The Last Fishing Trip

The fact that the whole world had turned upside down somehow did not seem to have changed anything about the sea. As Simon looked out over the sea and around the shoreline he could not imagine all that had happened in the past few years, even more so, the past few weeks. It seemed a dream. He looked out over the sea. Did he actually walk on the sea? And over there, did Jesus really feed 5000 men with a few loaves and fishes? What had really happened? They had crucified Jesus. Simon had watched from a distance as they put his body in the tomb. Yet he had appeared to them, risen from the grave, and told them to meet him here, on the shore of this lake.

Some called it the Sea of Galilee, others called it Lake Gennesaret, and a few called it the Sea of Tiberias. He shook his head as if to clear it; wondering why he thought about such trivial things as the name of the sea. He had never thought of it as anything except “the Sea”. His thoughts were all jumbled in his head. This sea was the one unchanging thing in his life. Its appearance might change due to daylight or weather; it might be called different names; but the essence of the sea, what it actually was; that did not change. He had been fishing since he was a little boy. He had made friends, had boyhood fights, learned all the best fishing areas, learned how to handle a boat, met his father-in-law and his wife, in fact every important thing in his life was connected with The Sea of Galilee.

It was where he had first met Jesus. Looking out over the sea, Simon remembered that first meeting. He had first seen Jesus in the synagogue. He had watched as Jesus cast a demon out of a man. That demon had said that Jesus was the “Holy One of God”. Simon had heard it and wondered. Jesus had even cured Simon’s mother-in-law, though Simon was not there to see it. Simon looked out over the lake. Over there, in that cove where the hills came down close to the shore, Jesus had borrowed Simon’s boat and preached from it. As Simon looked at the grass and shrubs he remembered how they had been fishing all night and caught nothing. They were washing out their nets when they saw the crowd on the shore. So, they headed to the cove to find out what was happening. Jesus was preaching, and the crowd was beginning to press in, pushing him close to the waterline. Andrew had told them that John the Baptizer had said that Jesus was the Messiah. So, when Jesus asked to borrow the boat, Simon was elated. That was the moment he first met Jesus. After Jesus’ preaching, he told Simon to go out and lower the nets. Simon, skeptical, said as much but did as Jesus asked. The catch was overwhelming. What Andrew had said was now obvious. Simon looked at Jesus and realized how holy this man, Jesus, was and how sinful he, Simon, was. Even so, his brother, Andrew, and his best friends, James and John, quit fishing and the four of them went with Jesus.

That was how all this had started. On this sea. And now, well, he did not know. Jesus had told them to meet him in Galilee. But Jesus had only said, “Galilee” and nothing more specific. So, Simon decided it would be the place where it all started. But there were only seven of them. Fearing that the Romans or the High Priest’s agents might spot them, the fishermen had decided to go down to the boats and wait for Jesus there. The other four were not fishermen and they had stayed in Capernaum.

Simon continued to look at the sea. The sky was clear. It was too early for the Moon to rise, but the stars were extremely bright. Occasionally, a soft, gentle breeze would play with the leaves on the shrubs and bushes that grew on the beach. Simon, hounded by his own cares, listened as the others were talking about the last few days. Their thoughts echoed his own.

Why, the other disciples were asking, after all the miracles he had performed, was he unable to stop the Sanhedrin and Pilate from crucifying him? Simon stood a short distance away from the other six disciples. They rehearsed once again the events that brought them here. They had been hiding when Mary came with the news that the tomb was empty. He and John sprinted to the tomb, but, remembering his denial, he let John run ahead. John described how the stone had been moved from the tomb entrance. Then, once again, John told them about the folded facecloth. But Simon remembered, silently, that he was a bit relieved that he did not have to face his Lord at that moment. Even now he felt the shame of his denial. He heard John reminding them that they left quickly, afraid the Jews would arrest them for stealing the body of Jesus. It became very quiet as John finished his story. Simon looked around. He wanted to do something, anything. But the others stood very still.

In a few minutes Andrew picked up the story. No one believed Mary when she told them that she had seen Jesus. James added his memories, and the others filled in with their thoughts. No one seemed to notice that Simon had started playing with the fishing gear in one of the boats. They were busy recounting how the two disciples that lived in Emmaus had come running back to Jerusalem, all excited about having seen Jesus. Then Nathaniel added his memories. He told the part where Jesus had appeared to them, even though the doors were closed. Thomas, rather sheepishly, related his part in the story. Each of them said that they, like Thomas, would not have believed if they had not seen the Lord. None of them noticed what Simon was doing.

What Simon was doing was setting up the boat to go fishing. He was not really aware of it, concentrating very intently on the past. But setting up the boat was something he knew, something to do besides talk. It wasn’t just denying the Lord that bothered him. He had never understood Jesus. He could see that Jesus was just like him: a man. Yet Jesus calmed the storm and walked on water. He even called Simon to walk on the water, too. The sound of the others drifted his way. They were talking about the Passover meal. He could hear Andrew talking about Judas. Even though Judas had betrayed him, it was Simon that Jesus had called “Satan.” Simon would never forget it. Jesus had asked them who they thought he was. Simon had said that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus had praised him. But then Jesus began to talk about the chief priests torturing him and executing him. Simon, in love for his master, had told Jesus that Heaven would protect him, that these things would not happen to him. After all, he was the Messiah. That was when Jesus had called him “Satan” and that he, Simon, was an obstacle to Jesus. It shook him to the core. He felt frozen with fear when Jesus had said that. It was something he could not forget.

Then, to add to his failures, he had denied his Lord three times, just as Jesus had said he would. Simon was feeling his guilt, his shame, his failures. He really did not want to see Jesus again. He heard James voice drifting on the wind, then he heard John, but could not make out the words. They were always arguing, the three of them. Jesus frequently chastised them because they argued about who was the best disciple. Then John’s words became clearer. He was describing how Jesus had washed their feet. Simon picked up the net as John’s words drifted by; but he wasn’t focused on the net.

Yes, he had argued with Jesus about washing his feet. That was so humiliating, having his master wash his feet. But worse than that was the feeling of fear when they accused him of being one of Jesus’ disciples. He had to admit he was a coward. He denied Jesus, even after Jesus had warned him that it could happen. And then he had lied to himself, saying that he really did not know Jesus, that he really did not understand who this man was. How could he perform all those miracles, raise Lazarus from the dead, and still be unable to prevent the High Priest and Pilate from crucifying him? Simon began to understand that he had lied to himself. He had wanted to believe that when he said, “I don’t know the man” it was a confession, not a denial. But more than that, he had been lying to himself from the beginning. His desire was to be a prince in Jesus’ court. If Jesus really was the messiah, he would drive out the Romans and become a king like King David. Jesus had told all of them that it would not be that way. He had told all of them that he would suffer and die. Was that why Jesus called him “Satan”? Was that what the chastising and feet washing were all about? Simon, trying to fight for his Lord when Judas came with the guards, cut off a man’s ear. Then Jesus healed the man and went willingly with the guards, ending Simon‘s hopes of being a prince in Jesus’ kingdom.

The net slipped out of his hands. Anxiety pouring out like perspiration. All these thought racing through his head. Jesus had risen. He was not dead. But …

Simon picked up the net and laid it in the boat. He shook off all his thoughts and called out to the others, “I’m going fishing!”

John look up at Simon. Fishing was something to do. Something they know how to do. It would help pass the time until Jesus arrived, even though they were not sure what would happen when he did. Soon all seven of them were in the boat, doing what they knew best. From the moment Judas kissed Jesus in the garden, each of them had begun to understand that their dreams, their plans to be leaders in Jesus’ kingdom were shattered. They would not be governors or prefects. Simon was right. They might as well go fishing. For that was what they were: fishermen.

They seemed to have forgotten how to fish. They worked very hard for the rest of the night with no reward. It was a very hot night; the occasional breeze that drifted by did little to cool them. A small crescent of a moon had risen in the early morning. It shed little light and gave faint comfort. They fished all night and caught nothing.

Little wonder that they caught nothing: Apprehension concerning their future worried them. Fishing had been their livelihood; surely they should be able to catch a few fish. They had left fishing to follow Jesus. They remembered how he had chastised them when they were arguing about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom. They remembered how he had washed their feet. And they remembered how they had fallen asleep in Gethsemane and then ran away when Judas showed up. Even though Jesus had risen from the grave, he was not the Messiah they had expected. He had not told them what the plans were, or if there were any plans that included them. Why had he told them to meet him in Galilee? Had he set up the Kingdom now, in Jerusalem, without them? With an uncertain future, it was difficult to concentrate on the one thing they knew for certain: fishing. Dawn was breaking. They had caught no fish. Nor had they seen Jesus. Their mood changed from bad to worse. Simon was muttering incoherently when someone saw a person on the shore.

“Have you caught anything, friends?” the stranger on the shore called out. They answered in the negative. Then the stranger said, “Throw the net out to the right and you’ll find something.” They looked at each other and shook their heads. Nathaniel said, “Why not?” As soon as the net hit the water it was full to overflowing with a huge catch of fish, so big they were unable to haul it into the boat. John looked at Simon and said, “It is the Lord.”

Simon, in spite of all his doubts and worries, was overjoyed. Being unpresentably dressed, he pulled on his cloak and swam to shore. At that moment he left fishing behind and went to his Lord. The others, being less impulsive, accepted the gift of the fish and worked the boat toward shore, to save the catch. It was, after all, a gift from the Lord.

Jesus had a fire going, roasting some fish. He told Simon to bring some of the fish they had caught. So he went back to the boat and helped them get the net ashore. “Come get some breakfast,” Jesus said, offering fish and bread to them. They were amazed and gratified by the gifts of his presence, the catch of fish and the meal.

As they finished eating and the embers of the fire spluttered, the first rays of sunrise peered across the hills on the far side of the Sea of Galilee. It was very quiet. The fish they had caught were wriggling about, making flapping sounds; the waves broke softly on the shore and off in the distance, to greet the sunrise, a cock crowed. Peter looked around and saw that the fire looked much like that fire on that fateful night several weeks ago. He shivered in spite of the heat.

Jesus, looking Simon straight in the eye, asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love me with all your heart? Do you love me more than these others, or more than the fish?”

Simon answered, “Lord, I love you like a brother.”

Jesus responded, “Feed my lambs.” Then asked a second time, “Simon, son of John, “Do you love me dearly?”

Simon answered, “Lord, I love you like a brother”.

Jesus responded, “Look after my sheep.”

John and the others were all but frozen in their places. A gentle breeze wafted in off the lake, bringing warm, moist air. Everyone knew that Simon had denied Jesus three times. But they knew that they, too, had run away.

Then, for the third time, Jesus asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love me like a brother?”

Now Simon felt his shame exposed. He understood that Jesus was asking him three times because he had denied Jesus three times. It hurt him to say it, but Simon answered, “Lord you know all things, you know that I love you like a brother.”

Jesus commanded, “Feed my sheep.”

Then he told Simon how he would die. “I tell you the truth, 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. Follow me.”

And Simon, once again, missed the boat. He understood the meaning, that he would be executed. But he failed to understand that it would not be because he was a fisherman, but because he was a ‘fisher of men’. He looked around and, seeing John, who was headed over to help Nathaniel and the others with the fish, asked, “What about him?”

John heard it and turned around. He looked at Jesus, wondering what his own fate would be. And as on other occasions, Jesus rebuked Simon. “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”

The others heard this and Simon, embarrassed, looked at the sea. It had no words for him. Jesus looked him in the eye and said, “Simon, I call you ‘stone’ and so you are. You, Peter, are to follow me. You know me, you know who I am, I am the cornerstone. On that foundation I will build my Church. You, Pebble, must feed my little lambs. You can start by helping with the fish.”

“Pebble, Stone, Rock”. That was what Jesus had been calling him for two years. And then a revelation fell upon him. It was not a put-down. He was like the sea. He had several names. His nature did not change. He was who he was. His name was Simon, but he was not a good listener. His mother and his wife both said so. He had not listened to Jesus. He had not heard what Jesus said. But this morning he heard. “You, Pebble, must feed my little lambs.” He understood. So he got up and went to help the others with the fish.

See The Gospel of John, chapter 21

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