Thursday, March 13, 2003

Jesus One on One

This is the fourth post in a series that examines Jesus' encounters with individuals and what they reveal. To start at the beginning, click here.

The fisherman who got caught in his own net and became a shepherd.

For this fourth one on one encounter, I again go to the gospel of John. As you read, please note the three-fold division of this story: the fishing episode, the "do you love me" episode, and dialog about the future:

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. Now this is how he did so. Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael (who was from Cana in Galilee), the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples of his were together. Simon Peter told them, “I am going fishing.” “We will go with you,” they replied. They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 

When it was already very early morning, Jesus stood on the beach, but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. So Jesus said to them, “Children, you don’t have any fish, do you?” They replied, “No.” He told them, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they threw the net, and were not able to pull it in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” So Simon Peter, when he heard that it was the Lord, tucked in his outer garment (for he had nothing on underneath it), and plunged into the sea. 

Meanwhile the other disciples came with the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from land, only about a hundred yards. When they got out on the beach, they saw a charcoal fire ready with a fish placed on it, and bread. Jesus said, “Bring some of the fish you have just now caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and pulled the net to shore. It was full of large fish, one hundred fifty-three, but although there were so many, the net was not torn. 

“Come, have breakfast,” Jesus said. But none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 

Then when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these do?” He replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus told him, “Feed my lambs.” Jesus said a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus told him, “Shepherd my sheep.” Jesus said a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” and said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus replied, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the solemn truth, when you were young, you tied your clothes around you and went wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will tie you up and bring you where you do not want to go.” (Now Jesus said this to indicate clearly by what kind of death Peter was going to glorify God.) After he said this, Jesus told Peter, “Follow me.” 

Peter turned around and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them. (This was the disciple who had leaned back against Jesus’ chest at the meal and asked, “Lord, who is the one who is going to betray you?”) So when Peter saw him, he asked Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus replied, “If I want him to live until I come back, what concern is that of yours? You follow me!” So the saying circulated among the brothers and sisters that this disciple was not going to die. But Jesus did not say to him that he was not going to die, but rather, “If I want him to live until I come back, what concern is that of yours?” (John 21:1-23, The Net Bible)

The fisherman of this encounter was Peter. During the Last Supper, Peter had made bold claims to be able to die at Jesus' side defending Him. Instead, he denied that he even knew Jesus, swearing in fisherman's language to ward off his accusers. In some ways the problem was more the boasting the previous night than fear induced lies that Peter spoke. His heart was good. Where nine of the others had fled to hide, Peter stuck close to Jesus out of concern and a desire for news. He, at least, had put himself in harm's way. Had he fled like the others, he would not have failed!. In other words, Peter in denial was braver than any of the other disciples.

Before going on, I would encourage you to read this blog post that describes the meeting with Jesus at which Peter left everything to follow Him. Note the similarities between that fishing episode and the one in the above story. Notice how Peter asked Jesus to leave, because "I am a sinful man."

Back to this story, why did Peter suddenly announce that he "was going fishing?" Could it not be that he once again felt unworthy of Jesus' calling on his life? I picture Peter saying to himself, "Why didn't he just leave when I asked him to? I told him I was no good, and now I have shown him how true that is!" Peter was returning to his boats for a third time since meeting Jesus in the early days. 

So Jesus engineered a encore fishing experience to connect Peter with that earlier call to leave everything and follow. Once again, Peter returned from a night of disappointing fishing, heard the the call to fish on the other side of the boat, and brought in a huge catch of fish. Recognizing Jesus, Peter jumped out of the boat to get to Him before any of the others. That much, in Peter, had at least changed. Peter's affection for his Master was undying. There was no begging Jesus to leave. There was thanksgiving that He was there.

Jesus gently began to restore Peter to ministry one last time. Jesus asked, "Do you love me more than these do?" The NET Bible adds the word "do" in this sentence and, disappointingly, removes some of the ambiguity in the Greek text. Without "do," the text reads, "Do you love me more than these." To what, then, does "these" refer. The NET translations suggests the other disciples, which to me is a strange request. Nor does Peter's answer "Yes" make sense either. Peter is contrite, the boasting is gone. On the other hand, there is a huge pile of large valuable fish on the beach along with the boats and nets. Jesus could have been asking if Peter loved Him more than the fish and fishing. Peter answered, "Yes, Lord, you know I love you." 

Three times, in this exchange, Jesus drew from Peter a statement of love. Finally Peter said, "Lord, you know everything..." In effect Peter says, "Lord you knew I would betray you. You know my heart better than I know it. You must know the truth of my love." And at this juncture, Jesus brought closure on Peter's fears by revealing to him a future martyr's death. Peter accepted this, but wanted to know about John. To this, Jesus simply stated His sovereign right to decide such issues. Peter's task was to follow Jesus.

So the fisherman became the shepherd following the Great Shepherd and Fisher of Men.

Friday: The woman who found the reward of love's guided choices.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>


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