Peter is a broken man, guilty and ashamed for having three times denied Jesus. He’s back in Galilee with his fishing boats and nets but without his old security and self-confidence.
He and the disciples go fishing at night but fail to catch anything. As a new day dawns, a stranger asks how they’ve done and tells them to cast the nets on the right hand side of the boat. His authoritative voice sounds like that of Jesus commanding them to act. When obeying his command leads to an extraordinary catch the “disciple whom Jesus loved” becomes sure and cries out his recognition.
There is a parable here: when actions are self-chosen they are fruitless because they are self motivated. When actions are in response to God’s will and command they are overwhelmingly successful.
Later Peter finds himself having the conversation he must have been both dreading and longing for.
Some commentators say that the two words for “love” which are used during this conversation between Jesus and Simon Peter are significant. One (agapao) is a distinctly Christian word suggesting a deep commitment between a human being and God. The other (phileo) suggests normal friendship between human beings. These meanings shed a revealing light on this conversation.
Jesus asks “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these”. Simon Peter, still deeply ashamed of his denial after boasting “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you” (Matthew 26:33) is unable to compare himself to others or to use that word ‘agapao’. Instead he replies “Yes, Lord, you know that I care for you”.
Jesus drops the reference to others and again asks “do you love me?”. Simon Peter repeats “I care for you”. He still cannot affirm his love with grand words.
The third question really hurts Simon Peter. Jesus calls into question even his friendship, “do you care for me”, are you sure even of that? Broken in his loss of self-knowledge and self-confidence Simon Peter can only trust in Jesus knowing him better than he knows himself. Perhaps in tears he says “Yes Lord, you know that I care for you”.
It is within Simon’s brokenness that Jesus finds Peter, the man of rock. Simon, in his weakness, becomes Peter, a man who is fully aware of his dependence on God for his faith and his strength. A failed fishing trip becomes a spectacularly successful outing. A broken spirited man becomes the foundation stone of God’s church.
The disciples encounter Jesus at first as a stranger on the shore while they are going about their usual work of fishing. For us, too, it is often in the daily routines of our lives that God meets us, in others, and reveals himself to us.
When the disciples exercise their skill under the guidance and direction of God their success exceeds anything they might have hoped for. Whatever gifts and talents we have, we need to offer them, and ourselves, to God asking that he will also give us the wisdom and insight to use them only for good and in his service.
Simon Peter, passionately faithful and loyal, becomes fearful and weak when he is alone and not at his Lord’s side. In his weakness he trusts only in Jesus knowing and loving him and he is restored. His faith and loyalty are strengthened so that, in the end, he will be able to face death for the sake of his Lord. Faith itself is God’s gift to us. We cannot will ourselves to believe. All we can do is say, “Lord I do believe, help my unbelief”.
Today’s Gospel tells us that when we offer who we are and what we do to God he will enable us to become more truly ourselves and to live in his love and blessing.
1. We can try in our own strength to love and be faithful to God.
2. If we do rely on our own strength, though, we will inevitably fail and crumble at some point.
3. When, in recognition of our failures, we turn to God and admit our brokenness, he can and will restore us and bring us to new life in Christ.