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At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples couldn’t see who he was.
He called out, “Fellows, have you caught any fish?”
“No,” they replied.
Then he said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!”
So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it.
(John 21:4-6, New Living Translation)
Have You Caught Anything?
Here begin the words that capture our attention. Be mindful of the questions and the statements that follow. Jesus is walking along the shore unrecognizable to the disciples. Perhaps the fog was too thick, the distance too great, or perhaps, like the men on the road to Emmaus, the disciples’ eyes are prevented from recognizing who He was. A small alarm goes off faintly in our mind. The voice of what they might have assumed to be an early morning shopper in the market for the day’s first catch hails them from ashore: “Have you caught anything yet?”
This innocuous question is fraught with challenges to our own thinking. We are often tempted to return to the mediocrity of our pre-Christ past because we believe we know how things work. Like the Israelites fleeing Egypt, the old world we know is secure precisely because we know it. And if we know it, we think we can control it.
The certainty of a shriveled “yes” appears more desirable in these moments than the uncertainty of a magnificent “maybe”. Our hearts crave the possibilities of an imagined future; yet, we find security in the paralysis of the present, never fully satisfied with the result and only occasionally content with the forgetful ease with which we can move through life. What we find in the returning to the familiar is the uneasy awareness that we’re never getting closer to what we know we could be. We are always fishing, never catching.
And the so the question confronts us: Have you found what you are looking for? What have our own efforts and attempts to provide and sustain brought us? Have we accomplished for ourselves what we most need? Are we finding that which we most long and hunger for? The confession honestly follows: No, we have caught nothing. The bell of the alarm grows a bit louder.
The voice comes back again: “Throw your nets to the other side!” The ringing bell gets louder still. Instantly, the scene climaxes in a blaze of dawning realization. Over go the nets and at once the nets are full; they struggle to bring the catch to the boat. An entire night’s agonizing, futile labor transformed in a moment into overwhelming abundance and fruitful blessing! The alarm bell jangles and clatters at the very forefront of our memory.
We’ve seen all this before: The disciples fishing, catching nothing. Jesus walking on the shore, calling out to them. The fish in the net in overwhelming volume.
This is not the first time we see Jesus showing up in the Gospel accounts like this. Properly stated, these are not “flashbacks” because John is not bringing past events to our attention. This is not recalling a memory, it is reporting on the present moment. This appearance of Jesus is a new one. But in the particular we find the portrait of the universal: Jesus comes to us in familiar ways. We know him by the recognition of his deeds and actions – he appears and is consistent in his redemptive calling and offering.
He appears again to his disciples in the moment of greatest loss and need. He comes to them after the hours of sweat and labor and shows that he is their provider and sustainer. Their empty hands are turned once again into glad hearts.
Part of this story is our story, a story of going back to the familiar but unfulfilling past in times of fear, shame, and uncertainty. But in the same breath, this is also the story of the incredible grace of Christ showing up in familiar ways. Jesus has done this before. By this we know his goodness and deliverance. In the familiarity of his actions in our moments of despair, we know Him! When the disciples’ futile efforts are once again turned into miraculous abundance, John sees clearly: “It is the Lord!”
And so does Peter! In that moment, the past is forgotten. He grabs his robe, and goes overboard. I can see in him the eagerness of the hurting believer to be embraced by the gracious arms of Jesus again: Peter stumbling and thrashing to tumble over the side of the boat, splashing and crashing through the surf towards the shore to greet his Lord. This is the picture of hope brought to life. The abundance of the catch is forgotten in the presence of the Savior. Peter, for all he’s been through, finds that hope again surging out to his fingertips, propelling him to action. And once again, our primary actor in the gospel narrative has stepped out of the wings and into the limelight – Peter is back with Jesus.
Back around a fire…
To be Continued…