Later, at the sea of Tiberias, Jesus showed himself to the disciples [once again]. This is how the appearance took place. Assembled were Simon Peter, Thomas (the "Twin”), Nathanael (from Cana in Galilee), Zebedee’s sons, and two other disciples. Simon Peter said to them, "I am going out to fish.” "We will join you,” they replied, and went off to get into their boat. All through the night they caught nothing. Just after daybreak Jesus was standing on the shore, though none of the disciples knew it was Jesus. He said to them, "Children, have you caught anything to eat?” "Not a thing,” they answered. "Cast your net off to the starboard side,” he suggested, "and you will find something.” So they made a cast, and took so many fish they could not haul the net in. Then the disciple Jesus loved cried out to Peter, "It is the Lord!” On hearing it was the Lord, Simon Peter threw on some clothes—he was stripped—and jumped into the water.
Meanwhile the other disciples came in the boat, towing the net full of fish. Actually they were not far from land—no more than a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a charcoal fire there with a fish laid on it and some bread. "Bring some of the fish you just caught,” Jesus told them. Simon Peter went aboard and hauled ashore the net leaded with sizable fish—one hundred fifty-three of them! In spite of the great number, the net was not torn. "Come and eat your meal,” Jesus told them. Not one of the disciples presumed to inquire, "Who are your?” for they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came over, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This marked the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after being raised from the dead. When they had eaten their meal, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” "Yes, Lord,” he said, "you know that I love you.” At which Jesus said, "Feed my lambs.” A second time he put his question, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?” "Yes, Lord,” Peter said, "you know that I love you.” Jesus replied, "Tend my sheep.” A third time Jesus asked him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because he had asked a third time, "Do you love me?” So he said to him: "Lord you know everything. You know well that I love you.” Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.” "I tell you solemnly: as a young man you fastened your belt and went about as you please; but when you are older you will stretch out your hands and another will tie you fast and carry you off against your will.” (What he said indicated the sort of death by which Peter was to glorify God.) When Jesus had finished speaking he said to him, "Follow me.” Jn. 21: 1-19.
Entering the Scene
With this Station we leave the Upper Room and return to the out-of-doors. Once again we are on terrain that was familiar and dear to Jesus and his followers—the garden, the road, the shore. When Jesus appeared to the Women at the Tomb in our first Station, he had told them, "Go and carry the message to my brothers that they are to go to Galilee where they will see me” (Mt 28:10). Again, it is impossible to impose chronology or timing on these post-Resurrection appearances, but we move from the message in Matthew and Mark to this scene in John. And of course, it is at the Sea of Galilee where they had spent so much time together, that Jesus comes to them again.
Click on image to view larger version. The Sea of Galilee, also known as the Lake of Geneserat or Lake Tiberius, is not a sea by normal standards but, rather, a very large lake, 13 miles long and 8 miles wide. At 209 meters below sea level, it is the lowest fresh water lake in the world. The site of many gospel scenes, it is the place to which both Jesus and the apostles return in this the last of our scenes before the Ascension.
"Christ at the Sea of Galilee,” c. 1575/1580, was painted in the Late Renaissance by the Italian, Jacopo Robusti, also known as Tintoretto (1518-1594). There is an eerie quality to this picture that captures both the dynamic forces of nature and the surreal presence of the Risen Christ. Clouds billow, racing before an unseen wind that fills the sail and bends the mast. Waves roil, crest and clash in splintered light on a canvas that seems to flicker and move before us. In the very center of the scene, six men strain at controlling their boat—Tintoretto is faithful to the biblical account in his numbering of those present. And Peter has one leg over the gunwales of the boat ready to launch himself into the sea. He is turned, full-figured toward the outstretched arm of the Risen Lord. The figure of Jesus in the foreground as he stands on solid earth, is in marked contrast to the vaulting, unsettled seas before him. He stands tall and straight, his back to us as he reaches toward his friends before him. His body has a kind of haze about it and seems almost transparent, an effect Tintoretto achieved by stroking white pigment over the canvas with a dry brush.
Tintoretto is considered a Mannerist painter. His style shows characteristic focus on light and motion as well as a felt tension within the composition itself. The work of Tintoretto was influential on El Greco during his time in Italy. This particular painting, in fact, was at one time mistakenly attributed to El Greco.
As has been our invitation all along, how might you have chosen to depict this scene? I had always pictured Jesus’ appearance at the Sea of Galilee as happening on a calm and beautiful morning, quite unlike the storm of Tintoretto. Living as I do, in the Pacific Northwest, my scene might look a bit more like mountains and cedars. And that would be good and to the point, for it would be familiar—as was the Sea of Galilee to Jesus and his friends. The setting of this scene beckons to our creative imagination. Imagination can help us to pray in the same way that words, song, movement, and the image before us do. I have created a guided meditation to help you enter into this scene. You can find it at the very end, after the last video. The meditation takes 12 minutes. Feel free to come back to it when the time is available and return as often as you choose to. At the end of the meditation session, you may want to have a notebook nearby to record your response.
Getting Into Character
The character of Peter reveals itself to us through the many gospel stories that include him. When Jesus gives him the name of "Petros,” or Rock, he also captures his personality. Rock solid, this one, a man who can be depended upon. In today’s parlance of a WYSIWYG, what-you-see-is-what-you-get, Peter is without guile. Even his impetuosity springs from his great heart. He cares deeply and wholeheartedly. But to know Peter we must see him in context and that context is the Sea of Galilee.
Peter was a fisherman. What did that mean in first century Galilee? This was a tough trade that made for tough men. The fish these men were catching was musht or Tilapia galilea, aka "St. Peter’s fish.” Winter, the rainy season, is also the season when fishing for muscht is at its best. So it was often in the rain that the fishermen rowed to and from the fishing sites, hauled in heavy nets, and lifted their catches. Sometimes they had to dive into the water to retrieve their nets. They were often wet from the rain or the sea and so stripped down. Typically, they worked all night and stopped at dawn. This was because the trammel nets they used could be seen by the fish in the light of day. So, at daybreak the increasing light would scare the fish from the nets. The fishing, successful or not, was done as the sun rose in the sky. After a long night’s work, they had to row to shore, offload and take care of the fish, if they had any, and carefully wash and hang their nets to dry. Linen nets would rot if left wet. A town like Capernaum that made its living largely from the nearby sea, followed a rhythm dictated by the fishing. Women went about their morning tasks quietly, shushing their babies to let the men catch some much-needed sleep.
We see that rhythm reflected in this story and in other scenes of the gospel. It does lend increased awareness to the first meeting between Jesus and Peter, then Simon:
As he stood by the Lake of Geneserat, and the crowd pressed in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats moored by the side of the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to pull out a short distance from the shore; then remaining seated, he continued to teach the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, "Master, we have been hard at it all night long and have caught nothing; but if you say so, I will lover the nets.” Upon doing this they caught such a great number of fish that their nets were at the breaking point. They signaled to their mates in the other boat to come and help them. These came, and together they filled the two boats until they nearly sank. At the sight of this, Simon Peter fell at the knees of Jesus saying, "Leave me, Lord, I am a sinful man.” For indeed, amazement at the catch they had made seized him and all his shipmates, as well as James and John, Zebedee’s sons, who were partners with Simon. Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching men.” With that they brought their boats to land, left everything and became his followers.” (Luke 5:1-11)
Peter knew the sea well enough to know there was no natural explanation for what had happened. He went to that place in his heart where as a devout Jew, he had dared to hope, and he was "all in.” Thus began one of the most remarkable companionships in history. In the next three years, Peter would experience incredible highs and lows. A partial list would include: walking on water, proclaiming Jesus as Lord, experiencing the Transfiguration, being rebuked, "get thee behind me, Satan,” protesting Jesus washing his feet, falling asleep in the garden, cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant, following and then denying the arrested Jesus. It is against that last experience, denying his beloved Master, that this encounter is to be compared.
This particular gospel story has much to teach us, as do the other post-Resurrection scenes. Perhaps the most poignant and central of reasons for its being told is to remember and redeem that last episode where as predicted, Peter denied the one he loves. We have considered in our other Stations the whereabouts and state of mind of all Jesus’ followers for the gospels leave that a blank slate. Let us turn now to Peter and take a look at how each Gospel recounts Peter’s response to the Resurrection.
The last chapter of Mark ends with two possibilities. There is "The Longer Ending,” (coming first in most bibles) where Peter is among the eleven—it is not said where, but he is not mentioned by name. Finally, as they were at table, Jesus was revealed to the Eleven. He took them to task for their disbelief and their stubbornness, since they put no faith in those who had seen him after he had been raised (Mk. 16:14). And there is also "The Shorter Ending” which makes specific mention of Peter: They (the women at the tomb) promptly reported to Peter and his companions all that had been announced to them.
Matthew does not mention Peter specifically. He is among the eleven to whom Jesus appears but in a different setting.
The eleven disciples made their way to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had summoned them. At the sight of him, those who had entertained doubts fell down in homage (Mt. 28:16-17).
Luke tells a parallel, shorter version of John’s Upper Room scenario wherein Jesus appears to the Eleven, but Peter is not singled out.
John is the one to pay particular attention to Peter. He runs alongside John, "the disciple Jesus loved,” to the tomb where they both look inside and John says of himself, "he saw and believed” (Jn. 20:8). He does not speak for Peter. He seems to save the question of Peter’s belief for this subsequent scene. John shows great sensitivity in doing so. Peter’s desire and ability to come to belief may well have been encumbered by the shame he felt at his denial of Christ. While all shared in this shame to some degree, by having fled him in his hour of need, Peter’s action was compounded by Jesus having predicted it, even as Peter protested, by its happening to Peter alone, and, of course, by the nature of the unique and deep bond between Jesus and Peter. The shame that Peter felt was in proportion to that and in keeping with the nature of his earnest personality.
Again, here I offer a reflection in the words of Peter from the retreat, "Witnesses to Resurrection:”
The glint of the rising sun upon the waves, the gentle roll of the boat beneath my feet, the rough tangle of net between my fingers. This is good. This is something I can be sure of, something that never changes.
Never change? Yet everything is changed. How can the sun rise? How can the birds sing their morning praise? I don’t understand. I don’t understand any of it—what happened, what will happen. I don’t even understand who I am anymore. When I don’t understand, I fish.
Even that this morning escapes me. The fish escape me but so does the peace. The turmoil inside of me is fueled, I know, by my own failing. "I do not know the man.” Are Judas and I so different, after all? How, how could I betray him who was never anything else but true, he who was everything to me?
It is to answer this question that Jesus appears and then offers Peter the chance to reclaim his heart by asking three times, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?” The symmetry of the three denials and the three affirmations is intentional. Jesus extends to Peter a way, not to start over, but a way to pick up right where they left off, to regain their friendship and restore their relationship. How well Jesus knows the human heart. In asking Peter this, he allows him to participate in his own forgiveness, allows him not only to receive Jesus’ love and forgiveness, but to love Jesus in return and to forgive himself. It is a dynamic, mutual, progressive action. It is a model for right relationship restored.
As we have moved through these six Stations, there has been a movement from profound grief and despair to confusion, fear and disbelief, to a jumble of all these mixed with dawning hope and belief. Thomas arrived at belief last week by fearlessly going where Jesus led him. This week with Peter we address not the dynamic between doubt and belief, whether this happened or not, but the subsequent question of what does this mean? What is our relationship now? Peter knows that everything is changed and as in his first encounter with Jesus, he knows he is not up for this, he knows he is not worthy. His words then could be his words now, "Depart from me for I am a sinful man.” Instead, Jesus focuses on the relationship that exists between them. He asks if Peter loves him. And then directs Peter’s attention to others and he trusts Peter to act on that love.
Bringing it Home
Drum roll……….This week we have not one but two video clips for you. The first, "My Jesus I Love Thee,” is an old favorite from within the Protestant tradition so is not known to many Catholics. The second, "God of Second Chances,” is a recent addition to Catholic hymnals, and is probably new to Protestants. A win-win for everyone
1. Enter into this sweet song and let your heart sing its love for Jesus. Carry the refrain with you into this week. Give yourself the freedom to speak your love to Jesus. Say and sing it repeatedly and let it warm your heart.
2. Alas, we have no lovely video this time. But the words are stunning. Scroll though the lyrics below as you listen to the music. Pray this song for any broken relationships in need of healing—between you and God, you and another, you and yourself. Call to mind as you do, the gracious way in which Jesus allows Peter to profess his love and restore them to right relationship. Pray this song as often as needed.
Come now, O God of second chances Open our lives to heed Remove our hate and melt our rage Save us from ourselves
Come now, O God, release our demons Open our eyes to see The shame within our guilt and pain Mend us; make us whole
Come now, O God, and still our anger Open our minds to peace Embrace our fears and hold us close Calm the storm within
Come now, O God, change our resentment Open our way to choose The way of love over revenge Show us a new way
Come now, O God, and grant compassion Open our hearts to love. May we let go of all our hurts. Help us to move on.
Come now, O God of second chances May we forgive ourselves. May we become your living sign Children of God’s love.
3. What will you retain from this meditation? Where is the deepest connection to your own life and faith story?
4. Have you experienced a progression from the initial Resurrection scene as you’ve focused on your response and your relationship to Jesus?
Prayer – Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you. In Peter you saw the Rock who stumbled. You see us, too, as we really are. Nothing that we are or can be is hidden from you. But all is covered by your love. Thank you for forgiveness and for receiving our grateful love in return. Give us the grace to extend that to others as we have received. Amen.
A Personal Note from Kathleen
OPTIONAL BONUS: To enter into the 12-minute guided meditation, click the picture to the right.