Peter was a fisherman called by Jesus to be an Apostle
Peter is traditionally considered the chief of the Apostles
Peter is an example of a man who was transformed by the power of Jesus. He was changed from a fiery, exclusive, fisherman with a temper that could flare and with emotions that could rise and fall in a few moments--He was changed into a considerate, passionate, inclusive Apostle of Jesus. His testimony was the foundation rock of the Church and his personal loyalty to Jesus was rock solid.
There is a tradition regarding the aged Peter. He had made it to Rome on his ministry journeys. But there was a fierce persecution under the emperor Nero. Peter decided to leave the city. As he was fleeing, he met Jesus who was going into Rome. Peter asked, "Lord, where are you going?" Jesus replied, "I am going into Rome to be crucified again." Peter turned around, entered the city and suffered martyrdom by crucifixion. Peter, however, asked to be crucified upside down because he did not think of himself as worthy of the same death as Jesus, his lord.
There is a wonderfully delightful account of the relationship between Jesus and Peter. It is found in the Gospel of John, the 21st chapter.
The context of the story is significant.
First as to the time. This event happened after the resurrection of Jesus, after the report of the women concerning the empty tomb, after Jesus had appeared to the disciples on the Emmaus road and after he appeared twice to the Apostles in the upper room.
Second, as to the setting. Peter and the apostles are living life without the constant physical presence of Jesus. No longer are their days anchored by and focused upon being with their Lord.
Third, as to the activity. Peter and the others have returned to fishing. Previous to Jesus, the life of these men and their families was defined by fishing. It was their livelihood.
It all starts with several of the disciples being together. One can only imagine what these friends would have been talking about. Perhaps, they were 'all talked out'. Anyway, mercurial Peter says, "I am going fishing." Do you hear the exasperation? He doesn't say, "Do you think we should go fishing?" He doesn't say, " Hey! Let's go fishing." Rather he declares, "I am going fishing." To which activity the others invite themselves.
Was Peter just tied of talking? Was he simply annoyed with inactivity? Did he need to exercise his boat and use his nets before they rotted in the sun? Did his wife tell him they needed some money?
"But that night they caught nothing."- such was the comment of St. John who records this incident. Was John's comment simply a retelling of the facts? Or was his comment a theological reflection on the facts? Often the words and events of the gospels have many layers of meaning.
It was John who first noticed the stranger on the shore. At morning light a man appeared on the shore of the lake. He called to the men in the boat. The stranger did not address them as follows: "Hey guys, did you catch anything?" Rather, he used a more personally intimate phrasing, "Children, have you any fish?"
Fisherman are aquainted with the passerby on the shore who asks about the day's catch. So it was ordinary for the man by the sea to ask if they had caught anything? Or to ask if they had any fish for sale? Maybe he was a poor person asking if they could give him something to eat?
To their reply that they had not been successful and had caught nothing, the stranger dares to tell them to cast their net on the other side of the boat.
Imagine it! They had been fishing all night. They were career fishermen. This was their lake. Now this stranger tells them to cast their net on the other side of their very small and narrow boat. Surely, such a fiery tempered man as Simon Peter should have cursed and flown into a angry temper of annoyance at the guy and of frustration at being unsuccessful.
Surprizingly, the disciples cast the net on the other side of the boat and caught a great number of fish. Then John said to Peter, "It is the Lord."
Peter's response is to immediately get dressed(he was naked) to jump into the water and to swim to Jesus. It is the response of a man who more than anything wants to be with(close to,intimate with) Jesus. And in this instance, Jesus is once again physically with them. Peter will not miss a moment of Jesus' presence. It is a time and space limited presence because Jesus cannot be held on to and he has indicated he would soon return to God, his father.
Note here, as an aside, that this is the Peter who previously asked to walk upon the water to Jesus and then began to sink when he saw the storm. However, in this case, he swims to Jesus. (Yes, there is a lot of humor in the New Testament!) An indication of this humor is seen by John relating
that the net of fish which Peter hauled to shore had 153 fish. Can we ask the question as one author did, as to who counted them and when did they do it? Hopefully, the disciples did not count the fish while they still had Jesus physically present with them. To be concerned with dying fish while in the presence of the crucified and risen Jesus would have been to focus on the absolutely most insignificant thing. Or maybe they felt grateful and like the person who opens the gift wanted the giver to know of their thankfulness. Or maybe the conversation between Jesus Peter and John was so private that the others moved away from the campfire so the three could be secluded.
The scene on the shore is set by the words of verse 12, "Come and have breakfast. None of the disciples dared ask him,'who are you?' They knew it was the Lord."
They communed together. It was not the same communion as in the upper room. But was of a different type. They had nothing to offer, other than themselves, until Jesus provided the miraculous catch of fish. When they landed they found that Jesus already had a fire of burning coals, some fish and some bread. However, Jesus invites them to contribute some of the fish they had caught. And then Jesus presides at the meal and he takes the bread and gives it to them and also did the same with the fish. This community meal of the disciples with Jesus is a fellowship meal with sacramental overtones. However, it is not the body and blood of the savior as in the upper room.
The conversation after the meal turns toward an interrogation of Peter. Jesus asks, "Simon son of John, do you love me more then these?" The "these" could refer to the disciples or as one author thinks, could refer to the fish. So it would read, "Do you love me more than these fish?" Peter repies, "Yes Lord, you know that I love you." This question is said three times and Peter gives the same reply. Why did Jesus directly ask Peter this question? Was it to allow Peter to affirm his love and thereby atone for his thrice denial of Jesus? Was it a reference to Peter's new role as leader of the disciples and first leader of the new church? Was Peter's three times declaration of his love a reference to the rock of Peter himself, and to his teachings for the church? Was it a directive given to Peter to quit thinking of himself and his fishing business and instead dedicate himself to the new church?
It is proper to see this scene by the sea in the light of Peter's previous life. He was the one who after the last supper declared that if everyone should abandon Jesus, he would not be one of them. He was the one who said that even if he had to die he would not deny Jesus. We can ask if the three questions and the three answers by the sea of Tiberius are setting right the night of the garden and the courtyard betrayals. If only Judas had availed himself of the gentle heart and loving forgiveness of Jesus.
But we hasten to remember that this is Petros, the rock. And Rock was the one who gave us the petra, the foundational rock of the Christian religion. It happened at Caesarea Philippi where Peter declared, "You are the Christ the Son of the living God." Jesus replied, " You are Peter, (petros) and upon this rock (petra) I will build my church.
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