Tanner, Henry Ossawa, 1859-1937. Miraculous Haul of Fishes, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56125 [retrieved April 16, 2018].
John 21.1-9 (NIV)
Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.
“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. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
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.
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 around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
In college I took a bunch of drawing classes.
I really enjoyed those classes, except for the group critiques.
When we finished our drawings our professors would ask us to tack our drawings onto the wall so the class to look at them.
For me, the hardest part of critiques, was making myself stop comparing my projects to other people’s projects. Comparing wasn’t the point of a critique.
I would catch myself constructing a hierarchy of drawings and artists. I judged where I thought I fit. My drawing isn’t as good as this one, but it is better than that one, the other one is pretty close to mine. When I was comparing, I was missing the point. Our professors didn’t grade us on natural or unnatural artistic ability. They were interested in whether we followed instructions and whether we used and understood the techniques they taught us. they wanted to see if we were growing.
It seems like it might be part of our human nature to compare. We can spend so much time comparing ourselves with other people, so much effort creating hierarchies, developing some sort of scale to try to figure out where we fit against other people.
Sometimes we even compare when it comes to faith. Maybe someone seems so incredibly faithful, and we don’t think we could ever be that faithful.
I don’t think that how God’s grace works.
I don’t think that is what Jesus wants for his disciples!
When the disciples got back to shore with that miraculous catch of fish, there was a charcoal fire on the beach. Jesus was cooking a meal, inviting his disciples to eat with him. This is the kind of thing we picture when we think of building friendships; hospitality and generosity, sharing a meal and spending time together.
John only mentions charcoal fires two times in his Gospel. Here, in chapter 21, is the second time. The first is in chapter 18, just after Jesus had been betrayed and arrested. (For some reason, the NIV, our pew bible translation doesn’t include this important detail.) Listen to John 18:15-18 and 25-27:
Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in.
The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?”
He said, “I am not.”
Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself … They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?”
He denied it and said, “I am not.”
One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?”
Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.
Before Jesus was arrested, Peter told Jesus he would follow him anywhere, he would even die for Jesus, but so far that isn’t how things have worked out. Jesus predicted before the rooster crowed, Peter would have denied Jesus three times.
That first charcoal fire was about broken relationships – around that fire on that cold night, Peter denied having anything to do with Jesus three times. If there was a comparison scale of disciples and faithfulness, I bet Peter would have felt very low on that scale.
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21.15-17)
The second charcoal fire, the one on the beach, was about grace, it was about rebuilding and restoring relationships. For every “I am not,” Peter gave by the fire in the high priest’s courtyard; around the beach fire, Peter told Jesus, “you know I love you,” and Jesus called Peter to care for his people. Three times each. Grace and more grace. Peter was restored and called to participate in Jesus’ continuing work. God’s grace breaks apart hierarchies and comparisons. As disciples of Jesus, as people seeking God’s kingdom, there really is only one status – beloved.
Then Jesus said something to Peter that was more difficult.
Jesus told Peter that in time, he would lay down his life for Jesus.
“Very truly I tell you,” Jesus said, “When you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” (John 21.15-17)
Jesus called Peter to follow him even though there would be some hard stuff. Church tradition teaches that as Peter faithfully followed the path that was in front of him, and during a time of persecution against Christians in Rome, Peter was crucified for faithfulness to Christ.
Sometimes it can be hard to catch the rhythms of grace, though.
Back on the beach, as Peter and Jesus walked, as Jesus told Peter the way he would glorify Jesus in his death, Peter looked back and saw the Beloved Disciple, that mysterious disciple who shows up here and there (and might even be the source for John’s Gospel). Peter saw that other disciple and asked, “What about him?” Maybe wondering what faithfulness would look like for another disciple. Maybe comparing?
Jesus essentially told Peter to mind his own business – “What is that to you?”
Jesus wouldn’t let them compare. They were both disciples, they were both loved by God, they both received God’s grace, they both were called to follow Jesus, they were both called live their lives in faithful response to Jesus … to love as Jesus had loved them … to care for people, to spread the good news … to live in God’s grace.
Their lives wouldn’t look exactly the same … there wasn’t going to be a hierarchy of faithfulness. There would be faithfulness and unfaithfulness, but following Jesus wouldn’t lead both of those disciples to die on a cross in Rome. Their calling was to be faithful to Jesus in everything they encountered in their lives … that was it – faithfully follow Jesus.
We aren’t called to compare our faithfulness against other people’s faithfulness, that puts ourselves at the center of whatever it is we are doing, and that is just the opposite of what Christ calls us to. We are called to put Jesus at the center of our lives and to respond to Jesus with trust and faithfulness in any opportunity that presents itself. We are called to live lives that are shaped by God’s grace.
As disciples, the opportunities that open to us will be different. We are called to follow Jesus, loving him and caring for the people around us, seeking to be faithful in the relationships and situations, and opportunities we encounter.
My calling, and your calling is to live in God’s grace … to follow Jesus in the opportunities that open themselves to us.
Jesus calls out to us, “Follow me” … and to live lives shaped by God’s grace.