This background on Peter prepares us to understand his encounter with Jesus on the seaside. Jesus knows that our memories, our expectations link to our most powerful emotions—either enabling our discipleship or crippling it. Peter has been sent back into the world as a disciple by the Risen Lord in the Upper Room encounter of Chapter 20, but instead goes back to fishing—returning to the job he knew before he met Jesus. His guilt and shame over past failures make it impossible for him to see himself as a faithful follower in the future.
Jesus enters the territory of Peter’s broken memories. He reminds him of a previous moment, in Luke 5:1-10, where Jesus encouraged him to throw out his nets and fruitless fishing became a magnificent haul. Peter’s previous response—”Go from me for I am a sinful man!”—is relevant to his current problem. Again, a miraculous catch, again an encounter with a Lord who embraces and calls us in the midst of our sinfulness. The next moment recalls for Peter his failures on the days of Jesus’ arrest—they took place around a charcoal fire in the courtyard of the high priest. The word for charcoal fire appears only here in John 21 and that prior scene. To match the three denials, there are now three opportunities to confess his love for Jesus. Peter hedges this time, humbled by the knowledge of his own fragility, and says he loves Jesus, not with unconditional agape love, but with friendship love, philia. Jesus calls him anyway, commissioning him for leadership over the flock. Our discipleship does not rest on our love for Jesus, which is unstable, but His love for us! Trusting in this love, Jesus predicts, will allow Peter to follow again and lead again, and it will give him the courage to face his own demise by crucifixion.
Jesus wants to encounter us in order to heal our memories and free us from crippling guilt and shame.
As you read this chapter, try to go on Peter’s emotional journey.
Confess anything to Jesus of which you are ashamed.