There are a handful of incidents in today’s Gospel reading from John that refer back to encounters Jesus had with his Apostles before his death and resurrection. Jesus waits on the shore as seven of his disciples; Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and two others, return from a night of fishing. This is reminiscent of when Jesus first came to Andrew and Simon, James and John as they were casting and mending nets and he invited them to follow him.
The disciples are on their way back to shore with their nets empty, and Jesus suggests that they cast their net over the right side and they quickly find that they “were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish.” Peter had this experience in one of his first encounters with Jesus when he had been fishing all night and Jesus encouraged him to put out into the deep water, and that time they were able to fill two boats with fish.
After their great catch “of one hundred fifty-three large fish,” John told Peter that the Lord was the one who had instructed them. Just as when Jesus approached his disciples that night walking on the stormy waters, Peter jumped out of the boat and walked on water until he took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink. Peter again “jumped into the sea.” When Peter and the disciples came to shore “they saw a charcoal fire.” The most recent event with another charcoal fire was outside the gate where Jesus was led for his judgment. To keep warm Peter joined the servants and slaves huddled around a charcoal fire. It was at that charcoal fire that Peter denied Jesus. The final scene in today’s account was when Jesus offered cooked fish and bread to his disciples, this is reminiscent of Jesus feeding the five thousand with two loaves and a few fish.
Throughout our lives, we will have encounters with people and experience incidents that we have experienced before. We may not have been as present as we have wanted to be when attempting to comfort someone, we may have given in to temptation we regretted, or we may have been involved in some task and made a mistake, just as Peter had denied Jesus three times at that charcoal fire. Peter wept when he heard the cock crow. The sound brought back Jesus’ prediction, brought to light Peter’s own denial and cowardice. How many times must he have berated himself, as we have done when we have sinned, fallen short of our goals, or made mistakes?
Making mistakes and taking risks, are necessary for learning and growing in any endeavor in life. Jesus does not want us to beat ourselves up when we fall short or fail. What is required for maturation is an honest assessment of the situation, an acknowledgment of our mistakes and sins, and then a movement to correct and learn from them. Often we overcompensate in the beginning, but as we remain persistent we reach a healthy balance.
A concrete example of this was my first experience with bowling. The first time I walked on the lane, took aim, and released the ball, I threw it into the left gutter, and then the next throw went into the right gutter. Eventually, my adjustments were less drastic and eventually, I was able to strike down more pins than hurl my ball into the gutter. The same is true for our everyday lives.
Jesus returns to be with his disciples after his resurrection, he meets them in very similar settings as he had before his death. All of his disciples failed him, yet Jesus did not condemn them. Jesus helped to show them how far they had come since he first called them, while at the same time helping them to see how far they still have to go to actualize their potential. Jesus is not only their teacher but the divine source of their own transformation.
Jesus guides and empowers us with this same love and encouragement, to help us to move beyond our own self, so that hopefully, we will be a little more present to someone the next time we are in a position to provide comfort or understanding, have greater resolve when tempted, and be able to have the humility to identify our sins and mistakes, repent, as well as learn from them.
Jesus has risen! He appeared to his disciples to guide, encourage, and empower them to be who God called them to be. Jesus offers us the same teaching, guidance, and power shared from the wellspring of his humanity and divinity that we will be able to also access when we choose to accept the free gift of his grace and participate in his life. Our repentance and Jesus’ forgiveness go beyond helping us to become better people. Through the love of Jesus, our minds, hearts, and souls change. We will be transfigured and conformed to Jesus and his life of resurrection. This is good news to share not only in word but in deed. Alleluia!!!