John 21: 1 – 17 A Friend Like Peter   May 1, 2022


A Friend Like Peter

John 21: 1 – 17


(preached May 1, 2022)


Does it seem strange to you, in our passage for today from John’s gospel, when Peter announces to his friends, “I’m going fishing?”  Or maybe it’s not so strange.  The past few years of following Jesus have been very exciting, but the excitement is dying down.  The excitement of seeing the amazing healings, hearing the inspiring preaching to hundreds of people from all walks of life, that excitement is fading. Even the excitement of seeing Jesus that night, risen from the tomb, is fading.   Now he’s going back to his old routine.


In the boat once again, Peter will lower the nets into the water, and pull them back up into the boat again.  He’ll feel the familiar tug of the nets on his hands and smell the familiar smell of salt and fish.  In the boat once again, he’ll feel the familiar motion of the waves as they rise and fall beneath him.  Fishing through the night, he’ll resume his ordinary life, resume his familiar routine.


It may be with some resignation that Peter heads out to sea.  He may be wondering, now what?  Life goes on.  Not much has changed in the world.  The Roman Empire still rules over Palestine with an iron fist.  The occupation continues, with its hassles and humiliations.  The family still gets hungry.  The kids still need clothes.  There are still nets to mend and boats to tend and, hopefully, fish to catch.  What difference has that time with Jesus made?   Peter isn’t sure what to make of it all.


So he heads for the sea, to immerse himself in work again.  Jesus is gone.  So Peter goes back to the business of setting nets and cleaning fish.  That night he and his friends spend a long time on the water, but they don’t catch any fish.  Over and over again, the nets come up empty.  They’re about to call it a night and head back to land.


But just then, they see someone on the beach.  They hear him calling to them, asking, “Did you catch anything for breakfast?”  They answer no. The stranger tells them if they let the nets down on the other side of the boat, they’ll get a good catch.  When they follow his advice, they’re amazed to find the net full, bursting with wriggling, shimmering fish!


Does Peter recognize right away that the stranger is Jesus?  Does he know it’s Jesus when he pulls in that net full of fish?  Does he recognize his Lord’s voice?  We don’t know.  But as soon as he does realize that it’s Jesus, he puts on his tunic and jumps into the sea.


What emotions are churning inside, as Peter heads for Jesus on the lakeshore?  Joy must surely be a big one.  Here, within reach, is the man who had been his teacher, his confidante, his closest friend.  Here is the man who holds in his heart the care of all humanity; here’s the One who was put to death and buried, but now has risen from the dead!


So Peter swims toward shore, with joy driving every stroke.  But at the same time, his stomach is churning.  It wasn’t that long ago that Peter had behaved as if he didn’t know Jesus.  It wasn’t that long ago that Peter had denied him: not once, but three times.  On the night of Jesus’ crucifixion, as he stood in the courtyard, Peter had insisted he didn’t know him.  Peter had stood by as Jesus was beaten and led off to the cross.


On the night Jesus was crucified, Peter had three chances to say, “I know this man and he is innocent.”  Every time, he blew the chance.  Peter denied Jesus three times.  He let Jesus down.  He betrayed his friend.  He could never forget it.


Mixed with the joy he’s surely feeling, there’s no doubt he feels a healthy dose of dread.  Now he has to face the man he betrayed.  What can he possibly say besides, “I’m sorry”?  How can he ever make it up to Jesus?  The memory of that betrayal stays with him; it sticks like glue.


For a lot of us, that’s something we have in common with Peter: our mistakes, our failings, stick to us like glue.  A lot of us find it hard to get free of the things we regret.


One father was reminded of something like that, when his six year old son used super glue on a model airplane he was building.  The glue was very powerful and in less than three minutes, the boy’s right index finger was bonded to a shiny blue wing of his DC-10.  He tried to shake it loose.  He tugged, pulled, and waved it frantically, but he couldn’t get his finger free.  Fortunately, before long, the father found a solvent that would dissolve the glue and end the crisis.


Later that week, the father thought about that glue crisis again, when he was visiting with a new family in the neighborhood.  As they sat together in the living room, the father of the new family introduced his three children.  He said:


“This is Bill.  He’s the clumsy one of the lot.


“Here comes Kathy now…of course she’s got mud on her shoes.  She’s the sloppy one.


“And as always, Mike is last.  He’ll be late for his own funeral, I promise you.”


That father did a thorough job of gluing his children to their faults.  He did a thorough job of sticking them completely to their mistakes.  And the sad reality is that a lot of us, even as adults, are stuck like glue to our failings and our faults.  Like that young boy, frantically trying to free his finger from the model plane, we try desperately to free ourselves from past mistakes.  We would love a chance to make a fresh start.  We would love to begin again.


Is that what Peter is hoping for that morning, as he jumps out of the boat and swims to shore?  Is he longing for a chance to talk to Jesus, to apologize and make things right between them? Is he surprised by what Jesus says when he turns to him?  Jesus could have confronted Peter with his disappointment.  But Jesus says nothing about that, nothing about Peter’s denial of him.  He simply asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  Then he asks again, and again, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  Each time Peter answers, “Lord, you know that I love you.”  But Jesus doesn’t seem satisfied.  He asks three times.

It’s probably no accident that here, by the lakeshore, Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me?”  After all, it was three times on that horrible night that Peter had a chance to speak up for him.  Three times, and each time Peter failed to take the chance.  Now Jesus is giving him three chances to affirm his love and faithfulness.  Jesus is giving him three chances to start again, to re-kindle the friendship he had lost.


To Jesus’ question, each time Peter replies, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”  Then Jesus tells him, “Feed my lambs.”


Jesus knows Peter inside and out.  He knows how badly Peter has failed to be faithful.  He knows how badly Peter has let him down.  Still, even knowing that, he asks Peter to feed his sheep.  He asks Peter to provide, faithfully, the sustenance his followers will need.  He wants to entrust Peter with the care of his flock.  He wants to give Peter the job of creating a community that will be the body of Christ on earth.


If Jesus can turn to Peter, the one who denied him, and ask him to feed his sheep, what does that say about how he might turn to you and me?  If Jesus wants to use Peter, as flawed as he is, to feed the people of God, how can he not want us?  Surely if Jesus has a job for Peter, he has a job for us.  He can use you and me, our hands and our feet and our voices, to be his hands and feet and voice here on earth.


That morning on the lakeshore, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?  Do you love me?  Do you love me?”  Then he gives him a job, “Feed my sheep.”  Jesus has a job for Peter; a job he entrusts to Peter in spite of his failings.  Peter doesn’t have to be stuck to his past betrayals.  Jesus not only forgives him; he sends him out to do ministry in his name; to tell of God’s great love for all humanity.  If Jesus wants to use Peter, with all his flaws, surely he wants to use you and me.  He wants to use people like us, imperfect people like us, to be his hands and his feet and his voice on earth.









Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Easter 3