Thursday, April 15, 2010

Follow me

All of his life, Peter had been a fisherman.  His father was probably a fisherman before him and raised Peter in the trade.  Peter would have raised his sons to follow in the family business as well.

But then one day, his brother Andrew came to him and announced "We have found the Messiah."  Peter - who was called Simon at that time - went with Andrew to where Jesus was.  It was Jesus who named him Peter and it was Jesus that Peter followed throughout the next three years.

Peter saw amazing things:  the miracle of the wine at Cana, the feeding of the 5000 with just a few loaves and fish, Jesus walking on the water, the raising of Lazarus.  Peter and the others heard Jesus teaching the crowds and sat at his feet for their own lessons.  And right before Jesus was crucified, Peter denied he knew him three times despite having proclaimed his love and steadfast loyalty only hours before.

Still, it was to Peter that Mary Magdalene ran with the news that she had seen the risen Lord and he and another disciple ran to see for themselves.  Peter was in the house when Jesus appeared to the disciples both times.  He heard Jesus say, "As the Father has sent me, so I send you."  Jesus breathed on all those in the house and said, "Receive the Holy Spirit."

But nothing seems to have changed for Peter or the others.  Rather than going out to proclaim the good news, these followers have gone back to the sea.  I imagine these men lounging around, hoping that Jesus will come visit them again.  When it doesn't happen, Peter announces that he's going back to work.  All the others decide to go, too.  So that night, they set out in the boat but they caught no fish.  That's the way it is in the fishing business.  One night there will be a good catch and another, there are no fish to be found.

In the morning, a man calls to them from the shore, asking them if they have caught anything.  When they shout back that it was not a good night for fishing, he tells them to cast the net out on the right side of the boat.  So many fish they couldn't haul the net into the boat!  And one of the men says, "It is the Lord!"  Peter immediately puts on his robe and jumps into the water. 

That's one of my favorite biblical moments.  I know Peter wouldn't be wearing Gucci loafers and an Armani cashmere sport coat but, still, it seems terribly strange to get dressed to go swimming.  Now Peter would have to sit around the fire hoping his clothes dried quickly.  And the weight of that wet robe must have slowed down his swim time considerably.

After breakfast on the beach, Jesus begins to question Peter.  "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?"  What does he mean, "more than these?"  Is Jesus asking if Peter loves him better than the other disciples love Jesus?  Is he asking if Peter loves him more than Peter loves the other disciples?  These possibilities don't seem likely given that Jesus didn't teach them to love one person more than another.  And Jesus never said he loved one of them more than the others.  If he is to be the example of love, then quantifying love can't be what he has in mind here.

It is more likely that Jesus is asking Peter whether he loves Jesus more than his life, his vocation, fishing.  Does Peter love Jesus so much that he is willing to give up that which shaped and defined him for all of his years before the last three?  Peter assures Jesus that he loves him and Jesus tells him to "feed my lambs."  Two times, then, Jesus asks "do you love me?"  And Peter assures him of his love, finally adding that Jesus knows everything so surely he knows of Peter's love for him.  Each time, Jesus tells him to tend or feed his sheep.  And finally he says to Peter, "Follow me."

Follow me.  If Peter looks back at the last few hours of life, he may realize what that means.  It does not mean business as usual Monday through Friday with weekend trips into the nearby towns to proclaim the good news.  It means proclaiming that good news all the time.  It means doing what Jesus did, loving and feeding the flock, bringing others into the fold and even dying in the proclamation of the Word.  Jesus didn't stay in one place for long and Peter is meant to leave home, too.  Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead and Jesus did not limit himself to citizens of Israel.  All of this, Peter is to do as well, going wherever the Spirit takes him, preaching and healing to whomever he encounters.  Loving Jesus, following Jesus will take all of his life.

Jesus says to us, "Follow me."  That is not something we fit into spare moments or section off a part of the week to take care of.  Being a follower of our Lord is a life-long commitment made for us, usually, at baptism and affirmed by us when the bishop lays hands on us at confirmation.  We need not to ask ourselves, "How will I fit Jesus into my life?" but rather ask "How will my life fit into my commitment to follow Jesus?"   When we begin each day praising God and giving thanks, we have our priorities straight.  When we wake up wondering how we are going to get everything done and beginning to make lists, we need to start over.

Fortunately, we are not the final judge of how well we answer Jesus' call to follow.  And the very good news is that Jesus will keep asking us, bringing us back to the fold when we stray too far away, reminding us who it is we love.  Every time we gather at his table, we are brought home - home to God's never failing love, home to the one who knows everything about us.