March 28, 2008

Is Fishing Your First Love? 
by Fred Alberti, Crosswalk.com Manager of Communities

"I'm going out to fish," Simon Peter told them, and they said, "We'll go with you." So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
John 21:3

The chill is beginning to come off the air and with it I've seen the sudden increase in the number of fishermen on the docks. It seems the fish must be biting rather nicely.

But that wasn't the case in today's story…

The disciples had recently been through some rather traumatic events in the death of their Master. They were excited, and probably a little confused, by the revelation that He was no longer dead. How did they deal with this?

They returned to their first love… fishing.

They got on a boat and set off for a night of fishing on the Sea of Tiberias. But, unlike the fishermen I've been seeing lately, they caught nothing.

Early in the morning a man from shore called to them asking if they had caught anything. When they responded that they hadn't, He instructed them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat.

I wonder if Peter was thinking back to another fruitless night. Did he think back to that day when they had taken Jesus out on the boat so He could preach to the gathering crowd? The night before had proven to be a waste of time when Jesus told them to put out in deeper water. Peter had lightly objected then saying, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets" (Luke 5:1-11).

I think John must have been thinking back, for when they cast their net on the other side as the stranger had instructed the results were much like that first account: "When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, "It is the Lord," he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea (John 21:6-7).

I imagine that Peter's heart skipped a step as he threw on his garment and jumped in the water to swim the 300 feet back to shore. Did he remember Jesus' words from that first time when He said, "Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men"?

This was the third time that Jesus appeared to them and I think it was probably the first time after His resurrection that Jesus had the chance to have a real heart to heart talk with Peter. He began to question Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Each time that He asked Peter the question Peter would respond in the affirmative. And each time Jesus would replied back, "Feed my lambs," "Take care of my sheep," "Feed my sheep" (John 21:15-19).

I've often wondered about the significance of this repeated questioning and have always concluded that it was just Jesus' response to Peter's denying Him three times. I think I've missed something over the years. I think Jesus was also addressing Peter's first love. Jesus had called him to catch men but on this 3rd appearance what did He find Peter doing? Fishing, not for men, rather for something else… sport, hunger, money? I don't know, but it certainly wasn't fishing for men. I wonder if this was serving as a gentle reminder of what He really wanted Peter to be doing.

What sort of fish are we hoping to catch?

Intersecting Faith & Life: Take some Bible tracts and hand them out to the fishermen you find at the local fishing hole.

Further Reading

John 21
Lessons from a Fishing Boat