I quite like Peter, ie the Biblical Peter. Not for his foot in mouth honesty at times or his renegade spirit. But I like it that we have a record of someone who has a relationship with Jesus, Jesus in human existence. I like it that its not a rosy experience, and that there are times when Peter felt on cloud nine, and when he was the scapegoat, and when he was given responsibility, a time to try things out, and yet the main event that most will think of with him is the moment when he denies Jesus three times, in that dark courtyard, only days before the Crucifixion itself. The tears of Peter at that moment (Luke 22:62) must have been very bitter indeed. The low point of their relationship, now as Peter is thrust from the limelight, ashamed, guilty, and all so aware that Jesus himself was in earshot of his denial. So what does Peter do, at his low point, he is still in Jerusalem, still at the location of the action that weekend, but probably in the background, afraid that Jesus might give him that look. For all the status he’d had previously Peter wasn’t even close, for it was the women who were there, and even they watched from a distance ( Mark 15:40).
So, feeling guilty, afraid and ashamed what does Peter do next. Well, give him credit he was with John in that moment when they ran to the tomb ( only to find ‘nothing’- a body that wasnt there) (John 20:3-4), but i wonder, what kind of reception would Peter have wanted should Jesus had been there? and what was Peter feeling as he ran? relief? fear?
And yet, despite the occurances of Jesus with them, the disciples at this point had not been with Jesus like that used to be, their new role had not been defined, it was a kind of in between stage, of chaos, of uncertainty, of the dawning of new reality but being unsure what it all means. I guess its easy to look back and say that , as NT wright, and Vanhoozer say that Jesus resurrection, and the emergence of the church are separate Acts in the stage production of the Christo-Theodrama ( Vanhoozer 2005:3), but at the time, what was this post-resurrection, pre-commission time like – and what was going through Peters mind at the time?
I like Peter, i get the impression he likes to feel as though he’s accomplished something every day, you know, tried to make something happen, or be involved to make a difference, quite a purposeful type. So in this uncertain time, what does Peter do? well, instead of ‘just sitting around’ he finds purpose for the day by rekindling something old and familiar, something that he once knew about and could rely on to give him purpose, a role and satisfaction “I am going fishing!” (John 21:3), and the others with him join him. For Peter, was the dream over, all hope gone? well no Jesus had been seen alive, but did think or know or want to be part of Jesus’ future plans?
For Peter, going fishing was what he grew up with, what he knew, he was after all ‘a fisherman’ this was his role, he knew his tasks, the boats, the water, the nets and tools. This was a place he could feel comfortable, and until he met Jesus, this was a place he could feel alive, feel important, worthy and purposeful. I guess thats why i like Peter, no doubt we can all relate to wanting to feel purposeful, or busy when we’re in an uncertain place. Not only is it nice to know that Peter didnt have it all rosy, but that he reacts in a way that we all might do, or maybe thats just me.., we all have things we do when our ‘principle’ work/mission gets a bit stodgy, directionless or difficult, those little jobs around that give us purpose, some DIY, cooking or a ride on the bike, even vacuuming and dusting..? Something that helps us feel important, and purposeful, but also something ‘of old’ that helps us be reminded of where and who we once were.
It was also a place where Peter felt safe. However, it was also a place that would remind him of that first time, where he first encountered Jesus, near the boats, the nets and the fish, way back when.. and so Peter was not escaping the scene stage left, not like Jonah, trying to run away, but the actions of a guilty man, trying to relive something he was familiar with, avoid that moment with Jesus.
And yet, that nights fishing, the former fishermen caught nothing. So not even the things of old gave them satisfaction, just piled on the frustration, at least it could have done. Maybe they were aware that ‘natural’ things are at best unpredictable, but i would have thought that they thought that they were likely to catch at least something. And so, as the boat appears back towards the shore, just after dawn there was a man on the beach, unrecognised at first, who gave them a new instruction, after asking whether they’d caught anything, suggests that they place their nets in a new place, just the right hand side of the boat. Although the text suggests an element of passive compliance in Peter, you could imagine the sense of furore in the boat, as the night had been wasted and some bloke tells them to use the other side, yet they do.
It was John that recognised Jesus first, and then Peter, Peter who lost the race to the tomb ( John 20:3) was not going to be beaten this time and jumped in, clothed and splashed his way up the shore, a 100 yards or so while the others rowed up in the boat, a little more serenely.
When the others arrived, the barbeque was on the go, the fish and bread were there cooking away… breakfast on the beach. Jesus is creating for the disciples a new memory, a new place, where the familiar things are being renewed, but also where he recognises that they needed to show their uncertainty, their feelings and try and go back.
Jesus and probably Peter too, cooks for them , shares the food around… now what might this be a memory of… oh yes that final meal in the upper room…
Jesus is on the beach… what does that feel like.. oh yes that first time they first met….
Its Bread and fish again…. whats that a reminder of …. remember that time when there was just a few of these to go round… and that big crowd…. it was so amazing we did this twice….
Maybe all these things were unspoken, or so frequent experiences that of course they’ll overlap… however i wonder what the conversation would have been like over breakfast.. and then after the meal Jesus takes Peter aside, maybe it was his turn to wash up? but Jesus let the meal happen, the collective moment occur with the sense of wonder and peace, and then, afterwards continued the gradual process of reconciling Peter. So far, Jesus has tackled Peters past role ( being a fisherman) his present (the revelation of Jesus resurrected) and now Jesus gives Peter the opportunity to be part of the future. Jesus investment strategy in Peter is high risk, and clearly high maintenance and now the moment where Peter has to have that conversation.
Its first name terms for Peter – “Simon, son of John” – not Peter – the rock, that Jesus uses… “do you love me more than these?” (Jesus question is the same he asks of the crowds in Luke 14:26 – “hate everything by comparison”, or love everyone else a little less)
Jesus is asking of Peter, do you still love me, love me more that the others love me, more than you love the other disciples, love me more than fishing, love me… and if you do care for and feed my sheep. Go, Peter and use what you know, coupled with the experiences you have had, be redeemed and reconciled to me and minister to others. Dont forget what happened, but use it as a reminder of how much I, Jesus can love you, forgive you and still use you. Jesus is about reconciliation, thus Mission is about reconciliation, reconciling people to God as gently as Jesus did to Peter, reconciling the world to the great shalom. As Barth said:
Human acts of reconciliation are in accordance with the structure of reality which God in Christ creates and the existence of which the gospel testifies: and therefore they are acts which tend towards the true end of creation that Gods reconciling act establishes once and for all in Christ’s reconciling person and work (1953)
and similarly Vanhoozer (2005):
The church does not have to achieve reconciliation so much as display and exhibit the reconciliation already achieved through the death of Christ
So I love Peter, love Peter because he gives me hope, a hope because in Peter, Jesus is revealed as one who understands the need of the guilty to run somewhere comfortable, to pine after previous glories, to find purpose in the mundane, to react backwards during uncertainty, Jesus lets Peter have that time, those few days between the tomb and the beach, time to wrestle with his own thoughts, and the conversations of others. Jesus knows that there will be a time on the beach, there will be a time where we run, a time when the wondering has gone on just too long, and where his work is the work now should do.