It might be my favourite story in the Bible. John 21 describes what happens when a human walks openly with the divine. The story features the apostle Peter in his familiar role of human.
You might remember that Peter was an impulsive young man. Earlier in the narrative Peter had promised Jesus, in no uncertain terms, that he would always be faithful and loyal. He said those words when it was easy to say them, before Jesus was arrested.
After the arrest, the author of John described how Peter turned 180 degrees and vehemently denied even knowing Jesus. When pressed about it from people in the street, he cursed and emphatically repeated the denial again and again.
The writer abruptly stepped away from Peter at that point, just as the predicted crow of a rooster sounds in the background. We are left to assume that the rooster’s interruption sounded loudly in Peter’s ears, and scarred his soul.
Days later we come to my chapter 21 where Dead Jesus is now Alive Jesus, appearing to people randomly and completely outside of the laws of nature. This throws Peter and his friends into a high state of confusion and they find themselves directionless, unable to understand what is next for them.
But Peter was a fisher before he was a disciple and he could think of no mind-clearing course of action better than doing what he had always done. So he and his associates gathered their nets, launched the boat, and proceeded to fish all night.
Blah blah blah… no fish.
Blah blah blah… stranger on the shore gives advice.
Blah blah blah… 153 large, miraculous fish.
At this point another disciple realizes who the stranger on the shore is: “It’s the Lord”. Peter’s heart leaps, his mind fills with excitement. He hastily ties his spare clothing around his waist, then scrabbles clumsily over the edge of the boat, half leaping, half falling into the water. Peter dog paddles madly until his feet touch solid muck and he staggers ashore, chest heaving, hair dripping, mind spinning.
A driftwood fire is crackling on the shore.
Jesus invites them, “Come and have breakfast”.
He is frying fish, toasting bread, maybe serving some fruit, hopefully some strong coffee. Everyone sits around the fire, their faces glowing with joy. But conversation is stilted because, what can you possibly say that would be interesting to a resurrected person who has literally seen it all?
Peter is uncharacteristically quiet; he has no appetite. He is with his lord but a lump of anxiety rotates inside his stomach. His thoughts keep returning to the dark night when his denials were shadowed by the rooster’s voice. Of all the disciples only he and Judas had spoken against Jesus.
Foolish, frightened, clambering, unworthy Peter. He is heavy, roiling with regret. To make matters worse, a familiar sound breaks the morning stillness … the crowing of a rooster.
A whispy breeze from the lake curls smoke into his eyes and he blinks and wipes them, glad for the chance to brush away tears. The last sparks float up as the embers devolve from glowing red to shimmering white.
The smell of smoke is still in his nostrils when Jesus speaks to him. But nothing is said about betrayal or the guilt that weighs Peter down – it is as if the whole dark incident has been erased. Because truthfully, it has been. As Jesus speaks, Peter’s guilt feels thinner and thinner, like the smoke rising behind them into the morning air.
There is something about dying and coming back to life that puts everything else into perspective. It renders guilt purposeless. In its place, Jesus is only interested in a conversation about what love looks like.
How about this?
Right now, open your thoughts and let them follow their own path.
What comes to mind? Is there a familiar regret? Something you’ve done that always pushes itself forward?
You’ve asked forgiveness, tried to repair it, but you can’t seem to shake the guilt. Guilt is understandable and often hard to let go of, but just know that Jesus doesn’t hold onto it, we do. Your sin is forgiven. Fully forgiven. Guilt and all.
So I invite you to read the story of Jesus and Peter in John 21. Put yourself in the place of Peter and let Jesus speak to you.
Because Jesus wants you to know that, even as you struggle with guilt, he is more interested in making you breakfast.