by Brian Johnson, guest contributor to Bible Lands Explorer.
We enter the manicured grounds of the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter. Here, on the edge of the Sea of Galilee, we remember Peter's restoration.
In previous days, our Jesus Trail trekkers plodded through mud, scrambled up rocks, and navigated over barbed wire fences. We were grimy, sweaty, and sore. Compared to that terrain, the path before us is serene and uncomplicated.
Posted signs call for silence. We pass a squat church building and enter a broad, curving beach. The day is beautiful. The sun is shining. Small waves lap basalt pebbles. Mark asks us to think about Peter's restoration.
You know the story. Some time after Jesus’s resurrection, Peter decided to go fishing. Some of the others came along. They had been on this sea many times before.
This account from the end of the Gospel of John reminds me of an earlier story from another gospel. On this occasion, Jesus asked Peter to take the boat out to the deep water and fish. Peter protested: they had fished all night with no success. But when they did as asked, they caught so many fish that their nets began to break. Peter knelt at the feet of his Lord and confessed his own sinfulness, saying that Jesus should leave him. But Jesus had a different idea: “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people” (Luke 5:10, NIV 2011). The response is immediate: the disciples “pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him” (Luke 5:11, NIV 2011). They left everything to fish for people.
Now, in John 21, that call seemed to be over. Peter was returning to what he left behind. He went back to the boats and the nets and the weights. To understand why, think about what had happened just a few weeks before. Jesus warned his disciples that they would all fall away. But Peter refused to believe it and boldly declared, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will” (Matthew 26:33, NIV 2011).
But he did. And he denied Jesus--not once, but three times. He was ruined for what he had been called to do. His grief must have been overwhelming.
Nearly at the end of our Jesus trail hike, Mark says, "We all need restoration. Take some time to do what you need to do."
Some days I feel hopeful that Jesus still can use a screw-up like me. Other days I feel like a failure who needs to find a trade like fishing and leave ministry for good.
But Jesus had other ideas for Peter. In John 21, it turned out to be another of those long nights, like what they had experienced in Luke 5. An unknown stranger--on the very shore we now stand--called out to the boat, "Throw your nets on the other side." When they did this, the nets were full again. This sparked a memory. John exclaimed, "It is the Lord!" Peter leaped overboard and swam to shore. Jesus had already started the fire and had a fish breakfast sizzling.
After eating, Jesus asked Peter a question that must have cut him, “Do you love me more than these?” Peter answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus replied, “feed my sheep.”
What I think is significant here is that Jesus asks Peter this question two more times. Three times Peter denied Jesus, now Jesus gives Peter a chance to affirm his love for him three times. I can hear the exasperation in Peter’s words when he says, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you” (John 21:17, NIV 2017). Jesus tells him the third time to be the shepherd of his flock.
The parallels between Peter's calling in Luke 5 and his restoration in John 21 are not accidental. In the moment of his calling Jesus asked Peter to fish for people. In the moment of his restoration Jesus told Peter that he is still a shepherd of the flock. Peter's past had not ruined him for service. He still has work to do.
Our footsore band of Jesus Trail hikers spreads out in different directions along the beach. Some take off muddy boots and socks to soak their feet in the water. Others read their Bibles. Some pray.
All of us need restoration from time to time. This is a good place to find it. I am reminded that Jesus is a relentless pursuer and the giver of second (and third and fourth) chances. There is still work for us to do--still work for me to do. Sheep are lost. Others need to be tended. It is good for a shepherd to spend quiet moments by the lake and be reminded of the awesome task of ministry and the wondrous grace of restoration.
Brian and his wife Josanne make their home in central Illinois. Brian pastors the North Danvers Mennonite Church in Danvers. He has taught New Testament (Lincoln Christian University) and has helped establish a ministry school in the Dominican Republic.