“Jesus Take the Reel” Easter 3C John 21:1-19
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
The Third Sunday of Easter, April 14, 2013
A guy calls his boss and says “I can’t come to work today The boss asks why and the guy says “It’s my eyes.” “What’s wrong with your eyes?” asks the boss. “I just can’t see myself coming to work, so I’m going fishing instead….” Have you ever had one of those days seeing yourself doing anything but fishing?
I once heard a story about Randy White, massive linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys back in the glory days (75-88) for the Dallas Cowboys. He was one of the all time greats, not only for the Cowboys but also of the NFL, but even he had his bad days. One day, after having one of the worst days of his football career, he disappeared. Coach Landry and his teammates couldn’t find him anywhere and they became worried. They eventually discovered that he had gone fishing. He had had enough of the toil of playing football, picked up his fishing pole, and headed for the lake. I’m not sure, but I don’t think he even bothered taking off his football gear. He could no longer see himself doing anything but fishing. He had “Gone Fishing.”
I think of that story every time I read of this famous post-resurrection appearance of Jesus, as Peter has had enough of his new life as a follower of Jesus and walks away from it all. He was done with the travel, the disappointed dreams, and the new life he had experienced for a few short years with Jesus. Fishing is what he knew best, he must have reasoned. It was the last job and joy Peter had before meeting Jesus. The loneliness and disappointment fisherman know must have certainly been real for Peter, as demonstrated by his willingness to drop his nets for the adventure of following Jesus. This new adventure would still be fishing, but now in a new way as he would learn what it meant to fish for people. Fishing in this way and with Jesus, the best fisherman of all, included several things.
First, fishing with Jesus was always the best way to fish. I am sure Peter and the other fisherman around him had had some great outings together. There is always the joy of preparation, anticipating the catch while mending the nets, arguing about the best place to drop the line, and contesting who has caught the biggest fish. The stories must have been in great volume, circulated amongst each other every time they headed out to the water together. Even though fishing was their source of income and livelihood, I am sure the best part of it all was the camaraderie and deep friendships developed while casting nets together. That certainly was the case when Jesus was around. Can you imagine fishing with Jesus?
We have several accounts of Jesus being present with the disciples while they were fishing, one of which is the one we have heard today. It is one of those that sounds like the others. The men are busy fishing, working their best skills, prepping and then casting their nets. All the while, nothing is happening. Their best attempts had come up empty. Then Jesus would enter the scene, give them some fishing advice, and facilitate miraculous catches. On this fishing trip, the one they didn’t think Jesus was around to be on, Jesus entered the fishing trip with the same advice as before, which must have sounded strangely familiar. Once again, they were catching nothing. Jesus tells them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat, resulting in a boat load of fish, 153 as John counted them. Wow. These times of fishing with Jesus, I am sure, were the best ever. They were experiences so transformational that they would never fish the same way again.
Well, never the same way again until Jesus is no longer with them. On this particular day, as they were still in the kind of shock the death of a loved one can bring, they were fishing in a way they hadn’t since meeting Jesus. Going back to fishing without Jesus was a great reminder of the frustration and disappointment they had experienced without Jesus. When Jesus came along, their was never a dull day out on the waters. Their world of fishing had come alive, like they were living in a fishing dream. The disappointment of the ones that got away or the days when the fish just weren’t biting never seemed like such a big deal when Jesus was with them. Now, though, Jesus was gone. He had been crucified like a criminal before their very eyes and he wouldn’t be joining them on the water again. So they thought. So they fished.
The quote by Steven Wright comes to mind when I think about the disciples attempts of fishing without Jesus, There’s a fine line between fishing and just standing on the shore like an idiot.
Somewhere in there is a fine line, one we typically don’t know we’ve crossed until it is too late to notice. The disciples were starting to look like idiots again, like they were before taking a few tips from Jesus. I am pretty confident that we all know what it feels like to have done life without Jesus. And we know what it was like to meet him one day as he stood on the shore of our lives, calling out to us to try things another way, his way. Perhaps you can remember that day that you were so amazed by Jesus that you were more than willing to drop your net and begin to fish with and like Jesus. Do you remember what it is like to fish with Jesus? To do things his way?
The first thing you discover when you go out fishing with Jesus is the joy deep friendship. When you are fishing with him, the waters are more calm, the sunrise more orange, and the air is more fresh. The fishing trip becomes more about hanging out with him than it does catching the fish. The small talk you’ve had with others in the boat, the kind that irritates you and scares away the fish isn’t there with you and Jesus. Talk is flowing as you fish. The pressures of time and correct casting are lost when you and Jesus are partners. Pretty soon, it’s hard to think about fishing without him. It just wouldn’t be the same.
Maybe you remember, too, that fishing with Jesus has measurable results. These are not results we find when we are out doing things on our own. When struggles and crises hit, we tend to revert to who we were before Jesus. It feels comfortable to pick up the pole of our past and return to what feels comfortable. We find, though, that what feels comfortable is that same reality we knew before, that feeling that comes with the realization that we have caught nothing. Without Jesus, we get bogged down in the rat-nested knots of our tangled lives. We grow weary when the only sounds we hear are the choppy waters slapping against the boat. When we were with Jesus, things were so much different. Things were happening–fish were jumping, waters were moving, nets were bulging. The things we always wanted to happen were happening. The words Jesus were saying were working. Being with Jesus seemed to involve counting the results, seeing the haul before our very eyes. The honey hole had no limits.
Finally, fishing with Jesus is the adventure of a lifetime. How else can you experience what life is really all about? Have you seen the sticker, usually adhered to the muddy bumper of a pick up truck, that says, “Kids who fish and hunt don’t steal and deal.” The thinking there is that when a child becomes acquainted with the real adventures of the outdoors, they would never be interested in wasting their time with anything else. I’m thinking we need a bumper sticker for the bumper on our spiritual lives as well, “People who fish and hike with Jesus don’t bore or snore.” Ok, maybe not that one, but something like that. However it is said, we must never forget that the real stuff of life is when we are out with Jesus.
Maybe, though, there have been days since then when you became like Peter, going back to the way things were before you met Jesus; before you followed his advice. If we are human at all, we know what this is like. We have set out on a new kind of fishing trip with Jesus, excited about the miraculous things he can do, only to be distracted by other things in life.
Henry David Thoreau must have been a fisherman. He wrote, Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after. How true this can be for us all. What are you and I really after? Rather, who are we after?