3 Simon Peter said to the disciples, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will also come with you.” They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing. 4 But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.5 So Jesus said to them, “Children, you do not have any fish, do you?” They answered Him, “No.”6 And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.” So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish.7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea.8 But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish.
The story of John 21 has described my post-Easter journey almost perfectly: I have been sitting in a boat waiting for my nets to catch fish, when all the while, Jesus is calling me to the shore. Giving my heart to his calling has changed my priorities in ways I never expected, yet it has shown me a glimpse of what selfless love entails.
Let me give an example: when I returned to Davidson from Easter break with my family, I thought I had all of my priorities sorted, my schedule aligned for the balanced amount of time between sleep, friends, work, and play. I thought my week would be centered upon predictable tasks. I quickly realized upon return to campus, with an abundance of opportunities to reconnect with friends, that my plans would fail. And even when I thought I had relationships defined in my mind, my nets would get caught in expectations. These unpredictable moments finally challenged me to surrender to Christ, as my hands would come up empty.
Looking back on the past week, I see that I have been fed a spiritual banquet. Tossing my nets to Christ has freed me to go on adventures like joining a spoken word performance, hosting prospective students, dancing at my first college formal, gardening on Saturday mornings, taking naps, delving into learning from new relationships. My calendar has been a bit fragmented, to say the least, but my heart has become sensitive to the tides of the moment. And the flux of not-knowing has forced me to hear Jesus calling me to feed with him on the shore.
It would be very easy for me to be worried that I do not have all my work done on this Sunday evening, when I should already be asleep. But I feel that this is not my season to be task-oriented (perhaps for the first time ever). This is a season that I need to be educated in what it means to love, and to love well.
15 So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.”16He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.”17He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep.”
What does it mean to love in the way that Christ calls when we feed with Him? To explore this question, I have read Martin Luther King’s vision of the Beloved Community. I have heard lectures on the meaning of agape, Christ’s selfless love. I have read psychological and Buddhist explanations on our need for love. I have learned from walks on the cross country trails with friends, picnics and birthday celebrations, difficult conversations, questioning, re-prioritization. All the learning comes back to two center points: repentance and reconciliation.
Repentance: for all the times that we, like Simon Peter, failed to love Jesus “more than these,” whether that be relationships, status, grades, or control.
Reconciliation: for all the times that God, through Jesus, professed that we all are His children, equally cherished and sacred in the eyes of their Creator, and that real love binds us all together.
What does this mean in the context of a college student’s life? First, I feel that any time I seek love, I am missing the point. Christ is already waiting to offer me abundance, I just need to toss him my nets to see love in everything around me. Second, the point of sitting at the Lord’s table is to feed my neighbors out of His selflessness. Only when I ask to be emptied in repentance can the Lord grant me the love of agape needed for reconciliation.
To love, then, is to leave our boats and our nets and come to the Source of all Life. There is bread and fish at that table to fill every broken wound. As Martin Luther King says, “The end is redemption and reconciliation.”
Yes, to the grounded one
telling me to leave my nets
my hunger craving seeking flesh.
the sea of fish
are held in the open hands
of the Healer.
Yes, I love Thee more than these, I swear
for all the times I have denied Thee.
I offer the fish Thou hast given me to feed
your sheep, longing for intimacy.
In this broken world, lost continents
can only be redeemed
by the selfless Love on shore.
Here, at this table, may we all may be fed.