A beach fire glows in the distance. Seven weary, wet, disoriented fishermen slowly make their way to shore. It’s probably accurate to say they were coming apart at the seams. The physicality of their work was exhausting but this was an undoing of another sort; the unraveling of a life’s ambition. They’d fished these shores since they were kids. As teenagers they’d apprenticed with their fathers anticipating the day they would fish on their own.
But then it had all changed. Jesus walked this shoreline a handful of years ago and invited them to follow him, to be his disciples, and to leave this all behind. They’d jumped at the chance to follow him. It had been amazing. His teaching revolutionized not only their lives, and their communities, but Jesus also opened up a way for outsiders, foreigners, and those who had strayed to experience the kingdom of heaven. It was near when He was with them. His influence grew but so did the resistance to him. Ultimately it cost Jesus his very life. That had been a few weeks or so ago. Since that time Jesus had appeared to them resurrected. Glorious, amazing, and, in truth, also disorienting.
Some days ago Peter declared, “I’m going fishing guys”. He was returning to work. Work he knew how to do. The life of a commercial fisherman was steady, reliable work. This appealed to six others who said “we’ll join you Peter, we’re coming too”. And so they left Jerusalem, the city of their unraveling. Making the long trek back up to Galilee, they climbed back into their boats, and set off to fish.
The night had been long and disappointing. As they drifted back toward shore, bone tired, calluses reforming on wearied hands, a man in the distance, standing near a fire, hollered, ‘fellas’. His voice had the ring of friendship of an old chum. “Fellas, have you caught any fish?” “No, not one.” “Why don’t you fish on the side?” Now this got their attention, not because it made sense to fishermen, but because of what it meant to disciples. Earlier, when Jesus had been with them in their boats (see Luke 5), he had given that same instruction. And so they obeyed. As before, the fish caught were so numerous the nets nearly broke.
In an instant they knew it was Jesus on the shore. The risen Lord, who had called them to become ‘catchers’ of people, was here. Their cry “It’s the Lord!” is to become the cry of the church they will lead. Dale Bruner’s commentary on John puts it this way, “the lesson surely, is this: Dear Church, please point to Jesus Christ and to his prior Word and work as the main point of all your sermons, lessons, and conversations. This is what people are most longing to hear, and this pointing, above all, is what brings people to shore, center, and the home who is the Lord”.
Jesus uses the just caught fish for their breakfast. “Come, bring some of the fish you have just caught”, this too becomes a distinctive of the church they will lead uniting Word and work as holy occupations. Over breakfast Jesus guides their understanding of what it means to ‘catch’ people through holistic feeding and tending. For Jesus comes to disciples gathered together in worship in Jerusalem, and he also comes to disciples gathered for work in Galilee. Jesus is with us too in our worship and our work.
Their supper with him in Jerusalem was something they would always treasure, and remember. They would faithfully follow his instructions to do so. But this breakfast on the beach felt like a meal with Jesus in a new world. This was meant not so much to remember his sacrifice, but to compel them forward into a new way being his disciples in a post resurrection world.
Later on the Apostle Paul would write to the church in Colosse explaining in the new reality like this: For he (Jesus) has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians chapter 1:13,14)
Our Lord also invites us to breakfast on the beach to join his work in the new world. He calls us to a rescuing, welcoming, engaging vocation ‘catching’ people in much the same way that the disciples caught fish that morning; listening to his voice, following his instructions, and putting the results in his hands.