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Gospel according to John 21: 2-12, 16a (NIV)
2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus.
5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment round him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred metres. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.
16a Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
I associate the Apostle Peter with impetuosity rather than with clear strategic foresight. Events in the preceding weeks support this view. On that night in the upper room, Peter’s first gaffe was to assert, “you shall never wash my feet” (John 13: 8). He then protested, “I will lay down my life for you” (John 13: 37), only to realise, hours later, that three times he had denied being with Jesus.
Even the events of the third day following the crucifixion of his leader, the mystical appearances of Jesus to the women and then Jesus’ presence in the upper room, seemed to leave Peter confused. He returned to Galilee and to the profession he thought he knew best of all: fishing.
When Jesus told the fishermen precisely where the fish were to be found (verse 6), it was as if Jesus was trying to remind Peter about a previous experience. Would Peter recall with what willingness he had, on the occasion recorded by Luke (5: 1-11), left his vocation and followed Jesus?
Peter was carrying a huge burden: disappointment, a sense of failure and his own deep shame because, when Jesus was most vulnerable, he denied and deserted him. He may even have been wondering whether he had just wasted the last three years of his life.
Verse 16a and others show how Jesus restored purpose, courage and self-confidence to this man whom he had identified as the rock on whom he would plant his church.
Peter’s struggle was exactly what Jesus intended for him*. A rough-and-ready small-town fisherman who lived a simple life had to overcome these challenges in order to grow and develop into the leader of Christ’s church on earth after Jesus’ departure.
*God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness (Epistle to the Hebrews 12:10, NIV).