“It happened one day while Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, Jacob, John,
and two other disciples were all together. Peter told them, “I’m going fishing.”
And they all replied, “We’ll go with you.”
So they went out and fished through the night, but caught nothing.
Then at dawn, Jesus was standing there on the shore,
but the disciples didn’t realize that it was him.
He called out to them, saying, “Hey guys! Did you catch any fish?”
“Not a thing,” they replied. Jesus shouted to them,
“Throw your net over the starboard side, and you’ll catch some!”
And so they did as he said, and they caught so many fish
they couldn’t even pull in the net!”
“As I look back on that morning, in the midst of my shame, guilt, and despair, I think I wanted to do something that would make me feel better. Something I knew well and had always excelled in. I had been a very skilled fisherman and I thought maybe going back to that and having a good catch would give me direction. The rest of the guys came with me. I think we were all just trying to figure out what to do now that Jesus was gone.
We fished all night and didn’t catch a thing. I had lived my whole life fully relying on myself. It was what I knew, it was what I had been taught. Self sufficiency, hard work, independence, self reliance. It had always worked before, or at least so I thought. Now, even my best intentions and hard work didn’t seem to be enough because nothing worked that night. We tried everything we could to catch fish and didn’t catch a single one.
I can see now that going back to my old ways, going back to self reliance and hard work wasn’t an option. It wouldn’t work. Being with Jesus, knowing Him and loving Him had changed my life. I wasn’t the same person. I couldn’t go back.
With Jesus there was abundance. All He had to do was say the word and we caught 153 fish. All I had to do was follow Him. Not just follow Him, but also follow His words. No going my own way. No doing my own thing. If He said, “Throw the nets on the other side,” then I was not to argue with Him, or scoff at His words, or do so reluctantly while mumbling under my breath. Following Him was what I longed to do, but I was starting to realize that I couldn’t even do that by relying on myself!
When we sat down for a meal, I was caught off guard by Jesus’ initial question. “Simon, do you love Me?” I was expecting an admonishment, some type of punishment or discipline, but instead He asked me if I loved Him.
I look back at my arrogance just hours before His betrayal, when I told Him that I would NEVER deny Him. I was so full of myself. I was still relying on my own abilities, living as if they were enough. When I denied Jesus three times, my fears, my need for self preservation, my human weakness, were all at their peak. It didn’t look like I loved Him at all. I was flaky, weak, and unsteady. My fears dominated my actions.
Maybe Jesus asked me if I loved Him because He knew that when love for Him was the foundation of my life, fear would be displaced. Rather than be led by a mindset of fear, He knew that only love—steady, perfect, agape love—could overcome it. Perfect love casts out fear.
Sometimes you need to be questioned several times to truly identify what you know and believe. When Jesus asked me three times if I loved Him, I was embarrassed and ashamed as my sin was exposed. The fact that He had to ask me three times felt unnecessary. And to ask me in front of my closest friends was uncomfortable and awkward.
But, each time He asked, it went deeper. It clarified to me that yes, I do love Him. And yes, I do want to serve Him. And Yes, I do want to follow Him.
I needed that inquiry, the momentary discomfort of loving accountability to look at my own heart and motives.
And I saw His absolute love and compassion for me as He asked. There was no condemnation. No disapproval. No displeasure in who I am and what I did. He looked at me, into my very being and saw everything, but still loved me. Still believed in me. Still wanted me.
Jesus love healed me. It brought me back to life. It transformed me and gave me a hope and a future. His love for me lit the fire of my love for Him. Even though I had done what I considered unforgivable—by denying knowing Him not once or twice but three times, lying, running away in fear and guilt and shame, and deserting Him in His time of need—He still looked at me with pure love and mercy. He still wanted ME by His side. He
knew that my experience of being loved by Him in the midst of my deep imperfections would be the fuel to do what He called me to do—to tell others of God’s great love and care and mercy and grace.
My failure and flawed humanity was not a disqualification, instead, my weakness became the open door for His strength and love to shine through.
That day, Jesus dismantled my self reliance. His love for me and invitation to continue following Him spoke deeply to me. If I were to follow Him, I now saw that it was no longer I who dictated my time, my days, my direction. Everything I did would be with Him.
My journey with Jesus had begun with a direction to cast my fishing nets in deep water when I had fished all night without a catch. Although I had doubted His command, I had obeyed and caught an abundance of fish. I had immediately looked at my own sinfulness and inadequacies and asked Him to leave, feeling painfully aware of my shortcomings and unworthiness. Instead, He had responded with an invitation, to set aside my fear and to follow Him. I did, not knowing where He would lead me, what I was about to experience, and that my life would be completely changed by getting to know Him intimately.
How gracious Jesus has been in my journey. His final invitation to me was the same as His very first invitation—to follow Him.
But, this time I was different. I was no longer the same person I had been back then. I had been with Jesus for over three years. I had walked on water and seen people raised from the dead. I had seen food multiplied, water turned into wine, and demons cast out. I had been taught through parables and through direct hands on experience. I had made mistakes, messed up countless times, and even denied my closest friend. And through it all, He was patient and loving and caring. He never overlooked my weaknesses and my fear—He always held me accountable, but he didn’t judge me or discount me or push me away.
Even in our last encounter, He met me right where I needed to be met. In the midst of my human desire to go back to something I thought I could control—fishing. And He lovingly restored me, even resurrected me, so that I could continue to partner with Him in His power not my own.”
NOTE: This was my final prayer in completing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. As I spent time with Peter in imaginative prayer, I saw my own experience of journeying with Jesus reflected in the writing. I was able to look back and see the many ways Jesus’ love has touched and transformed me through this experience, and I, like Peter, cannot go back to my old ways of thinking or doing. I am forever changed.