Fishing, Failure and Resurrection
“Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing…After this he [Jesus] said to him [Peter], ‘Follow me.’” — John 21:3, 19
I love the outdoors, but I do not consider myself an outdoorsman. I have never hunted, and I am not skilled at camping (except for the backyard variety). Growing up, I did go fishing every once-in-a-while with my dad and older brother, and I vividly remember the last time I went fishing. My son was in elementary school. One of his best friends was quite the outdoorsman and had a birthday party at a catfish lake not far from our home in Boiling Springs. Because I was close friends with the father of the birthday boy, I was invited to tag along. I had not planned to fish but was glad to be there since my son’s fishing experience was very limited, to say the least. The boy’s grandfather announced that he would give a dollar to each child when they caught their first fish. Almost as soon as their lines hit the water, the kids excitedly began reeling in the fish. Once the fish were safely on shore, the grandfather took an individual picture of the children with their prize catch, all of which were catfish of a respectable size. Then, after the fish were released into the water, the grandfather, as promised, gave each child their dollar bill.
Against my better judgment, I was lured (pun intended) into the fishing expedition. After what seemed like several minutes of not getting a bite, I finally felt a tug on my line. Not to be outdone by the kids, I proudly began reeling in my own prize catch. Soon, the laughter of kids filled the banks of that catfish lake as they saw the smallest crappy fish in the history of fishing dangling from the end of my line. Recognizing this Kodak moment, the grandfather asked me to pose for the camera. I had to turn the fish horizontally simply for it to be seen in the picture. Then, as if to put an exclamation point on my failed fishing excursion, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a dollar bill and handed it to me.
Today’s scripture records a fishing trip, which believe it or not, was a bigger failure than mine. Following the news of the resurrection and even having seen the risen Lord, Peter and the disciples returned to their boats, fished all night, and caught nothing. Jesus, knowing their failure, calls to them from the shore and encourages them to try the other side. When they do, they are unable to haul in the catch because it was so large.
I am convinced that after arriving on shore, Peter vividly remembers the eyes of Jesus seeing his earlier failure – not a failure to catch fish, but a failure to identify himself as a follower of Christ. He had bragged “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you…Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you” (Matthew 26:33, 35). But three times the people challenged him as one who followed Christ, and each time Peter denied even knowing Jesus. But now, in spite of Peter’s failure, the resurrected Jesus stands on the shore with the same invitation extended to Peter only a few years earlier by the Sea of Galilee. And in spite of our failures, the resurrected Jesus issues the same invitation to us. “Follow me.”
Prayer: Lord, thank you for your grace and mercy which offers us a second chance, regardless of our past and regardless of our failures.
Dr. Tracey Jessup serves as vice president for Christian Life and Service and senior minister to the University. He isa graduate of Gardner-Webb with a B.A. in Music and earned his M. Div. degree at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He also teaches in the undergraduate department of religious studies and enjoys the opportunity to serve the local church through interim pastorates, pulpit supply, and preaching revival services. he and his wife, Teresa, have two children, Christian and Anna.