Sermon for the Third Sunday of Easter

John 21:1-19  Is It Worth It?

Your teacher has been murdered. You and your friends had been in hiding, fearful of being arrested. Then you find out your teacher had come back to life. You had seen him with your own eyes. Everything seemed to be in turmoil. And what does Peter want to do? Go fishing.

Fishing was what Peter knew how to do. Fishing gave him a purpose, a direction, a bit of stability in a world that Peter or the other disciples had little control. In fishing, he could focus. In fishing, Peter could find solace. The other disciples want to go with him. He is the makeshift leader now and the others are more than glad to let Peter make the decisions. And so off to fishing they go. Great idea right? The fish do not think so. Peter and his friends catch nothing.

Seeking to live a transcendent life, a spiritual life, a life empowered by love and surrender is not an easy thing to do. Why, why is it so hard? We are not in control of the spiritual realm. In fact, all we can do is to respond to God’s initiatives. All we can do is make choices in the face of pain, confusion, sorrow, shame, and anxiety. Peter’s choice, go fishing.

What do you do when you feel you need to make an escape? What do you do when things and situations are so pressure-filled? What do you do to just veg out? I used to play video games or basketball when the stress got difficult. You hope the activity will put you in a different state of mind. But alas, they caught no fish.

And then it happens. Jesus appears.

It was early in the morning, you know, the time of the day in which things smell different. A time in which you deal with residue sleepiness that produces a little less than clear mind and muscle fatigue one must deal with after a time of non-activity. A time in which the senses are waking, seeking to make sense of one’s surroundings.        

Jesus calls out, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” As the disciples look to the shore where this voice came from. They can see a figure but cannot make the person out. “No,” they yell back. Then the figure speaks again. “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.”            

I don’t know how this advice when over. Who was this person? What did this person know about fishing? However, one thing I know about fishermen is when someone tells you where the fish are biting, you pay attention. Fishing takes skill, but it also involves a certain amount of luck. The fact that they had caught no fish means they were likely to be open to this type of advice. In fact, they had listened to a man before, Jesus himself, who had given them some fishing advice and they caught the most fish they had ever caught in their lives.

So, the disciples take the advice and throw their nets over to the other side of the boat.  “When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” It was if a light off. They now knew the figure onshore was Jesus. Peter could not wait. Peter jumped into the water and headed for Jesus.

When they get to shore, Jesus has prepared breakfast for them. Why did Jesus do this? This is who Jesus is. This is what Jesus does. This is what Jesus will always do, serve.

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk. 10:45 NIV)

Jesus was always looking out for others. Jesus did not come to condemn the world as the Scripture states, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (Jn. 3:17 NIV)

In Jesus’s behavior, we find an example for ourselves as well. Over and over Jesus emphasized the way to God is the way of a servant. The way to love is the way of a servant. Service to others is at once a means and an end of spiritual growth.

If you want to get closer to God, if you want to understand Jesus better, if you want more than just religion then serve others. Jesus himself stated. These were his words, “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matt. 25:34-40 NIV)

There are so many things we can do to continue the work of our Lord. There are so many people, needs, and opportunities for us to make a difference in the name of our Lord.

The story does not end there. Jesus then speaks to Simon Peter alone. Jesus asks him the question, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Who are the “these”? Is it the other disciples? Is it the fishing? We are not told. I do not think it is that important to know either. What is important is understanding the relationship between Jesus and Peter. Jesus is confronting Peter. Jesus is making Peter think. Three times Jesus asks Peter about his love.

Love, filial love, the love Jesus asks of Peter can be expressed through concern for another’s physical (spiritual)  and emotional well-being and the actions stemming from such concern can amount to a major force in one’s own spiritual growth. (Jesus is helping Peter to grow) But love for others involves care for their hearts and souls as well as for their bodies and minds. One very important manifestation of love, then, is the nurturance of the spiritual growth of our sisters and brothers. ”[1]

In other words, Jesus is letting Peter know how important a task he has been given is. Three times Peter denied Jesus before the cross and now Peter declares his love for Jesus three times before Peter is left with the other disciples to carry out their mission to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to fulfill the commandments to love.

Jesus gives Peter a purpose founded upon Peter’s professed love of Jesus. Care for those I care for. Care for those who know my voice. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (Jn. 10:11 NRS) My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. (Jn. 10:27 NIV)

Then Jesus tells Peter what lies ahead for him. Jesus tells Peter he is going to be at the mercy of others and their actions will not be favorable toward him.

Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

Now, wait one minute. The whole time Peter has been following Jesus he has faced difficulty and failure. Peter has tried his best (his best usually not working). And now, this person who is normally the take-charge guy is told he will die without being in control. Then Jesus said, “Follow me.”

Even though the way I am leading you will lead to this, “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.”  (Jn. 21:1-19 NIV) The question we might ask is, “Was it worth it? Was it worth it Peter?” I believe he would answer, “Yes friend, it was worth it.” Again, was it worth it? Yes. A third time, was it? Yes.

At least with the horrors, trials, temptations, and persecutions, I have experienced. Yes, it is worth it.


[1] Gerald G. May— Will and Spirit