The Gospel scene opens with Peter and the Disciple whom Jesus loved and other disciples all back on a familiar shore. It was on the shore when Jesus first called to them saying, "Follow me." Now about three years later, on the other side of the resurrection the disciples find themselves back there again. And when you go back home you try and do what you always have done so Peter makes the statement, "I'm going fishing." The other disciples agree and they all hop into the boat and fish all night, not catching a single thing.
You can never really go home. You can't because you have changed while you were away.
Our youngest son, years ago, had an opportunity to spend the summer in Alaska with his uncle and family. He was assured there would be no problem finding work to keep him busy. He had a good summer, worked long hours, saved some money and had the freedom to come and go as he pleased. If he missed the dinner hour he would find a plate in the refrigerator saved for him. When he came home again we were surprised that he had changed in subtle ways which we were not prepared for. I reminded him that the rules in our house were, let us know where you are going, when you plan to be home and if we can expect you for dinner. He was quite annoyed, feeling as though he was being treated as a kid even though he was eighteen that summer. We lightened up a bit, he accommodated us somewhat, and it all worked out.
Nothing felt the same to the disciples as they looked at each other and wonder, now what? They do what comes natural and familiar, they go back to fishing. They head out on the boat and fish all night and catch nothing. How can professional fishers not catch anything? Because they had changed and home wasn't home anymore. They had just finished three amazing years walking around with God, and catching fish just doesn't seem to be working anymore. As morning breaks they get a call from shore. A stranger calls out, "Toss the net on the right side of the boat", they pull in so many fish the net nearly bursts. This scene is surprising because these fishers couldn't do what they used to do until Christ shows up again. This is the third time Christ has appeared to them. As they are pulling in all these fish the disciple Jesus loved yells out, "It's the Lord!" As they stood there witnessing another miracle it finally dawns on one of them who the stranger is on the shore fixing breakfast. It was Jesus. He had come back to be with them again.
Next there is this humorous picture, for as soon as Peter hears John say it is the Lord, he grabs his outer garment, wraps it around himself and jumps into the sea. They weren't very far off the shore so Peter makes the swim quite easily. Remember, Peter is the impulsive one, quick to act so he was the first to make it to the shore where Jesus waits. The others stay with the boat and bring in the overflowing net. When they all get to shore, Jesus breaks bread with them and shares some fish.
Jesus called all of them to discipleship, and he invites all of them to join him for breakfast on the beach. What a delicious meal that must have been and how comforting to be together in fellowship with Jesus.
Then he turns his eyes to Peter and three times asks him this question, "Do you love me?" Three times Peter answers "Yes." Only a short time ago, Peter is asked if he knows Jesus and he denies it three times. Here Jesus seems to make up for that denial by asking if Peter loves him. After Peter responds saying yes, Jesus tells him, "Feed my lambs, take care of my sheep, feed my sheep". And in the end he looks at him and says once again, "Follow me."
On the shore years earlier the disciples lives were changed because they left everything to follow a man they thought could be the Messiah. They witnessed miracles on previous boats. They saw Jesus calm the rough seas, walk on water, and they watched Peter walk on water toward Jesus. They saw Jesus heal people, eat with sinners, produce enough food for five thousand people, turn water into wine and listened as he told story after story. Yet they all cowered in fear as they saw their rabbi, their Messiah, their Lord die a humiliating, painful death on the cross. But even though his followers left him in his hour of need he came back, broke bread, forgave them and called them once more to "Follow me."
Once we are transformed by God, claimed by name at baptism, once we become followers of Christ, we cannot go back to the way we were. In order to be true to the mission of Christ we need to be guided by Christ, we need to be fed by Christ. We will have to sit down for breakfast with him and listen to the hard questions he may ask. We may have to take a deep breath and say, "Yes, I love you."
The disciples had a long road ahead of them. They couldn't imagine how their preaching and teaching would ever continue through the centuries to our time. Jesus understood , so in these post resurrection stories we hear him offering hope and the promise of his continuing presence. "Peace be with you," he said to them. His very presence gave witness to the resurrection. Death could not hold Jesus, could not stop what he had begun. He demonstrates the continuity between the earthly and the risen Jesus. Just as Jesus’ earthly ministry began with an abundance of wine, so it continues in the abundance of fish with the presence of the risen Christ.
In a length Farewell Address as Jesus shared the last supper with his closest friends he tenderly assured them of his continuing love for them; he promises he would not leave them orphaned. They are reminded to abide in his love and to love each other as he loved them. He prays that God may protect them. He took great care in bringing them to this moment as he says, "Feed my sheep, tend my sheep." Now his ministry is passed to them, there's no turning back. And through the ages those words are addressed to us. "Feed my sheep, tend my sheep, follow me." AMEN