From Sinner, to Saint, to Failure, to Called
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. Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea… – John 21:3-7
Nearly the same story and event that occurred with Peter at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, occurs again at the end of it (see Luke 5). I can imagine a tired, frustrated, guilt-ridden Peter, full of disappointment at his lack of fish, yet deeper, full of shame from his denial of Jesus. I can visualize him quickly putting on his cloak and jumping from the boat to swim to shore, desperate to see and speak with Jesus, the rabbi — his rabbi. To think of how much that moment and miracle meant to Peter, having occurred after his denial of the man he loved — a man Peter had claimed he’d lay down his life for, who instead he outright denied. He was a sinner when initially called, and was called as a failure the second. The mixture of gratitude, desperation, and remorse must have been immense. He must have known that Jesus held nothing against him, that all was forgiven and made new. I’m certain, that as he approached Jesus, he was dripping not only with water but also with tears; realizing how wretched he was, but knowing he was even more forgiven.
Jesus is always waiting for us on the other side. After triumph, defeat, victory, loss, blessing, heartache, success, and failure, he approaches us just the same, as he did Peter. I have to wonder if this is what finally humbled Peter, so much so that from then on he was far more grounded, far more unwavering in his commitment unto Christ, both in life and death. A second time Jesus called Peter, and again Peter followed. This time, the call was unto death, and still Peter followed.
I want to follow as Peter did — not perfectly, but passionately.
Follow Me (Again)
[Jesus] 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 everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” – John 21:17-19
One night in thought and prayer, I suddenly remembered the words of Jesus to Peter. As I read, “Do you love me more than these?” I buried my head in my hands; I knew he was speaking to me. A second time, Jesus told Peter to cast out, and for a second time, Peter had an abundant catch. Then Jesus asked this poignant question, and finished with the clearest command — “Tend my lambs, shepherd my sheep.”
This is what Jesus was saying to me (and I believe is saying to all of us):
“I have given you all of these gifts, all of these moments, all of this beauty. Do you love me more than these? If you do, you will care for my sheep, my people, even at the expense of these gifts. You will walk away from the ‘fish,’ from the fruits of your labor, from all that you could gain, experience, and do for yourself, for the sake of others. You will forsake ‘self-blessing’ for the sake of blessing others. You will forsake ‘self-serving’ for the sake of serving others. You will no longer sacrifice others for your own desires — for yourself — but self-sacrifice your own desires — sacrifice yourself — for others. You can choose to bless yourself with all the gifts I’ve given you, or choose to bless others. For truly the blessing, service, self-sacrifice, and giving unto others is unto me.”
“Follow me.” And Peter was called a second time. He had walked where he wished, as he wished. He lived by his own words and his own hands. This time, he was being called into a place of surrender — of his feet and path, his mouth and motives, his hands and sword. With his age came a powerful weakness, a strong humility. He abandoned himself to the greater, in life and death unto life. I can just imagine Peter, as a young, wild man, abundant in passion but lacking in wisdom. I can imagine him, old and gray, now wise and abundant in silent passion. His physical fulfillment of the prophecy of Jesus speak what no words ever could. In his youth he abandoned his savior; in his old age he died for him.
Again, I was overcome by what I heard in the depths of my soul, as if Jesus were speaking to me what he spoke to Peter: “When you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished…” Like Peter, I am being called out of the independence and selfishness of youth. Peter gave up his rights of youth to the point of allowing himself to be led where he did not even wish to go — death. But Jesus said to him, and says to us, ”Leave your youthful ways behind, and follow me.”
The treasures of youth are glamorous, but fleeting. Like gold, they will leave you empty. If your heart is filled only with what you desire, you will only ever seek to bring blessing unto yourself, to fulfill that desire. What a heavy internal weight and heaviness of heart, to carry so much needless gold. If your heart is filled with the desires of others, you will seek to bring blessing unto theirs, to fulfill those desires. What an internal freedom and lightness of heart, to be rid of so much needless gold. “Abandon your youth, forsake your gold, and follow me.” Perhaps the greatest beauty and fulfillment is found not in where I am, or what I see, do, or experience, but in who I am to others, and what I do for them; not in how much I can gain for myself, but in how much I can gain for others.