I AM Going Fishing
May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Identity is one of those things that that people don’t often think of and I wish that they would think more about.
“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”
― Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
“A girl should be two things: who and what she wants.”
― Coco Chanel, The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons from the World's Most Elegant Woman
“We know what we are, but not what we may be.”
― William Shakespeare
Generally, when we share about ourselves, we share our name and maybe who our parents and grandparents were (if you live in a small town) so people know who you are, where you come from. You may share what you do for a living.
Somewhere along the line when I was around 40, I think, I realized that I didn’t know myself to well. I mean, I knew myself, I had lived in my body for 40 years, made decisions about my life, etc., but I don’t think I really knew who I was, in contrast to the people around me.
I, like all of us, was a product of where I came from — my parents, their parents before them. I worshiped where they worshiped, I ate what they ate, my thoughts were similar to their thoughts, etc. Of course we differed on things and I was living my own life, but I slowly began to realize that much of who I was, was tied up into others peoples thoughts of who I should be. Sometimes those lines can become so blurred it becomes hard to see your way forward. There is a great line in the movie “Eat, Pray, Love” with Julia Roberts where she says, “One day I woke up and this life that I was living, this life where I had participated in making every decision, this life… I know longer recognized myself in.”
Oscar Wilde said, “Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”
― Oscar Wilde, De Profundis
The challenge for us as we grow is to discover who we are, what our thoughts are about things as opposed to the people around us, to become clear about those things.
Today’s gospel passage declares that this is the third time that Jesus’ had appeared after the crucifixion. Jesus had appeared to Mary Magdalene, the disciples without Thomas, Thomas, and then to the disciples again on the shores of Galilee. So some of us count four appearances here but John says three here. Either way…
This was an unsettling time for the disciples. The Lord had Risen, had appeared but seemed to be coming and going, he had not stayed with the disciples. Peter and the other disciples were unsure of to do exactly, probably unsure of what to think.
I know that in times of high anxiety and unsureness, one of the best things we can do is to “stand still”. When our thinking is unclear, when our heart is racing and we find ourselves anxious — stop. Stand still. You do not need to act until your thinking becomes clearer. Also, as Peter did at this time — reverting to the familiar can be helpful. Do what you know how to do. Wash the dishes. Do the laundry. Go cut the grass. Peter says, “I am going to go fishing”. Peter defined himself.
Simon Peter said, “This is what I’m going to do.” He didn’t say, “This is what you ought to do.” He didn’t speak for everybody else.
An observation is, is that the best leadership most often comes from people who have worked at getting clear about their own personal values, their own personal direction, while providing space for other people to choose their own direction. When leaders become clear, even clear about “I am going fishing," it seems to calm those around them. Helps them get clear. “We will go fishing too.” Leaders are at their best when they can be clear about what their values are without trying to coerce others into agreeing with them.
The others decided in this case that they would go with him.
Their fishing trip was not successful, and just after daybreak, Jesus shows up, but they did not know who he was. He told them to cast their net on the right side of the boat and they caught so many fish that they were not able to haul it in. John realized who Jesus was - Peter threw his naked self into the water. (I do love Peter.)
Jesus provided an abundance of fish. This story is not about abundance (though it is there). This story is not about Peter’s failing to be an exemplary disciple. This is the first interaction Jesus has with Peter since the denial, and Peter may have been wondering what to expect. Would Jesus scold him? Berate him?
Peter had denied knowing his Lord. But, a rereading of Peter’s denial in John exposes another rejection — that of his own identity.
The question asked of Peter in John is not, as it is in the Synoptic Gospels, “Do you know the man?” To which Peter responds, “I don’t know the man.” Rather, in John, the inquiry posed to Peter is, “Aren’t you one of his disciples?” Peter’s response? “I AM not.”
I am not one of his disciples.
This makes the ensuing conversation between Jesus and Peter take on a different meaning. Jesus does not blame or shame Peter. Jesus does not ask for Peter’s repentance. Jesus does not ask three times, “Peter, do you love me?” to remind him of his denial or to make him feel bad.
Jesus asks him this three times to affirm and share with him a new narrative — their new calling and what it meant to be a disciple now. What does it mean to be sent into the world now?
Jesus reaffirms who Peter needs to be; the disciple that Jesus needs him to be. Jesus needs him to be the disciple that is the shepherd-the shepherd who would feed the sheep. That is what Jesus was asking of his disciples now. Knowing that he is not going to be around, that the Paraclete (the Holy Spirit) was going to come, Jesus used this time to tell them what they needed to be about — taking care of, teaching, tending, and loving other people.
Denying our identity is an all too often reality. We deny who we are because we worry that we won’t meet expectations. We deny who we are because we are afraid to disappoint. We deny who we are because we could be judged, even rejected, for that truth. We deny who we are because we do not believe that we will be liked for who we truly are, or that we will not be loved for who we truly are.
We play it safe around a lot of people in our lives, pretending, and sometimes rightly so. Not everyone deserves our truth. Not everyone can be trusted with our truth. People can and may use it against you, not understand.
Peter may have been terrified that what would happen to Jesus may happen to him — but I sort of wonder too, if Peter just was not able to say, “I am a disciple," because he was scared of admitting his identity and what that may mean for him. When you know who you are and what you are about it may require something from you that you are not yet ready to give.
Knowing who we are and why we are here is important and essential work. Identity is essential. And why we all have our own separate identities, we have one identity in common. We are disciples of Christ and we need to be characterized by feeding of the sheep. Tending the sick, feeding the poor, caring for the community and world around us.
We are Easter Christians now. The Lord is risen. And as his disciples now — just like Peter’s identity shifted, ours needs to have shifted too. No matter what else we are, what else we do, we are in the sheep feeding business now. We are shepherds. May God give us the grace to do the work He has called us to do and for us to be clear about it. Amen.