I’m out on the water a lot where I live and I often greet those I meet with the friendly question, “How’s the fishing?” Now, everyone knows that question doesn’t deserve a strictly honest answer. After all, if the fishing were really good at that particular spot, the anglers who found it wouldn’t be all that inclined to let you in on their discovery. And if they weren’t having any luck, they won’t want to admit it to you!
The risen Jesus shouts a similar friendly question to his friends out fishing on the Sea of Tiberias. They were doing their best to get ‘back to business’ after enduring the horrible events of a few days before. Jesus’ closest followers, they had abandoned him to face capture, torture and execution on his own.
But now, the risen Jesus, appearing as a stranger on the shore, calls to them in familiar terms. A good translation of the idiomatic Greek is: “Hey fellows, how’s the fishing? Not so good?” The fishing, of course, like everything else in their lives, was going very badly. But there was more than just friendly curiosity in Jesus’ question. He wasn’t simply interested in the prospects for fishing; he was concerned about the condition of his friends’ hearts. He wanted them to know that, while they may have deserted him, he had not abandoned them.
This story is about so much more than fishing. It’s about people carrying heavy burdens while trying to get on with ‘business as usual’ in life. And, for the disciples of Jesus, then and now, its about trying to go on when Jesus seems to have abandoned them. Peter is the focal point as the story takes a surprising turn. When he hears that the stranger might be Jesus, the ever-impulsive Peter jumps out of the boat and swims to shore. There they are, face to face, just the two of them, Jesus on one side of the charcoal fire, Peter on the other.
That charcoal fire, (the anthrakia, in Greek), is the key to the entire story. Peter recognized the situation instantly. The last time he and Jesus had looked into each other’s eyes was by the light of a charcoal fire. It was in the courtyard of the High Priest where Jesus was being questioned on his way to death. On that horrible night Peter was warming himself in front of another anthrakia, a charcoal fire while vehemently denying that he ever even knew Jesus. At that instant Jesus glanced at him, and it was the worst moment in Peter’s life. Now, Jesus was again looking at him in the light of a charcoal fire. But this time, instead of being condemned by his own cowardice, Peter was comforted and transformed by Jesus in the fire’s light.
I am Peter here. This is my story and a story for every follower of Christ. With Peter, I know what it means to feel miserably alone with my burdens and failures. Like his, my faith can be very weak and I know how painful life without Jesus feels. I need this transforming story, to be convinced once more that Jesus still lives for those he loves, no matter how far they’ve strayed and there is no need for me to live my life without him. And so, with Peter, I boldly pray:
Lord Jesus, I hear you calling me out of my life’s grim and fruitless ‘business as usual.’ Your loving glance assures me that no burden will ever be so heavy, no defeat so devastating, no loss so hopeless that you can’t restore and forgive and renew me. Welcome me, dear Jesus, into the warmth and glow of your transforming charcoal fire. Amen.
Edward R. Dufresne, © 2014