(Image: A Miracle Draught of Fishes by John Reilly)
A monologue based on John 21
I should have stuck with what I know. I was a fisherman. And a pretty good one too. I was child of a fishing family – hailing from a long line of fisherfolk. I know how to mend nets, to read the weather The tides and currents spoke and I understood their language. The ins and outs of that life were so familiar to me. I knew who I was and everyone around me knew it too. I could fish. And that was enough.
That’s why when Jesus passed by on the lakeshore and called me to join his work, I surprised myself. I never hesitated. I mean… well… it probably really wasn’t much of a surprise to anyone who really knew me. It’s not like my neighbors expected me to ever take the calm, logical approach. Friends might think of me as impetuous, determined, headstrong. I tend to prefer “visionary.”
After all, what could be hard about following Jesus? A bit of traveling, a bit of meet and greet, a bit of work here and there. Not to mention that sitting in the inner circle with this Rabbi also meant I’d have a chance to learn what he had to teach with the possibility of one day becoming a teacher like him with followers of my own. It all sounded so much better than staying in the family business – doing what was expected of me. Fishing.
It seemed like a point of no return to me, and so, with no real sense of the outcome, no real understanding of what was in store – I dropped everything and answered the call.
That was three years ago.
Three years of walking and walking and walking. Three years of being pursued and persecuted by zealous religious leaders and really, really smart lawyers. Three years of wandering in an out of villages where people either welcomed us with open arms or chased us out with threats of bodily harm. Three years of beautifully impossible and amazingly life-changing work that included feeding people (and cattle), healing foreigners, and always traveling along the fringes of propriety, doing truly prophetic things that often made it impossible for us to be recognized, let alone welcomed as children of God.
That’s what he called us, you know – God’s children. And you’d think that God’s children would get a little more grace, a little more help, a little more clarity around just what in the world we are supposed to be doing and how we’re going to survive while we do whatever it is we’re supposed to be doing. But Jesus was always “pick up your backpack and follow me” and “don’t worry about what you’re going to eat, don’t be anxious about where you’re going to sleep, don’t get distracted by your possessions.”
Nothing about this turned out like I thought it would. Nothing. Jesus had been upfront about us being joined with him “till death us do part” but none of us thought the death part was real. We figured it was a parable or a metaphor – you know – like: we will work ourselves to death sharing the good news. Or: we will change the status quo or die trying. But it turns out that it was. Very real.
And it’s when it got real that I surprised myself – I hate that this happened – but there it is. I never, in my wildest imagination, in my darkest most self-critical moments EVER thought I would deny being part of Jesus’ life. But then again – I had no idea what it meant to be a prophet. Until I actually stood alone in that courtyard, next to that charcoal fire. It felt like a point of no return to me. And had to choose. I chose to hide. I chose to step back into the shadows. I chose to ignore an opportunity to risk everything to say one hopeful word of good news in the darkness of that evil night.
And then he was crucified. And then he disappeared.
And that’s why I decided to go home. I didn’t know what else to do. We had to get out of that room. And because we didn’t know if we’d be safe, we returned to the relative obscurity of a busy beach. We can blend in with the world around us here – hiding in plain view, as it were. We can find some solace in the safely familiar work that doesn’t challenge our assumptions and which won’t require us to risk our lives. It’s not likely that anyone would want to crucify us for fishing. It’s not controversial – it doesn’t make us outcasts like healing lepers or hanging out with prostitutes or feeding desperately hungry people or just spending time with people who don’t know how to clean up their act and behave in polite company. Being a fisherman didn’t draw the attention of the Temple leaders who might think we’re trying to undermine their power. And as long as we pay our taxes, it won’t cause the Romans any anxiety either. We can just go along and get along as part of the “thriving economy”.
And that seemed just fine. Until he stood on that beach and looked me in the eye.
Peter, do you love me
You know that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when you have to face someone to whom there is nothing to say but “I’m sorry.” That.
I was prepared for a lot of things, for his anger, his disappointment, even his judgment. I played it out in my head so many times since he appeared to us in that upper room. He never asked me if I was sorry.
He didn’t say:
Peter, are you ready? Are you sure? Do you think you can do it?
He didn’t make me promise never to betray him again.
He simply asked:
Peter, do you love me?
There was so much I wanted to say to him:
Jesus, Aren’t you disappointed in me? You’ve seen me at my worst. You know I’m overconfident and struggle to be a good colleague. You know I’m an impetuous fool, and that I have a great talent for screwing up.
But standing there, looking into the eyes of my best friend – and remembering the pain I caused, five words were all I manage:
You know I love you.
Three times he asked me. Three times I stammered out: You know everything about me. You know I love you.
And three times Jesus simply said: “Good – then feed and take care of my sheep.”
And it was enough. My imperfect, impulsive love was enough. And because my love was enough, I realized that I was enough. I realized what I had never known – that on that first day on that long ago beach, Jesus didn’t call me because I had fantastic abilities. He didn’t call me because I would be able successfully pick up everything he had done. He didn’t need me to be anything more than the crazy, messed up, ex-fisherman that I was.
And so one more time, I put down my nets. I walked away from the work I know best. I walked away from the water to become a shepherd follower of the Great Good Shepherd, taking up his work – serving as a counsellor and a teacher as a caregiver and a leader – as lover and protector of all the sheep – even the impetuous screw-ups like me. Especially those.
And it is enough