"Don't start off with an apology," my public speaking professor said years ago. "Don't give people a reason not to listen by telling them in advance how unqualified you are, how what you are about to say isn't all you hoped it would be and how it really ought to have been done better and by someone else."
I am about to violate her advice.
I made some comments on this blog and Belinda asked me to share them in a post. I want to say in advance that this is not a thorough exposition of the passage at hand, but more of a from-the-heart offering that springs from consideration of it. Okay, you've been forewarned.
Also, just by way of introduction, I met Belinda at Write! Canada in 2002 and ran into her again at W!C a few years later. When she started the blog, I checked it out and bookmarked it. Blog-surfing was a hit-and-miss activity for me in those days, but every time I visited "Whatever He Says," I came away richer for it. In recent months, I've made more of a consistent effort and only recently realized that the blog now has a team of authors. I probably should have made myself known to you earlier, but for quite a while I thought I was commenting directly back to Belinda only. So....sorry about that. (That's two upfront apologies. My professor would be aghast!)
Several years ago, I was grieving the loss of a friendship - several friendships, in fact. And that's not all. The circumstances surrounding this loss also resulted in the loss of trust, both in others and myself, and, to a degree, a loss of identity. After all, if THIS could happen, I must not be the type of person I think I am. Day after day, my thoughts went in a circle, revisiting events, replaying conversations. It was like a little thought-train kept going around in my head and I couldn't get it to stop. Months later my mind was still trying to sort through what had happened.
I suspect Peter (as we come to John 21) was having a similar "little train goes 'round and 'round" experience as he replayed events. As he nurses his grief, the loss of companionship and camaraderie. and is left questioning whether he is who he thought he was, he withdraws into a familiar and anonymous activity - fishing. Now fishing is an honorable vocation, but isn't this the activity OUT of which Jesus had called him, for specific purposes?
I, too, withdrew into familiar and anonymous activity, actually any activity out of the spotlight.
In John 21, Jesus essentially issues the same call to Peter that he did back in Matthew 4. Not in precisely the same words, but both times he's engaging Peter and inviting him to get on board, to follow.
Three years have passed since the initial call, "Follow me." Now, if Peter opts in, it won't be in ignorance of what it's all about and what might happen. Now, it's more "Knowing all that you now know, will you still follow me?" That's a little different.
Now that Peter knows what he might face, now that he sees his own shortcomings, in the face of his failings that he can't forget about, is he still willing to press on and follow?
Consider: If Peter hadn't decided to follow in the first place, he would have saved himself a lot of pain, not only of the loss of Jesus, but also the pain of seeing what is true about himself, that he is rash, that he often lacks follow-through, that he can be disloyal and more. He could have spent a life bobbing around in a boat on the water, quite content (maybe), never having to face the truth about himself.
Peter is awash in a sea of self-loathing and shame. Jesus comes to him to deliver, first and foremost, the most basic lesson of the Gospel: grace. NOTHING that Peter has done has disqualified him for their relationship. Peter's actions have not changed Jesus' availability. The question is, have Peter's actions changed Peter's availability?
You, Peter, have had a taste of walking on water. Are you going to distance yourself from that power now, just because you feel bad about yourself? Okay, you have regrets. We can work on that. Let's talk. Meanwhile, I have work for you to do and let's get to it. (This is a Marilyn paraphrase and not an official translation.)
How absolutely marvelous it is that we have a God who will let us wander the beach, musing about our shortcomings and failings, only so long before coming to give us a wake-up call!!
It's interesting to me that Jesus chooses a beach as the setting for Peter's restoration, for a beach was the site of their first encounter. Surely the sights, smells and sounds evoked strong memories for Peter. I think the scene of our own restoration talks are often places that are familiar escapes for us, not necessarily geographic like Peter's, but places we tend to go.
Here I am in place of anger again.
Here I am in a place of self-loathing again.
Here I am in a place of running away again.
Or, in my case, withdrawal. Here I am, hiding away again.
When lost, scared and confused, we go to those places we have learned to go, places that are familiar to us, whether we belong there or not. Still, none of those places are out of His reach or beyond His ability to meet us there, to retrieve us...again.