This is now the third time, and Simon Peter still does not know the Man. The last thing he has said, prior to this fishing expedition, is that he was not with Jesus, and that he is certainly not one of that Man’s disciples. It seems that he was right on that count, because he’s back to where he was before the Lord Jesus ever called him to follow.
There’s nothing wrong with going fishing, in itself, whether for the fun of it or for your livelihood. The same goes for you, whatever your pastimes and occupations may be. Christ has died, and Christ is risen, and Christ will come again, but here in the meantime you have your life in the world, a job to do, a family (or at least yourself) to feed, and other good gifts of God to receive and use. Simon Peter likewise had a household to provide for, a wife and a mother-in-law, and fishing was something he knew and understood.
It was Jesus that he didn’t know or understand, yet, and therein lies the problem. It’s not that he doubted or denied the Resurrection, not after the first two appearances; but there is still the unresolved fact that he had denied the Lord Jesus Himself in His Passion. At this point, everything is pretty much up in the air for Simon Peter, who really doesn’t know what do with himself.
Perhaps it is not so different for you, between one Sunday morning and the next, in the middle of the week. So God raised Jesus from the dead. That’s good news and a great answer — but maybe it doesn’t seem to answer your most immediate questions and concerns. What are you supposed to do with yourself? What difference does the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus make in your daily dealings? Or does it really matter in the meantime?
Of course the answers to these questions are going to be different for you than for Simon Peter. You’re not one of the Twelve Apostles, and most of you are never going to be a Minister of the Gospel, a pastor, or even a full-time church worker. We may hope and pray that some of you young men will grow up to become pastors someday, but what about your life right now? And for the rest of you, who have no such prospects on the horizon, what are you to make of your chores and duties, your job and responsibilities? It can feel like a very long way between Good Friday and Easter and your desk or the diapers you have to change.
Your day-to-day life can seem very worldly and mundane, but it’s not as though you can simply step out of the world to serve some “higher” or “more spiritual” sort of calling. Nor that you would attempt it, even if you could, when you think back on your missteps in the past, your mistakes and major mess-ups. Who are you to presume that you could ever live a “holy” life? You’ve got your hands full, just trying to manage your days, juggle your obligations, and get by.
It stings and pricks your conscience, doesn’t it, when you are confronted with even little reminders of your checkered past? Like the little charcoal fire, laid there at the feet of Jesus on the beach, which had previously set the scene of Simon Peter’s adamant denials. Ouch! That one cuts to the quick and leaves a mark — but lesson learned. Or maybe not, yet.
It’s not that you must now “try harder” and “do better” next time. It is rather that you learn where, and when, and how to follow Jesus; that you learn to know Him, as He is, and that you be with Him, where He is. Not by heroic bravado or desperate attempts to prove yourself, but by the grace of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus.
None of the disciples know Him, and neither do you, except by His Voice, and by the good gifts that He provides with His Word, as He loves you in this way. Then you recognize Jesus, your Good Shepherd, in His love for you, and you know and believe and confess that He is the Lord.
It is in knowing Him, in this way, that you truly know yourself and your place in the world, and you know what to do with yourself and your life.
The Lord Jesus calls you to Himself, to eat and drink what He has prepared and provided for you, but He does not call you out of the world in order to get to Him. The little boat of His Church on earth, even a very little boat like Emmaus, brings you safely to Him, and your feet are cleansed in the same waters that uphold the whole Church as you come to His meal. As the Lord has already bathed you in those waters, in your Holy Baptism, you need not throw yourself into the sea, as though to drown your own grief and sorrow, or as though to cleanse your hands and head of all your guilt and shame. No, the Word of Jesus washes you, daily, with His free and full forgiveness, while His Baptism remains and avails for you, no matter how many times you have fallen short, sunk up to your neck and gone under.
Where Jesus is concerned, you are not called to offer Him your works or sacrifices of propitiation. He simply calls you to Himself, to receive what He gives, to eat and drink from His hand, to find in Him your life and health and strength, and so to live by faith in Him.
He does also call you to work, as He commands you to love one another, but your labors of love are not for His benefit, nor for your atonement and reconciliation with God, but for your neighbor. The Lord does not need the fish that He enables you to catch and asks you to bring, but these are the men, women and children whom He calls and brings to Himself through you and your nets.
Your nets need not be large and strong, but simply cast them at His Word on the right side of your little boat, and see how He fills them, and yet without tearing them. Your nets need not be those of the apostolic ministry and the pastoral office — nor should you take those nets to yourself apart from the Lord’s Call — but work with the nets of your own vocations and stations in life. If you are a mother, cast your net for your children. If you are a husband, cast your net for your wife. If you are a shopkeeper, cast your net for your customers. And if you are a fisherman, cast your net for fish, and feed your family and your neighbors with the catch your Lord provides. Your life is holy, also in the world and its mundane obligations, because you are holy by the washing of the water with the Word of Christ.
You are called to Christ Jesus, to be fed by Him, by His grace, and to rest in His peace. But you are not called to laziness and negligence in respect to your neighbor and your place on earth. Here you are called to work with the strength that God provides, to serve faithfully and well, and to care for others in the hope and confidence of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus.
You are not expected to give more than you have received — nor can you; for what do you have that you have not received? But what, then, have you received? And what is it for? The Lord would have you enjoy His gracious gifts and delight in them, because He loves you, but He would also have you put them to good purpose and use in love for your neighbor. Thus do your time, treasures and talents become alms — that is, works of mercy and gifts of charity — for the widows and orphans, for the lame, the poor and the blind, and for your own spouse and children, your brothers and sisters, and your fellow Christians.
What, then, do you have in your hand? And what is in your heart? When there is faith and love there, then whatever is in your hand will be extended to the one laid at your gate. Is it silver and gold? Is it medical knowledge and skill? Or food and clothing? Or a listening ear? Or carpentry, plumbing and electrical know-how?
The holy Apostles received from the Lord, what they have also delivered to the Church in His Name and holy remembrance, that is, the Ministry of His Gospel, His preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, His Holy Baptism, the Bread of Life, which is His Body given for you, and His Cup of Salvation, which is the New Testament in His Blood, poured out for you. From generation to generation, this sacred “Tradition” of the Gospel, this Holy Ministry of the Word and Sacraments of Christ Jesus, has been handed over — as also now from your pastors to you.
So are the Cross and Resurrection of the Lord Jesus for you, and they are yours, in the sure promises and certain hope of Him who stands upon the beach and beckons you to Himself, to break your fast with His Feast. So shall you live and not die forever.
In that holy faith and confidence, your life right here and now has a sacred meaning and purpose. Whether you have much or little, the Lord provides all that is needed for all that He would have you do, and for the neighbor He would have you serve.
Do not despise that poor man, or that poor woman, for you could no more walk from your mother’s womb than he or she could. You are all conceived and born in sin, subject to death, and of yourself unable to do or accomplish anything. Your works without the gracious providence of the Lord Jesus could do nothing, and if He did not open His hand to supply your needs, you would not have anything to eat or drink or wear, nor anywhere to live.
But now the Lord has raised you up to stand, and He upholds you with His strength. He has drawn you up out of the water, cleansed of all your sins and sanctified by His Life-giving Holy Spirit. He has opened His heaven to you, and His Father is well-pleased with you, no matter what your past has been. Therefore, your labors are not in vain, but they bring forth the fruits of the Lord Jesus, who loves you.
Would you know His love for you, and would you rest in His peace? Come, then, little children, beloved disciples of Jesus: Come and eat what He has prepared for you. For He is the Lord, and here He has come to feed you with Himself. So does He manifest Himself to you again, who was crucified for you and raised from the dead, that you might live in Him, both now and forever.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.