What do you do when you don’t know what to do? That was the dilemma of Jesus’ disciples after his resurrection. They had ridden the roller coaster of emotions, dipping down into the nightmare of his humiliating death and soaring to the heights of his sudden appearances after his tomb was discovered to be empty. They actually touched him and ate with him before he disappeared as quickly as he had entered. What should they do once their master left?
They certainly did not want to stay around the hostile environment of Jerusalem. Their natural reaction was to flee to their familiar background, so when Peter told some of his fellows that he was returning to the Sea of Galilee to resume his fishing trade, six others decided to join him (John 21:3). But that effort proved to be fruitless because they toiled all night on the waters and caught nothing.
As dawn blushed the lake and shoreline with its rouge, the weary disciples heard a familiar voice calling across the waters asking whether they had caught any fish. When they admitted their failure, the distant figure standing 300 feet on the shore in the early morning haze called for them to cast their net on the right side of the boat. They would catch all the fish they desired. When they obeyed, their nets were so full they could not haul them aboard. They had to drag their bounty to the shore.
As John was struggling with the nets, a sudden moment of inspired memory flooded his mind. According to Luke 5, when these men were first called to be Jesus’ disciples, it was at the shore of this same lake three years before. And their fishing experience had been fruitless then as now. It seemed Jesus had brought these men back to a place where they were called to follow him. Could the place of renewal be the same setting where they began?
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Perhaps they remembered when Jesus called the “weary and heavy laden” to rest (Matthew 11:28), he did not invite them to a therapy session, a system of thought, or even a church service. He urged them to “come to me…” It was in the peace of his presence they would find rest for their soul. These men needed to get away from the distractions of the intervening years and renew their relationship with him. Everything else would result from that core encounter.
I think this incident could serve as a template for our own spiritual and emotional weariness and confusion. The cadence of time and the blur of societal changes have taken a toll on our sense of meaning and purpose. Like these disciples, we must return to the place of our calling. We must hear Jesus inviting us back to the simplicity of faith. That’s where renewal takes place.
In the private place with the risen Christ we can confess we need him as a child needs a parent; as the sick need a physician; as sheep need a shepherd; as the disoriented need a guide; as the condemned need an advocate; as the guilty need forgiveness; as the desperate need hope; as the lonely need a friend; as the fearful need peace; as the rejected need love; and as a wanderer needs destiny.
Recently, Billy Graham, one of the greatest evangelists of history, passed away. But maybe the signature hymn that closed his services for many years should become our new national anthem. “Just as I am, without one plea, but that Thy blood was shed for me… Oh, Lamb of God, I come!”
It would be quite appropriate to kneel while singing this anthem!
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.