The disciples going fishing

The Third Sunday of Easter [Year C]

Acts 9:1–20

Psalm 30

Revelation 5:11–14

John 21:1–19

Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

[John 21:3 New Revised Standard Version]

A popular term that has entered into our language in this technological age is: “default position”, meaning, the standard setting or usual pattern or behavior.

The term came to mind while reflecting on the Gospel reading from John for this third Sunday of Easter (click HERE to read the entire passage).

Peter said to his fellow disciples, “I am going fishing.”

The disciples fishing
The disciples fishing

Remember that, before Jesus came into his life, and the lives of the other disciples, Peter was a fisherman. It’s the only life he knew. So for Peter, fishing was his default position. It was what he knew best.

Despite having spent three years walking with Jesus, watching and learning at his side, witnessing to Jesus rising from the dead and having received the Holy Spirit (read last Sunday’s Gospel), Peter, without the presence of Jesus, wants to go back to life as it was.

Is it because the disciples are discouraged?  Is it because they’re disappointed?  Had they put too much faith in this Jesus?  After all, they had left everything behind and followed him and now they’re alone. 

I suspect if we are honest with ourselves we can relate.

Left to our own devices, we set ourselves into default mode. We take the path of least resistance. We are most comfortable with doing what we think we know best. We resist change, or being forced into learning anything new.

Now that Lent and Easter are over, things are pretty much back to normal. We can go back to being what we were. The tomb is empty, but life doesn’t seem much different for the disciples nor for us.

As often as I’ve read this passage, however, I never cease to be amazed at the fact that even though the disciples go back to doing what they know best, they can’t even do that well.  All night they cast their nets over the side of the boat and catch nothing.

It is only when Jesus, standing on the shore, tells them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat,” that they finally catch a net full of fish. [vv. 6-8]

I also often wonder why Jesus wasted his time on this crew of incompetent bumblers who appear to be utter failures in anything they do.  They never understood a thing that Jesus tried to teach them.  They abandon him in his most desperate hour.  Peter goes so far as to deny him.

Jesus questions Peter
Jesus questions Peter

Yet it is precisely to these untrusting, unfaithful, unfilled, unsaved disciples that Jesus returns, again.  And once again, he sits with them, shares a meal with them, just as he did before he was crucified.

And again, he commands them—Peter specifically—to fulfill the mission for which he chose them.

“Feed my sheep,” Jesus says. [v. 17]

As with Peter, Jesus has entrusted us, his followers, with the task of reminding one another of those promises we made at our Baptism: “to proclaim Christ through word and deed, to care for others and the world God made, and to work for justice and peace.”

But we can do none of this without Jesus.  Neither can we truly care for ourselves even though we work very hard to establish and maintain our lives on our own.

Jesus on the shore with the disciples
Jesus on the shore with the disciples

There’s a pattern in this story that is strikingly familiar to us. Each Sunday – or whatever day we worship – we are fed by God’s word and nourished at the Lord’s table, forgiven and sent forth in peace to love and to serve.

Despite our tendency to revert to our default position, despite our inclination to walk away, Jesus relentlessly pursues us, calls to us, invites us to a life of discipleship and service.

He does not let our unbelief have the last word; but instead continues to come to us, in our default mode – that habitual, old way of living – not with condemnation, but with surprising abundance and blessing and grace!

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