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written by Constance Morgenstern

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Thoughts for "One Early Morning on a Shore"

The story in John 21:1-19 is immensely rich—so rich that it’s taken time to focus on what to say about it.

Please read it carefully and digest it for yourself (John 21:1-19). In this study, we’ll consider three aspects.

First, we have the miracle of the nearly overwhelming catch of fish. Let’s set the stage: Jesus has been resurrected and the disciples have already seen him twice (John 21:14). Disciple Peter, back in Galilee, has decided to go fishing, and some other disciples are along. Still, they don’t catch anything. Then some person over on the shore calls out, “Cast to the right!” They do it, and suddenly, the net is jampacked with fish! They can’t even haul the heavy nets aboard the boat! In the midst of this, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” shouts out that the person on shore is Jesus!

So we have this miracle of abundance from Jesus. The fish—153 of them, says the writer in a satisfying detail—never do get pulled up into the boat, but rather are towed to shore. We know that one of the intents behind the book of John is to convey Jesus’ miracles, so that people can believe in Jesus and “have life in his name” (John 20:31). With this story, we have not only the third appearance of the Risen Christ—itself a glorious miracle!—but also this incredible catch of fish!

On one level, then, this is just a totally beautiful moment of the Risen Christ, on a morning lakeshore, supplying a delicious breakfast of bread and fresh fish for his friends, the disciples. With overtones of holy communion, Jesus gives them the bread and the fish (John 21:13). It is sacred and joyful, and I imagine that it was soul-filling for the disciples.

For Peter, however, there is more to be said. The second thing that intrigues me about this story is Peter’s reaction from the boat. When he hears that the onshore fishing advisor is Jesus, he immediately puts his outer clothes back on (John 21:7), and jumps into the water to greet him.

This particular moment was something I especially wanted to bring out in the choir version of “One Early Morning on a Shore.” After all, Peter’s vocation—until he met Jesus—had been fishing. This huge catch may have been the biggest haul of his whole career! He could even see his friends and partners struggling with the weighty net of flapping fish! Yet, Peter goes straight into the water to reach Jesus!

Plus, we have to remember that, just recently, in the course of Jesus’ arrest before the crucifixion, Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times (John 18:12-27). Sometimes, when we’re ashamed of how we’ve acted in regard to someone, don’t we hold back just a bit? But Peter does the exact opposite.

There is still more to consider about Peter, though. After the lovely breakfast, Jesus asks Peter three times if he (Peter) loves him (Christ). We would think that this could be painful for Peter, and in fact, the recounting confirms that it was (John 21:17). Peter asserts each time that he does love Jesus, and (with variations) Jesus directs Peter then to “Feed my sheep.” After this, Jesus says, “Follow me.” (If you think this sounds familiar, look at Luke 5:1-11, which describes Jesus’ original calling of disciples.)

Even at the end of Christ’s earthly ministry, there is a sense of beginning and mission—a beginning of the church, or spreading the news of Jesus’ life and resurrection to the nations (Matthew 28:16-20, Luke 24:45-48). And, we know from events in the book of Acts that Peter, indeed, goes on to follow Christ. That same impulsive, immediate nature that led Peter to jump into the water to get to Christ also leads him to preach of Jesus when any opportunity presents itself. We find Peter preaching to crowds after the Pentecost miracle (Acts 2:14….) or after healing a crippled beggar (Acts 3:11-12….) or to the Jewish leaders (Acts 4:8….) or in the temple courts (Acts 5:29….) or even to the Gentiles (Acts 10:34….) (Peter’s earthly life ends in crucifixion for all this, which seems to have happened before the story in John 21 was written down. See John 21:19.)

Peter didn’t always get things perfectly, but I love how, even when he knew he had failed, bigtime, he raced to Jesus. (King David, another model of faith, shows us this returning to the Lord as well. See Psalm 51.)

We can relate. And this is the third point I wanted to make. Maybe you, too, feel like a disciple who’s dropped the ball. Now, in early 2022, perhaps you’re concerned that some church ministries have apparently shrunk. (Just as the disciples, after Jesus’ crucifixion, huddled in a locked room for fear of the Jewish leaders, I know I’ve huddled in fear of Covid—although actually a sense of “calling” or sacred work has helped see me through this pandemic’s long months.)

Peter’s call to ministry was reaffirmed in John 21. He and the disciples there were specifically strengthened by Jesus (again, so much like Holy Communion) for the work ahead. (On a side note, I keep being reminded of God feeding a weary Elijah in 1 Kings 19:1-8.)

The disciples' work was not easy. Most of the disciples were apparently put to death. It wasn’t easy for missionary Paul either (stoning, shipwrecks, prison... See 2 Corinthians 11:24-28 for the list!) Still, "visions and revelations" strengthened him (2 Corinthians 12:1-4, NLT), and he writes of pressing on toward the goal (Philippians 3:12-14).

Yes, John 21 is a story about mission for Peter and the other disciples, and in previous years, I have written about it that way. But, even when Christ gave the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28 (NLT), it ends with “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Jesus provides for his followers on this journey—through the Spirit, the Word, prayer, Holy Communion, fellow believers, etc. The vision of Christ on the lakeshore, waiting with breakfast, is one more beautiful way to see it.





Direct Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.


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