As the little boat rose and fell, the grey dawn cast an unkind light on Peter’s face. Every line was etched deeper, so it seemed. His eyelids were heavy after a night of fruitlessly casting nets into the water. And there was a far-away tiredness inside. Anger, self-loathing and deep, deep sadness had left scars that years of fishermen’s weather could never equal.
The nets, like the man, were empty. Even when a stranger called out from the beach, he did not react. Why listen to the voice of a stranger again? A soul prodded too often flinches, like a frightened cat hugging the shadows.
But then another voice seemed to rouse him. ‘It’s the Lord’, John said.
John always seemed to know when he was near, even when no-one expected him. Hardly had he spoken than Peter was heaving himself over the gunwale, sending the boat bobbing crazily as he did so. He began to wade towards the shore like a man possessed, his eyes fixed on the figure by the fire.
By the time he clambered out, his coat was wrapped about him, dripping at the hem and leaving a trail across the stones. Soon he was sitting by the fire in perfect peace – like the crazy man from Gadarea months ago, sitting at Jesus’ feet among the tombstones. The smell of wood smoke drifted across the beach and out to the boats on the water. It must have stung Peter, though. How many days was it since he had blinked back the wood smoke in the high priest’s courtyard, lashing the servant girl with his words as he told her that he knew nothing of Jesus? It could have been a hundred years ago, to see him now.
One word from Jesus about fetching some fish for breakfast, and he was back into the water again. Not one or two, oh no. With his Lord waiting, he took the strain of the whole net which two boats had carried between them, its ropes cutting deep into his broad shoulders. He heaved it through the water and up onto the shore, scrunching the stones and pebbles as it came. Inside, the mound of fish flapped and thrashed and glistened like living treasure. Jesus picked some, his hands whole now but still showing the scars.
For the second time, he took the role of servant – not washing their feet this time, but cooking their breakfast. By now they’d learnt to recognise the King in servant’s clothes, and no-one even tried to protest. Afterwards, with the smell of fish and bread mingling with the smoke, and the sun warming the stones on the beach, they walked together, leaving the boats by the bulging net.
There were more words for Peter now. There are always more words for the men and women he is shaping. He never says ‘you’re finished now, you’re just right’. As long as there are fish to be caught and breakfasts to be cooked. As long as there are nights of labour with mornings of disappointment. As long as the acrid smell of failure mingles with the wholesome scent of promise, there will always be more words. Until the fish have swum their last swim. And until the boats put out to sea no more. And until the walk on the shore goes on forever without leading you away from home. The words will always be the same: ‘Follow me.’
Does he speak to you, like he did to Peter? Or does he speak to you like he spoke to Saul on the road to Damascus? Or does he speak to you in another way? I’m sure he spoke to Beth, Ken, John, Belinda, and Dawn, as they responded to the call to serve as Elders. Does he speak to our church family? What is he saying to you and to us today? Are you listening? Are we listening?