Acts 5: 27-32, 40-41; John 21: 1-19
After listening to the gospels for these first three weeks of Easter, it’s hard not to sit, scratching my head, wondering what’s going on with these disciples. They never quite seem to get it, despite the fact that John tells us that it’s now the third time the Lord appears! There seems to be this continuous gap for them in that their hearts are being led in a new direction through their experience of the risen Lord and then their lives. I suppose it’s a gap we all deal with in our own lives, that faith is something we do here on Sunday and then go about our business. But with the disciples, it’s supposed to be something different. They have followed and watched and rather than seeking out and following their hearts, they return to what they know; they return to fishing.
But something is different this time around. They come to the Sea of Tiberias with a lot of unfinished business in their lives, they gather with questions, and even continue to gather with fear, maybe not knowing what all of it means. This time, quite frankly, their hearts just aren’t in it. Their hearts have already moved on and yet they remain in what now seems like old hat for the disciples. But even this is different. The gospel tells us that they caught nothing; it seems as if they’ve even lost their touch with fishing, going the whole night and not catching even a single fish, leaving them, I’m sure, with more questions and simply gazing off in the darkened sky, their hearts elsewhere, and now another encounter with the Lord. Before they can embrace the freedom that we hear from them in Acts today, they must first have another encounter with the Lord and begin to grapple with and be freed from, this unfinished business of theirs.
And so there they are. No one questions who’s on the shore because they already know it’s the Lord. The gap between them and him seems immeasurable as they sit on the boat in the water. Here they are aware of the choices that they have made over these days that have led them to this place. They’ve watched all that he has done these years but their hearts never moved until now. They’ve abandoned, they’ve rejected, the’ve fled in fear, they grieve, and now they stand before the Lord once again. Peter remains with his unfinished business of denying the Lord but given the chance to be restored and freed from his own blindness, yet probably still feels the fear of judgment.
It’s amazing how much they change by the time we get to Acts. They’re like new people where their lives have seemed to have caught up with where their hearts had been leading them. They now stand before the very people that feared Jesus and wanted to see him gone. The power of Christ crucified, now raised from the dead, has spread far and wide and so the threat to the Sanhedrin is even greater. All their self-acclaimed power and authority is once again being challenged by these men that now appear fearless, free from all that has held them back in the gospel. They know their lives are at stake but they also know that they have found something greater than the Sanhedrin and anything they try to impose upon the people. But they don’t judge the Sanhedrin because they’ve been there. All they can do is walk away with joy-filled hearts. They knew they had everything to lose at that point, if they didn’t confront their own fear. They would have given into their heads rather than being led by their hearts. The disciples have been changed for good and they can no longer return. Fishing, for them, will take on new meaning.
And so it comes down for us as it does for Peter in today’s gospel about his own commitment to the Lord and this deeper love that he is called to in life. Do you love me, do you love me, do you love me? It’s so easy to answer in the affirmative, but again, Peter understands the unfinished business he believes he has with the Lord and yet it’s not Jesus’ approach. He never interrogates or questions in that way. Rather, he asks him if he loves him more than these, whatever “these” is. Was it these disciples? Or this old way of life? What are the “these” in our own lives that we tend to love more, if we can really call it that. It’s not usually love but rather a fear that so often disguises itself as love. Whether it’s our career, our wealth, our reputation, our fear, our own way of living, or whatever it may be, we all have “these” things in our lives that prevents us from turning our hearts over to the Lord fully. Yeah, the disciples eventually do and it changes them forever. But fear is hard to break in our lives because it so often is all we know. The disciples could try to imitate all that Jesus had done in healing, curing, feeding, and all the rest, but now he’s asking for more.
At this moment, we probably find ourselves somewhere in between the gospel and Acts. We may have the desire for that freedom that they experience in Acts and yet fear continues to hold. It leaves us, like them, with this unfinished business in our own lives. But Jesus is asking more and is leading us to more to a place where it’s not just imitating actions, but rather, having a heart like his. That’s what makes the question to Peter to pivotal and important for him and us. The gospel provides the image for us to sit with in our own lives and allow the Lord to ask us the same. You have to believe Peter came with guilt and shame at what he had done, but the Lord meets him there and invites him to that deeper place, that place of authentic love that will change him forever and that will change us forever as well!