An expectant mood permeated the room. Seven men, all of them close friends of Jesus, sat waiting.
James and John talked quietly with Nathanael, their conversation occasionally punctuated by laughter. Across the room Thomas chatted with two more disciples. Peter sat alone, staring moodily at the door.
Everyone was waiting for Jesus, but no one knew what to expect.
Would he suddenly appear, as in Jerusalem? The astonishment and joy of that last meeting was still fresh, perhaps most of all for Thomas, who remembered clearly the moment when Jesus had come back a second time just for him.
Would they recognize him? Mary hadn’t. Neither had the brothers on their way to Emmaus. Jesus rarely did what was expected of him.
In obedience, many friends of Jesus had recently made the journey back to Galilee. Lacking a large house to gather in, they spread out at the homes of various brothers. For some, it was a strange, backward place. For others, it was home. Or at least had been home three years ago.
For Peter, it was torture.
He sat and waited, unable to think about anything else. The last time he talked with Jesus, nothing had been said about his great failure, his bold-faced betrayal. Peter knew that his abandonment was far worse than anyone else’s – he was given three chances to die with Jesus, and instead he saved his own skin! Even the joy of Jesus’ resurrection hadn’t erased Peter’s memory of that night around the fire, listening while Jesus faced his accusers.
“Aren’t you one of this man’s disciples?”
“I am not.”
What did that make him now?
The day was fading into evening when Peter suddenly declared, “I’m going fishing.”
James and John looked at each other in surprise, “We’ll go with you, Peter!”
Everyone else shrugged, “Why not?”
All seven of them headed out of the house and toward the lake, Peter charging ahead of the others. A beautiful sunset was painting the sky, reflecting streaks of orange and red across the shimmering water.
The boat was laid out as usual, ready for the night’s work. Peter got there first and started shoving it onto the water. John took his place next to Peter, and put a hand on his arm, “He will come.”
Peter paused and frowned, “I know he will.”
Out on the water, some of the tension faded. Peter occupied himself as long as he could, and then sat down for the inevitable wait. The water lapped gently on the boat as the men relaxed and resumed chatting, some dozing as the night wore on. They cast the net a few more times in hopes of a catch.
It was a peaceful night, but in the stillness a storm rose in Peter’s heart. Peter took a sharp breath as the image of a fire-lit courtyard forced itself into his consciousness.
“You aren’t one of his disciples too, are you?”
“I am not.”
Peter felt a hand on his shoulder. “Are you alright?” whispered John.
Peter nodded and shook himself out of the courtyard, back to the star-lit night and the endless lapping of the water.
As the darkness began to melt away, shades of deep blue appeared on the horizon. James commented dreamily, “Do you remember the day he called us? It was a morning just like this.”
James gazed toward the shore, remembering the exhilaration of hauling in their overflowing nets. They hadn’t even sold the fish, just left them there on the shore for their father and started walking.
Nathanael stretched out his arms and leaned back against the side of the boat, “I was under a tree when he called me. Can’t say I was expecting Messiah to find me while I took a nap! Maybe if I take one now, he’d make an appearance!”
The others chuckled. Peter gave a forced smile and moved to recast the net.
As the sun peaked over the eastern edge of the sky, beams of golden light spilled across the water. Looking toward the shore, Thomas noticed a small figure walking along the sand at the edge of the lake. He looked a little harder, wondering who would be out so early.
The man called out to them, “Friends, did you catch anything?”
Thomas yelled back, “Not this time!”
“Throw your net on the right side, then! You will find some there.”
Thomas shrugged, “No harm in humoring him, I guess.”
The men hauled in the net and cast it out on the right side of the boat. Almost immediately, the net began to sag. They tried to haul it in, but there were so many fish that they couldn’t lift it into the boat!
John looked back at the shore and grabbed Peter’s arm, “Peter, it’s the Lord!”
Peter spun around to face the shore, his hands shaking. He dropped the net, pulled on his robe, and threw himself into the sea.
John watched for a moment and then turned back to the others, “Let’s just tow it to the shore, we’ll tear the net if we haul it in.”
Peter struggled through the water, his robe dragging heavily under him. Finally, his feet hit bottom, and he fell to his knees on the sand to catch his breath. Wiping the water from his face, he distinctly heard the crow of a rooster from a nearby home. Once again, he stood by the fire in that wretched courtyard.
“Didn’t I see you with him in the garden?”
“I swear to you, I do not know this man!”
The guards are leading Jesus away… For one endless moment Jesus looks over his shoulder into Peter’s eyes, face drawn and heavy.
Peter covered his face with his hands and took a deep breath. When he looked up, Jesus was standing there ready to help him to his feet.
The others steadily rowed the boat in, the net full of fish trailing behind them. When they landed, they found Peter and Jesus standing beside a cooking fire. The delicious smell of warm bread and roasted fish greeted them as they climbed out of the boat. Their mouths watered after that long night on the water.
Jesus embraced them, “Bring over some of your catch!”
Peter darted back to the boat and had the net halfway out of the water before anyone else even got there to help. They returned to the fire carrying some of the biggest fish.
Jesus smiled and gestured toward the food, “Come have some breakfast!”
As the men sat down around the fire, Jesus took the bread and handed it to them, followed by the fish. They remembered days when they had done the same for thousands of people, and they remembered clearly how Jesus had handed bread to them on the night before his death.
The hearts of the men were full as they ate, and even Peter felt more at ease in Jesus’ presence. They talked and laughed like they had so many times before in their journeys together.
While the others were still eating, Jesus stood up and motioned to Peter. Peter’s heart leapt into his throat as he jumped up from the fire. There was a brief silence as Peter and Jesus walked off along the shore.
John stood up. “I’ll be right back.” The others watched for a moment before resuming their conversation.
Far from the warm fire, Peter shivered in his damp clothes. He wanted so badly to say something, anything! But where could he start? He couldn’t take back what he had done, his total denial of the relationship that meant more than to him than anything else. Peter wondered if Jesus still thought of him as a man of faith, a man who could strengthen his brothers.
Sinking deeper into his despairing thoughts, Peter was startled when Jesus suddenly spoke.
Gesturing back towards the little group by the fire he asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
The name ‘Simon’ hit Peter like a blow. It was Jesus who had given him the name Peter at their first meeting. Jesus had seen something in him then, was it gone now? His stomach twisted as he looked at the ground and whispered, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”
“Feed my lambs,” Jesus replied.
Peter was caught off guard. He kept pace with Jesus, wondering what he meant.
They walked on a little farther and Jesus said again, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter looked up and found that Jesus was studying his face. His gaze was firm and piercing, but there was no anger in his countenance. “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.”
“Take care of my sheep.”
They continued on for a few paces before Jesus stopped abruptly and looked Peter straight in the eye. “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter stood once more in the courtyard, Jesus looking back at him. He was close to tears…
The memory fled, pierced by Jesus’s gaze. Peter looked back at him and took courage, love for his Lord and friend rising in his heart. “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus put a hand on his shoulder, “Feed my sheep.”
As they talked about the future, Peter’s hope was reborn! He had been sifted like wheat, but his faith remained. In the face of his greatest failure, Jesus’ mercy remained. And through everything, his purpose remained.
This deep, abiding faith Jesus had stirred in him could strengthen his brothers, perhaps more now than ever before.
Based on The Gospel of John, Chapter 21
© 2018 Jacqueline Tisthammer. All Rights Reserved.