Picnic on the Beach
Our small farm in Michigan was a couple of miles from the shores of Lake Huron. We swam and fished in the lake and its tributaries. Lake perch, smallmouth bass, walleye and salmon in later years, carp, suckers, northern pike, lake run trout and smelt were just a few of the cornucopia of fishing available (This is not a fish story and my veracity is impeccable)! Is it any wonder that I am attracted to John 21:11, where it tells us that “Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore? It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn” (NIV).
John 21 is also the story of a picnic and barbeque. Verse 9 tells us that Jesus hosted a meal of barbequed fish and bread for Peter and his friends. I also recall with keen fondness the picnic lunches we shared in shelters adjacent to Lake Huron or on the beach itself. Even though fish were plentiful, the standard fare for our picnics was hotdogs, hamburgers and homemade potato salad. Certainly not rivaling the meal Jesus fixed but satisfying nonetheless!
What are we to make of this story? There are many points at which we could engage. For example, if you are a trivia buff and believe that numbers mean something, why the specificity of 153 fish? Was it simply to indicate that a lot of fish were caught?
Or the meaning of the bread and fish. For some traditions, this has overtones of the Eucharist--Jesus the host serving bread.
Or perhaps the most commented upon section, John 21:15 and following. Here Jesus engages in a poignant conversation with Peter. Peter, do you love me? Three times this question was asked, and three times Peter answered with clarity. You know I love you, Jesus.
My “wonderment” question is this. Why didn’t the disciples recognize Jesus immediately, especially considering the initial conversation? Perhaps there was some logical reason. Early dawn, the disciples were too far offshore, there was fog… However, this is not the first time Jesus was not recognized in post-resurrection stories. The road to Emmaus, Thomas doubting and now the lonely figure standing on the seashore. Each of these stories has a context that provides possible reasons.
Verse 3 tells us, “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.” This story indicates Peter went back to his old job, that of being a commercial fisherman. That certainly makes sense. Peter had to have some way of making a living given the unpredictable circumstances.
Peter was returning to ordinary time, and in that transition, I wonder if he reconciled himself to the thought that he might never see Jesus again. Thus, he was not looking for Christ. He did not expect to see Christ, and it did not occur to him that person on the shore might be Jesus. He could not see what he did not expect.
He could not see what he did not expect. Ring a bell? What do we expect to see during these next months? Our normal way of living has certainly disappeared quickly. Perhaps never to return in the same way. Are we prepared to see a Jesus that may well be asking us to cast our nets in a different manner, on the different side of the boat? Who is it we expect to see?
District Executive Minister
Shenandoah District Church of the Brethren