Acts: 5:27-32, 40-41; Rev 5:11-14; Jn 21: 1-19
“It was light by now, and there stood Jesus on the shore.” Light and darkness are important factors in St. John’s Gospel. When Judas leaves the supper room to betray Jesus, John remarks “Night had fallen”. When Mary of Magdala comes to the tomb, John comments that “it was still dark”: the light of the risen Christ had not yet dawned upon His followers. Now the risen Christ has appeared and is appearing again, and so John can say “It was light by now”.
As it was for the disciples, so for us “it is light by now”. Do we recognise the light of the risen Christ in our lives and in our minds? Do we help Him by our prayer and by our work to shed His light upon the dark places of our world, to lift the darkness of evil and of suffering?
Do we, like the disciples, fish in the dark, striving for success by our own efforts, becoming disheartened by our failure? Are we alert to the call of the risen Lord, directing us when and where to throw out our nets?
As at the empty tomb, it is “the disciple Jesus loved” for whom the light dawns first. Love is the key to enlightenment. He says to Peter, “It is the Lord”, and Peter, the leader, responds at once.
Are we alert to recognise the risen Christ, to say “It is the Lord”? Do we have sufficient love to see Him in the times of pain and darkness, and in the times of light and joy? Do we open ourselves to His presence in our times of prayer? Do we recognise Him in our neighbour, whether that neighbour be friendly or difficult, whether he or she be close to us or unknown, helping us or in need of our help? How often are we sufficiently awake and sufficiently loving to say “It is the Lord” and to respond like Peter when someone else points out His presence?
As the disciples come ashore, they see a charcoal fire, and share a meal of bread and fish. The latter would have recalled for all of them the miraculous feeding of the crowds: the former would hold particular resonance for Peter. The last time he encountered a charcoal fire was in the courtyard of the high priest’s palace, when he denied his Lord three times: the threefold question “Do you love me?” enables him to wipe out that threefold denial.
Some commentators see a significance in the different Greek words which Jesus and Peter use for “love”—for the former it is “agapao”, for the latter it is “phileo”. The suggestion has been made that Peter is somehow dodging the issue by using a word which, it has been said, involves less wholeheartedness, less self-surrender. It is probably fair to say that the majority of commentators dismiss the distinction, pointing out that John tends to use the two words interchangeably.
Likewise, despite what Mrs. Rees told us in the infants—namely that the lamb whom Peter is to feed are the laity, whilst the sheep are the clergy—there seems to be agreement that there is little distinction between lambs and sheep. Sorry, Mrs. Rees, God rest you.
What we do have here is John’s account of Peter’s primacy, as bestowed upon him by the Lord. Despite the role played by the beloved disciple, it is Peter who is singled out for leadership.
But that leader must be prepared, as must all of us, to have a belt put round him, and to be taken where he would rather not go. Again, commentators assert that this was an expression used by both Christian and non-Christian writers to refer to crucifixion.
Surely, too, it has wider resonance. How often have you been taken where you would rather not go, found yourself in situations which you would have preferred to avoid? And have you found that, despite everything, it was where the Lord wanted you to be at that time, that it was a time of purification, of learning, of growth? And whether that was so or not, did you hear and respond to the Lord’s command “Follow me”?