Chapter 35

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Chapter 35

An Uprising of Discipleship

Psalm 25
Luke 10:1–11, 17–20

John 21:1–15

Feed my lambs.


Let’s imagine ourselves with the disciples, a short time after the resurrection, in Galilee.

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There were several of us together that day. We had left the big city of Jerusalem and gone back to Galilee, our home region to the north. Thomas was there, and so were Peter, Nathaniel, James and John, plus a few more. Out of the blue, late in the day, Peter said he wanted to go fishing. Fishing, of all things!

We weren’t sure why, but we joined him anyway. We dropped our long gill net time after time through the night, re-enacting an old, familiar ritual. And time after time we hauled it in, hoping for something. But the net never struggled against us, never signalled the weight or life of a catch.

It was dawn when we saw a stranger on the shore about a hundred yards from us. Unsuccessful fishermen know the hated question: ‘Hey boys! Having any luck?’

‘Nothing,’ we replied glumly.

He yelled, ‘Drop your net over on the other side of the boat. You’ll find fish there.’

There’s nothing like having a stranger on the shore giving you advice after you’ve been fishing all night. But we did what he said.

And then it happened. We started feeling the net move. Not just a few fish, but a heavy, wriggling, squirming shoal! Most of us were thinking about the fish. But one thought only of that stranger on the shore. ‘It’s the Lord!’ Peter said. He immediately threw on his shirt and swam to shore while the rest of us hauled in the net. It’s a wonder it didn’t tear with all that weight!

When the rest of us came ashore, the stranger already had some bread laid out, with a charcoal fire glowing and some fish cooking. He invited us to add a few of our own fish to the meal, so Peter went out to pull a few from the net.

‘Let’s have breakfast,’ the stranger said.

We all had this sense of who he was, so nobody asked any questions. He broke the bread and gave it, and then the fish, to us. It seems strange to do something so normal . . . eat breakfast . . . under such extraordinary circumstances. But that was what we did. Later we remembered how Jesus had taken the role of a servant the night before the crucifixion, washing our feet. Now he was in the same role, serving us a meal. He turned to Peter to deal with some unfinished business between them.

That night when Jesus was arrested, Peter had fallen apart. When armed guards arrived, Peter panicked, pulled out his sword and slashed off somebody’s ear. In a matter of seconds, he managed to violate half of what Jesus had taught us for the better part of three years. Later, he denied that he even knew Jesus, not once but three times, and he threw in some choice language in doing so. On the morning of the resurrection, he was frantic and confused, and that was just days after he had bragged about how loyal he would be. It wasn’t pretty, and we all knew this instability weighed heavy on the mind of the man Jesus had renamed ‘the Rock’.

‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ Jesus asked, using Peter’s original name rather than ‘Peter the Rock’. We weren’t sure what Jesus meant by ‘more than these’. Did he mean more in comparison to us, his fellow disciples? Did he mean more than the fish, the boat and the net – symbols of his old life before it was interrupted by Jesus? Peter ignored any ambiguity. ‘Yes, Lord. You know I love you.’

‘Then take care of my lambs,’ Jesus replied. Then, as if Peter’s first reply didn’t count for much, Jesus asked him again: ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter replied in the same way the second time, and Jesus said, ‘Shepherd my sheep.’ Then the question came a third time, echoing in all our minds Peter’s three denials. Peter replied even more strongly this time. ‘Lord, you know everything. Of course you know I love you!’ Once again, Jesus told him to shepherd his sheep.

And that was it. It was as if all Peter’s failures melted behind us in the past, like a bad night of fishing after a great morning catch. The past and its failures didn’t count any more. What counted was love . . . love for Jesus, love for his flock.

Like a lot of us, Peter had a way of getting it right one minute and wrong the next. Sure enough, a few minutes later, Peter had forgotten about love for the flock and was treating one of the other disciples as a rival, a competitor. Jesus responded forcefully. ‘Stop worrying about anyone else. You follow me!’

Those words remind us of how this whole adventure began for us, with Jesus issuing that simple, all-or-nothing invitation: Follow me! Three years later, it’s still about that one essential thing: following him. Of course, that’s what the word disciple has meant all along – to be a follower, a student, an apprentice, one who learns by imitating a master.

You can imagine the honour, for uneducated fishermen like us, to sit at the feet of the greatest teacher imaginable. And now we feel it is an even greater honour to be sent out to teach others, who will in turn teach and train others in this new way of life. This revolutionary plan of discipleship means that we must first and foremost be examples.

We must embody the message and values of our movement. That doesn’t mean we are perfect – just look at Peter. But it does mean we are growing and learning, always humble and willing to get up again after we fall, always moving forward on the road we are walking. As Jesus modelled never-ending learning and growth for us, we will model it for others, who will model it for still others. If each new generation of disciples follows this example, centuries from now apprentices will still be learning the way of Jesus from mentors, so they can become mentors for the following generation.

Once, a while back, Jesus sent us out on a kind of training mission, preparing us for this day. He wouldn’t let us bring anything – not even a wallet, satchel or sandals. He sent us out in complete vulnerability – like sheep among wolves, he said. In each town we would need to find hospitable people to shelter us and feed us – ‘people of peace’, Jesus called them. They would become our partners, and with their support we would proclaim the kingdom of God in word and deed to their neighbours. If people didn’t respond, he told us to move on and not look back. We were looking for places, like fields that are ready for harvest, where the time was right and people wanted what we had to offer. We returned from that training mission full of confidence and joy.

Once again it is time for us to follow Jesus’ example and teaching, even though he will not be physically present. He invited us to be his disciples, so now we will invite others to become disciples too. And they in turn will invite still others. In this way, a worldwide movement of discipleship can begin this morning, here on this beach with this handful of tired but resilient fishermen. Small beginnings with unlikely people, given lots of time and lots of faith and lots of hope and love, can change the world.

Like Peter, if we lose our focus, we will be tempted to turn on each other – comparing, criticising, competing. That’s why, like Peter, each of us needs to hear Jesus say, ‘Stop worrying about anyone else! You follow me!’

I think Jesus chose fishermen like us for a good reason. To be part of his uprising, we must be willing to fail a lot, and to keep trying. We will face long, dark nights when nothing happens. But we can never give up hope. He caught us in his net of love, so now we go and spread the net for others. And so, fellow disciples, let’s get moving. Let us walk the road with Jesus.

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Let us lift a glass and say, ‘The Lord is risen!’ He is risen, indeed!

We too are rising up! We are rising up, indeed!

Let us arise in fellowship. In fellowship, indeed!

Let us arise in discipleship. In discipleship, indeed!

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Engage

Meditate & Contemplate

1. What one thought or idea from today’s lesson especially intrigued, provoked, disturbed, challenged, encouraged, warmed, warned, helped or surprised you?

2. Share a story about how you have been drawn towards discipleship through another person.

3. How do you relate to the story of Peter with its dramatic ups and downs?

4. For children: If you could help other children learn one important thing, what would it be, and how would you teach them?

5. Activate: This week, keep your eyes open for hospitable ‘people of peace’ who can be your allies in the uprising of peace that Jesus started.

6. Meditate: In silence, hold the image of tired fishermen at daybreak, being told to cast their nets one more time. What does this image say to you in your life right now?