Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Seven of them sat around the table, their scant meal long since finished. Nathanael tapped his fingers against the wooden table in the silence. James and John exchanged a look of exasperation at the noise as Thomas shifted in his chair. Philip and Bartholomew stared out the window at the sea of Galilee, glittering in the evening sunset. Simon stood up.
            “I’m going out to fish,” he announced.
            John sighed. He was sure that Jesus had not come back from the dead to have them retreat to Galilee and take up their old occupations and yet what else could they do?
            Simon started toward the door.
            “We’ll come with you,” John said. The others followed him. Sometimes you’ll do anything not to be alone.
            But the sea bore no fruit that night. They worked in shifts, first three—James, John and Simon—then four—Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas and Nathanael—while the others rested. But although shoals of musht fish could be seen teeming the sea, not one of them founds its way into their nets. It was so odd on such a perfect night for fishing that Thomas was sure they had been cursed.
As the deep black of night paled into grey, they saw a figure on the lake shore. But the mist and the distance kept them from recognizing who it was.
            “My friends! Haven’t you any fish?” the man called.
            “None!” James yelled back in his booming voice.
            “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some!” the man called.
            They waved their thanks but only James and Simon moved to put the net over on the other side of the boat.
            “It’s not as though one side of the boat is better than the other. It’s the difference of two cubits!” Bartholomew said.
            “Forget two cubits,” Thomas muttered darkly. “We have bigger problems than two cubits.”
            Simon shrugged. “One more try is no trouble,” he said.
            The sun slunk into the horizon, little bits of molten red glowing in their eyes and clearing the mist away by an infinitesimal amount.
            “Besides,” James added, “it would be discourteous to ignore the man’s advice right in front of him. He could be a friend of ours.”
            John nodded his agreement, and watched as Simon skillfully tossed the net into the sea. It rose high into the air and landed in a perfect circle. It hovered for one instant, and then the lead weights sank down, pulling the net with it. While the others retired to the bow, James and Simon leaned on the rail side by side and watched the sun rising as they waited.
John eyed the slump of Simon’s shoulders, his elbows on the rail and his spine pushing up against weather-beaten skin. He envied Simon’s passion and he missed Simon’s wild declarations of loyalty. It seemed as though all of enthusiasm had disappeared since he had fulfilled the prophecy the Rabbi made about him. Denials stayed with you.
            Then Simon’s shoulders tensed and he looked over at James with a wonder in his eyes that John hadn’t seen since their last dinner with the Rabbi. James shouted and the other four ran towards them from the bow. The net was full and bursting with hundreds of musht begging to be taken up into their boats.
            “The harvest is plentiful,” he had said. “But the workers are few.”
            John joined his brothers in hauling at the bulging net. But they would not come over the sides, so full they were with gaping fish. Simon laughed wildly, too close to John’s ear, but he smiled in response. The swollen net and that light in Simon’s eyes was enough for him. He felt tears start in his eyes and the burning in the back of his throat.
“It’s him. It’s the lord.”
As if he’d already known from the beginning that this night wasn’t about fish and this morning wasn’t just the end of a fruitless wait, Simon grabbed his shirt and jumped over the side of the boat and began swimming to the shore. John laughed outright and wished he could follow suit. Instead he turned to the others.
“Hold the nets,” he said, tears of joy mixing with splashing water on his face. “We’re going to pull to shore.”
They were only a hundred yards where Jesus stood and hard on Simon’s swimming heels. John steered the ship while the others held the nets steady until they were back on the bank. John leaped off the boat, but was not immediately followed by the others. They were focused, trying to pull the nets to safety and retain most of their catch.
Then Jesus pulled John into a hug. Finally the other disciples stopped working and noticed who it was standing with Simon and John.
“It’s him!” some of them whispered. “It’s the Lord.”
Jesus smiled at them. “Bring some of the fish you just caught.”
He turned and walked toward a nearby fire, but not before Simon-Peter heard as if an echo, “Follow me. And I will make you fishers of men.”
On the fire of burning coals lay a single fish and some bread. Jesus and John sat down together and spoke with one another. Simon, too overwhelmed, joined his fellow disciples on the boat to pull in the fish. When they had finished securing them, Jesus gestured.
“Come and eat!”
They came and sat around the fire where Jesus passed around the fish and bread. They ate in silence and devoured his very presence. They ate and all were satisfied.
When everyone had finished his meal, Jesus turned to Simon.
“Simon, son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” He gestured vaguely around them. Nathanael was wondering what Jesus meant to ask: did Simon love Jesus more than he loved fishing? more than he loved the other disciples? more than the other disciples loved Jesus? more than fish and bread?
Who do you say I am?
But Simon did not hesitate.
“Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.”
            You are the Christ.
“Feed my lambs.”
Peter nodded and accepted the commission without comment. The others sat stunned and quiet. It was Jesus broke the heavy morning stillness just a few moments later. He held up two fingers.
“Simon, son of John, do you truly love me?”
Again, Peter nodded. “Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.”
He had always loved him, even as he denied him a second and third time.
“Take care of my sheep. Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter blinked, hurt.
“Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.”
Jesus smiled because he did know all things and did know that Peter loved him. “Feed my sheep, Cephas. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
Everyone there recognized this as a prophecy of how Peter would die, not the least of which was Peter. Jesus again smiled at Peter and Peter heard, as if in an echo, “The gates of Hades will not prevail against you.
“Follow me.”

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