The Third Sunday of Easter: From Doubting to Diving In!

Last week’s Scripture focused on having faith in a sea of doubt. Thomas had tangible proof that his Lord was alive, being raised from the dead.

This week, the Third Sunday of Easter, we see Peter’s response to seeing the physical resurrection of Jesus, as our focus shifts from “doubt” to “diving in.”

John 21:1-19 (Common English Bible)

1 Later, Jesus himself appeared again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberius. This is how it happened: Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus ), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two other disciples were together. Simon Peter told them, “I’m going fishing.”
They said, “We’ll go with you.” They set out in a boat, but throughout the night they caught nothing. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples didn’t realize it was Jesus.

Jesus called to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?”

They answered him, “No.”

He said, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”

So they did, and there were so many fish that they couldn’t haul in the net. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard it was the Lord, he wrapped his coat around himself (for he was naked) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they weren’t far from shore, only about one hundred yards.

When they landed, they saw a fire there, with fish on it, and some bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you’ve just caught.”11 Simon Peter got up and pulled the net to shore. It was full of large fish, one hundred fifty-three of them. Yet the net hadn’t torn, even with so many fish. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples could bring themselves to ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread, and gave it to them. He did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15 When they finished eating, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Jesus asked a second time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Take care of my sheep.” 17 He asked a third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was sad that Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” He replied, “Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 I assure you that when you were younger you tied your own belt and walked around wherever you wanted. When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and another will tie your belt and lead you where you don’t want to go.” 19 He said this to show the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. After saying this, Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me.”

Peter: Bold. Impetuous. Brash. A “step-in-it” kind of guy. But also a passionate and a completely “sold out” kind of servant for God. I LOVE Peter. Maybe because I’m a passionate, “step-in-it” kind of woman.

In today’s Gospel reading, Peter left the latest job on his resume, “Disciple of Jesus,” for a job he knew well: “Galilee fisherman.” He and some of the others were back in the rhythm of net fishermen.

Cast the nets.
Pull them in.
Dump the fish in the boat.
Repeat until boat is full…

Except there were no fish. None at all. Jesus appears on the shore and tells them to cast the net on the other side. Grudgingly, they do. But Christ’s command and their response must have triggered a memory. One from an early encounter with the Messiah:

Luke 5:4-11 (Common English Bible)

When he finished speaking to the crowds, he said to Simon,“Row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.” Simon replied, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.”

So they dropped the nets and their catch was so huge that their nets were splitting. They signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They filled both boats so full that they were about to sink. When Simon Peter saw the catch, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!”    Peter and those with him were overcome with amazement because of the number of fish they caught. 10 James and John, Zebedee’s sons, were Simon’s partners and they were amazed too. Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” 11 As soon as they brought the boats to the shore, they left everything and followed Jesus.

Maybe it was memory of their first commitment to following Jesus, when he commanded them to lower the nets on the other side of the boat. Maybe it was sitting on the shores of Galilee, receiving bread and fish from Christ’s hands. Maybe it was the overwhelming joy, the realization that what they HOPED for in the empty tomb, the resurrection of Jesus, was true. Christ was alive. He stood on the shores, his wounded body restored to life. Peter’s joy and excitement caused him to respond with his typical passionate abandon.

It makes me think of the scene from the movie Forrest Gump, where he dives off of his boat and swims excitedly to the pier where his friend, Lt. Dan, is sitting…

I can almost hear Peter yell, “HEY!!! WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE??” A look of incredulous joy must have crossed his face as he grabbed his tunic and dived overboard, swimming to shore. The other disciples shared in his jubilation (except that they stayed on board, and the boat didn’t crash!) 🙂

That deep-lying Hope within him, that wounded Faith came bursting out of him in an ecstatic moment. It was the Easter morning moment we celebrated a few weeks ago. That joy, based on faith and facts, is still true.

In those moments of reunion on the shores of Galilee, Christ moved Peter from feelings to faith. From commitments of love to commanded action: “Feed my lambs… Care for my sheep… Feed my sheep.”

A Christ follower’s life is not just feelings. Worship services that only feed our emotions don’t cultivate anything that lasts beyond the glow of Sunday mornings. But intellectual hobnobbing is no more sustainable. Nor does it meet the places of day-to-day struggles in our earthly lives.

The challenge is to keep that “overboard” moment of joy nestled deep in our hearts as we make a slow, steady, daily progress in caring for those God has given us as our “lamps and sheep.”

Thanks be to God.

P.S. Whenever I think of God as my Shepherd, I think of this Bach aria, “Sheep May Safely Graze.” Be at peace. We are cared for beyond all earthly caretakers’ watch.

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