Easter 3: St Luke’s Fontainebleau
Simon Peter said, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.”
The story of Jesus’ encounter on the beach is rich in detail. The same was true for the men in the story, who even bothered to count out 153 fish. Because this was more than a bad night of fishing gone right in the end. When the Risen Jesus comes into the center of our lives, every bit counts. Time sort of stops. We don’t take photos of ourselves doing the laundry or vacuuming. But when something is precious, we want to capture it for all time. Count it.
Elizabeth and I were down in Midi Pyrenees last week and we stayed at a chambre d’hôte called “La Halte du Temps.” A 13th century family home with old treasures at every turn. Time had stopped indeed in the region they rightly call authentique.
What time is it when six men today have a third encounter with the Risen Lord? What kind of clock is now in play? What’s next? What are they to do now? Something about life and death has been reversed, so what does that mean for how we get on with our lives? Down where we live them.
Peter does what anyone would do: he does what he did before. He goes fishing. The fishing sons of Zebedee join him. Even doubting Thomas is in the boat, joined by Nathanael, who said when he first met Jesus: ‘can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ A line he is now regretting.
But all that’s OK. When the clock is stopped with Jesus.
As it turns out, the fishing doesn’t work now. A lifetime of doing something is now without profit, even as it is familiar. All night long and not a nibble.
Then a man of the beach says, ‘hey kids, throw the net on the other side.’ One could wonder at their reaction to this kind of free advice, before the chistled boat men started down the road with Jesus, back in the old days. No fish on this side, but lots on the other? And who’s calling us paidia – kids.
When they can’t haul in the catch, the beloved disciple knows who they are dealing with.
Not to be bested in a race this time, Peter suits up and jumps in the water to get there first. He’s already been naked enough before the man who told him the cock would crow three times over his bold promises gone vain. He’d like to show up clothed. Though surely the scene is narrated with some humor by the beloved disciple. “So he put on his clothes and sprang into the sea.” Everything is upside down in the time of the Risen Lord. La Halte du temps.
The man on the beach has built a fire and is cooking some fish. He has prepared for just this special encounter. Just like our Sundays with him. He’s out in front of them. Left the light on for them. Just as he’s out in front of you and me now. In his Risen time.
The things we used to do well, or poorly for that matter, he lets us do again. But now they make sense in relation to him and his time and his out in front of us Risen life. “Jesus said to them ‘hey, bring some of the fish you have just caught.’” The fish you caught at my command after a night of nothing, doing what you had invested a lifetime in before.
“They cast their nets in Galilee” the hymn declares, “just off the hills of brown. Contented simple fishermen, before the Lord came down.”
With Jesus everything counts now. No broken nets. No missing fish. “Come have breakfast.” OK. For what can we say now? It a breakfast without words, John says. The old jobs don’t make the same stubborn sense. You are in charge. But what do we do now? Now that you have turned everything upside down. That daily commute to Paris to earn the daily bread. What does it now mean, with the man on the beach who knows what real fishing is about? Work with genuine profit, nothing to be wasted. Because daily being redeemed by him.
And then the camera slowly turns to focus on Peter. His clothes slowly drying. A different kind of hunger now in his heart.
CS Lewis wrote a nice book you may know called the Four Loves. Greek has four words that refer to eros (you’ll know that), storge (natural love of parents for children), filios and agape. Filios is the kind of love that says, “we both like white meat better than dark, so let’s share it equally. Or take turns. You have white this time, I’ll have white next.” Agape is the kind of love that says, “you have white meat. I know how much your love it, even as it’s my favorite too. I love you.” To will the good of another, Aquinas said.
Jesus asks if Peter has this kind of love, and more than the others. Peter answers that he has filios, and leaves the more-than-other bit hanging in the air. “OK. Feed my lambs.’
A second time Jesus asks about the love of Peter and he means the love he asked him about first. Agape. Peter answers as before. A third time Jesus asks and now he downshifts to filios.
The pathos in the scene is hard to capture. Peter denied Jesus three times. He is now struggling to show himself a new man, and he is that, there in his soggy clothes, three times asked if he loves the man who now controls all things.
And there we are too. Wavering between ultimate devotion, the knowledge that Jesus has changed everything, yet unsure where we fit and how we are to respond. Aware of our shortcomings. Our well-meant promises our flesh weakens before. But like Peter, on the other side of exposure and forgiveness and then surrender to the man from Galilee standing ahead of us on the beach.
Thomas Merton once prayed a prayer that captures this place where we find ourselves.
My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Peter was grieved that a third time Jesus asked him, “Simon do you love me?” With the sharing kind of love?
Peter’s response is exactly right. We are not up to it. The thing that matters is that we can say with confidence, “Lord you know everything. You know that I love you, even as I may doubt my resolve or my own strength. Worry I’m not up to agape or filios. But your strength is now what matters in the Risen Life. You will help me feed, and tend, and go about my daily rounds. You will show where the fish are to be found.”
And in Peter’s case, the back-and-forth where every word, like every fish, counts, it will be enough simply to stand in the presence of Jesus, and let him ask his probing questions. Some painful, but always followed by a fresh command, never wavering in his confidence in him, in spite of his fragility, and because of it. Peter the man. Peter the disciple like you and like me.
And out of a kindness he alone is in a place to extend, he tells Peter that the fate that was his own, that turned everything upside down so that we might fish at his command, will be the same fate Peter will share. Before sending him down that road Jesus has the conversation of a lifetime with the man in the soggy clothes.
“Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.)”
Jesus’ last words to Peter are simply “follow me.” The same command given one day now long ago, at the start of a journey and a relationship that changed everything. A command to Peter and the Twelve, which now are words robbed of any tragic ending or reliance on our strength alone. Peter the man who failed and won: loved, and made a new man, made ready even to follow Jesus to death.
Which is of now our own life in him as well. We are not perfect. We are forgiven.
We have flaws and doubts and we make mistakes. God wants to work with that, and show himself stronger. We have lavish intentions like Peter, but we are exposed as not up to it. Fine. God will take us at our exposed worse, and if we are prepared to listen to his Risen voice, we can become the men and women he is making us to be in him, brand new people. Christians.
“Cast the net to the right side and you will find some.”