The post-resurrection fishing story has been on my mind this week because it’s a story about what happens after.
I’m not just making that up out of convenience; in the NIV it begins with the word, “Afterward…”
After the resurrection, after Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene and the disciples, after all that – this is what happens:
7 of the disciples make their way to the sea of Tiberias. I imagine them to be a little lost (figuratively not literally). Their rabbi and Messiah – the one they’ve followed for 3 years or so – isn’t with them anymore. The good news (Good News) is that he’s not dead, but the hard news is that he’s not coaching them 24/7 as he once did.
How can they be followers of Christ without a Christ to follow around? What happens now – after the death and resurrection of Jesus?
Peter’s the one who gets the idea to go fishing. Maybe it’s simply because he’s hungry. As the 7 go out onto the open water, I imagine them gaining energy and confidence by the minute. Remember, at least 3 of these guys were fishermen before they were fishers of men. They were born and raised to fish. As they ready the nets and navigate to their favorite fishing holes, they must feel more like themselves than they had in years. What happens after the resurrection? Who knows – but for now, they’re going back to “before,” and it feels good. Before, when they spent their lives out on the water putting food on peoples’ tables. Before, when things were simpler and decisions had obvious answers. Ah, before!
But these guys fish all night long and catch nothing. 7 grown men, 0 fish.
When dawn breaks I imagine that morale was low. If they don’t know what happens “after” and they can’t go back to “before,” then what is there? (And on top of that, they are probably really hungry by now, which always makes me grumpy.)
As they drift close to the shore, a stranger calls out to them: “Hey friends – got any fish?”
“NO,” they reply.
“Have you tried throwing your nets on the other side of the boat?”
Could there be a more annoying suggestion? They just fished the whole sea, all night long! I picture Peter angrily and sloppily throwing that net into the water. “Fellah, there isn’t a fish to be had in this sea. Look, I’ll show you… Um… Is the net caught on something? John, will you give me a hand here?”
But the net isn’t caught. It’s full. So full, they can’t haul it into the boat, and they have to drag it to the beach to unload it. When they get there, Jesus is waiting, with hot coals prepared for the fish.
Remember, this story is about what happens after.
Chances are good you have an “after” you’re facing.
Here are some of mine:
- What happens after I leave one congregation and move to another?
- What happens after my family leaves one home and begins to make one in a new place?
- What happens after my husband quits his job and… ?
My new congregation, the welcoming folks of Andrews UMC, have at least one “after” that mirrors mine:
- What happens after one pastor leaves and we get a new one?
Sometimes “after” is a bad thing, like, “What happens after I am diagnosed with cancer?” Sometimes it’s a hopeful thing: “What happens after I get the new job I always wanted?” Whether it’s positive or negative, “after” can be scary. It’s unknown, unpredictable.
Here’s what this story teaches us about “after”:
When “after” is frightening and uncomfortable, I can want to go back to “before” like a startled deer wanting to run back where it came from. Like the disciples going back to their old trade as fishermen. But the disciples couldn’t simply go back because they were forever changed by their experience with Christ. Eventually, they do catch fish – but only once Christ is involved.
This means that our response to, “What happens after…?” is rarely as simple as going back to “before.” We have to go bravely into the unknown ahead.
Thankfully, whatever “after” holds – good or bad – Christ is there. In this story Jesus coaches the disciples to finally catch fish and prepares a place for them. He will do the same for us, helping us know how to live in a new situation. We can sleep a little easier knowing that, wherever “after” might take us, Jesus is already there.
Even if “after” leads to death – Jesus is there, too.
If you’re on the brink of “after” today, resist the temptation to go back. Head bravely ahead into the new adventure God has in store for you. And remember that wherever you go, Christ is already there…
…maybe even with breakfast waiting.