Peter, ever the impulsive leader of the disciples, says he is going fishing, days after the drama of Jesus death and resurrection. Six other of Jesus’ disciples, now bound by unspeakable shared experiences, decide to go too. It’s a dark night, and they don’t catch one fish. Our pastor, Ken Miller shared this story with us last Sunday. It is one of my favorite stories, and not just when I’m struggling.
This week, I’ve been longing for that sunrise, when all our imperfections and anxieties will be past. Last Saturday, two gunmen passed down our street shooting, about 10 minutes after Marnell took out the trash. (The gunmen seemed to have targeted vehicles and no one was hurt.) Then too, my own internal battles with spiritual bullets, which can be just as frightening and more desolate.
As I think of the story on the Sea of Galilee, I wish I knew. As the night wore on, did Peter and the other disciples also long for the presence of the Lamb of God, their long-time Friend?
Then, as the sun rises, a man walks up on the shore. And here’s an amazing thing. Peter does not recognize him. The man asks if they caught any fish. They say, No. He tells them to throw the net into the water on the other side. They do. The net is suddenly bulging, threatening to swamp the boat. There are 306 dark fish eyes and 153 squirming fish bodies. A miracle.
And still, Peter does not seem to know that the man on the shore is Jesus.
John has to say, “It is the Lord!” before Peter plunges into the water full of joy, to swim/splash the 100 yards to shore.
Now, how could Peter, who dedicated his life to Jesus after a similar fish miracle just 3 years earlier, not have recognized Jesus at once, even before the fish arrived?
I don’t know. But Ken shared something that touched me deeply.
“There were many people who didn’t recognize Jesus right away,” Ken said. “Mary at the tomb. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Peter and the disciples in the boat. This makes me think that Jesus is often closer than we realize. He is often with us when we don’t know it.”
What an amazing thought!
Sunday afternoon after the service, I dug out my old folder with the poetry I wrote years ago and found this.
THE OTHER SIDE
“Cast on the other side,” He said,
When the long night turned to day.
When they obeyed, that one command
Swept all their gloom away.
More fish than they had ever
Imagined could be caught
Were squirming in that shocking net
The useless night was naught,
Beside this grand and glorious catch
That stories couldn’t beat.
They dragged the hundred fifty-three
To shore, and sat to eat.
Which tells me that however big
The weight that drags me down,
One word from Christ (if I obey)
Can turn the thing around.
If I just drop the empty net
And wait for his command,
I soon will have a bigger load
Than I can pull to land.Katrina Hoover, 1990’s?
There’s probably a good reason I quit writing poetry! But my words remind me of the truth – nothing is too big for Jesus. Not a night without fish. Not a week without progress.
Oh, I wish I could have been there on that shore! What would it have been like to meet Jesus in person? To ask questions? To eat breakfast on the shore? To witness yet another miracle?
But, perhaps what Jesus came for was to make it possible for us to endure with joy day by day here, to thrive in the midst of brokenness and bullets. Even the disciples. Although the disciples recorded these moments of joy, they also had many dark nights, both before and after that glorious breakfast. Perhaps, years after that breakfast, they had moments where they wanted to doubt their faith. But they could look back on God’s love and faithfulness, even as we can.
And some day we will see Him face to face!
And perhaps in the meantime, as Ken said, Jesus is closer than we realize. Perhaps it is not so much that He isn’t here with me as I weep, but that I, like Peter, don’t have the right frame of mind to recognize his presence.