel. He tells him, up to this point it’s been about you and what you wanted to do, but now all of that will change. Now others will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go. In Acts, Peter recognizes that by saying, “We must obey God rather than men.” There is a change that has taken place within Peter.
The Gospel today provides us with many images to reflect upon in our own lives. Can we use our imaginations to allow ourselves to sit with Jesus and hear those same questions being asked of us, “do you love me, do you love me, do you love me more than these?” They are being asked of not only Peter, but each one of us as well. At some point, we all have to move beyond that romanticized image of Jesus, beyond idolizing and worshiping, to living out that call to discipleship; one not rooted in fear but one rooted in love. It may take us a great deal of time, like the disciples following the resurrection, but if we answer in the affirmative to those three questions by Jesus, the response is simple. It’s the same thing Jesus tells the disciples from the beginning, but now in a new light and from a very different perspective…follow me.