Forgetting the past.
by Bob Hostetler
The man called to them from where He stood on the shore. “Friends,” He said, “you do not have any fish, do you?”
Peter glanced at John, one of the six others who had fished with Him through the night. He nodded in the direction of the man on shore, as if to say, “What’s with this guy?”
Back to Galilee
“No!” John called out, his weariness and frustration surfacing in his voice. They had returned the night before to this sea, this boat, these nets. It had been well over a week since their Master, Jesus, had miraculously, unbelievably risen from the dead and appeared to them in the upper room.
He had promised His followers to meet them in Galilee. So they journeyed there, not knowing when He might appear again. When they arrived on the crest of the hill that overlooked the sparkling blue waters of the Sea of Galilee, where several of them once earned their living as fishermen, Peter slapped James on the back and said, with a twinkle in his eye, “I’m going fishing!”
It was good to again wrap their hands around the rough ropes, hear the waves lapping against the side of the boat, and feel the spray of the water on their faces. But as the night had worn on and they repeatedly drew out empty nets, the thrill subsided. They began to wonder where all the fish were. They began to tire and get discouraged.
And then, just as dawn crept over the hills to the east, washing the Galilee in sunlight, the man called to them from the shore.
“Cast the net on the right side of the boat,” He called now, prompting another puzzled look between Peter and John. It was an odd suggestion; fishing from the right side would be backwards, like rowing a boat while facing forward. But they were just tired enough to obey, and with a shrug, they dropped the net over the other side.
Instantly, the two men felt the ropes tighten; the small vessel listed to that side.
Jesus on the shore
“Thomas! Nathanael!” Peter called, summoning his friends to help. He gripped the laden net more tightly, amazed at the suddenness and weight of the catch. Then he felt John’s hand tighten on his arm.
“It is the Lord,” John said.
Peter followed John’s unblinking gaze and looked again at the man on the shore. This time he recognized Jesus’ form and understood the invitation in His earlier words. Peter quickly picked up his fishing shirt and threw it around himself before leaping from the boat and swimming to shore, leaving the others to guide the boat the short distance to land.
Several of the men noticed the charcoal fire and the fish and bread that already cooked there. But Jesus nodded in the direction of the boat. “Bring some of the fish you have caught,” He said. The men wrestled the brimming net ashore and added several of their own musht to the meal.
Food and talk
They all sat or crouched around the fire as Jesus began dividing the bread and fish among them. As they ate, their initial nervousness subsided, and they talked. Jesus guided the conversation, and at various points in the discussion seemed to go from man to man, asking what each had been doing, thinking, and feeling since His death and resurrection.
Some of the things He said were light, as when He asked James and John how their mother was getting along. Some of the conversation was more serious and searching, as when He questioned Thomas about faith or when He leaned toward Peter, who’d been uncharacteristically subdued during the meal.
“Simon, son of John,” Jesus asked Peter, “do you now say that you love Me more than these?”
Peter glanced up at Jesus without raising his head, and then back at the bread he held in his hand. With a stab of regret, he remembered that awful night in the upper room when Jesus tried to warn the disciples that they would all desert Him and be scattered like sheep. Peter pressed his fist to the table and said, in effect, “Lord, these may desert you,” meaning the other disciples, “but I never will.”
Now he responded without meeting the Master’s gaze. “Lord,” he said. “You know that you’re . . . very dear to me.”
Jesus extended a piece of bread to His friend, and Peter took it. “Feed my lambs,” He said.
Jesus paused a moment, tossed a fish bone into the fire, and then again turned His gaze on Peter.
“Simon, son of John, do you love Me supremely?”
Peter raised his head this time and looked directly into Jesus’ eyes. For a moment he felt as though he were there again in the garden outside the palace of the high priest. He felt again the fear, the loneliness, the despair. He heard again the questions of the people there who kept asking if he was Jesus’ disciple until he had denied it — three times. And he remembered Jesus’ piercing gaze as he had seen them lead his Lord through the courtyard. Now Peter dropped his gaze to the pebble-strewn beach at his feet. “Lord,” he said, speaking slowly. “You know that you’re very dear to me.”
Jesus stirred the fire with a stick and said simply, quietly, “Tend My sheep.”
Birds sang raucously in the trees that lined the bank of the sea, and the waves flirted with the shore; but no one looked away. No one spoke a word until Jesus addressed Peter again.
“Simon, son of John, am I dear to you?”
Peter closed his eyes tight when he heard the words and choked back the emotion that welled in his throat. It was the third time Jesus had asked him to affirm his love. “Lord, you know all things,” he answered. He opened his eyes; they were rimmed with tears. “You know you’re very dear to me.”
Jesus smiled then, picked up a well-cooked fish, and offered it to Peter. “Feed My sheep,” He said. And then He looked out across the surface of the sea. “Peter, when you were young, you dressed yourself and went where you wanted. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Then Jesus turned and fastened His gaze on Peter, and once more spoke the words He had said to Peter some three years ago by the same sea: “Follow Me.”
These are Jesus’ very words to you today: “Follow me.”
It doesn’t matter to Jesus what kind of a life you’ve led up until now.
It doesn’t matter to Him how long you’ve rejected Him and turned away His love so far.
It doesn’t matter to Him how miserably you may have failed Him before. All He wants to know is “Do you love Me?”
And all He asks you to do is “Follow Me.”
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