Fish Stories

Posted by on Oct 3, 2013 in Faith Words |

Words of Faith

Rev. Rita S. Platt

April 14, 2013

“Fish Stories”

John 21:9-14

According to the book Ripley’s–Believe It or Not!, Thomas MacClure of Detroit, Michigan, has an interesting hobby. Mr. MacClure has developed a method for hypnotizing fish. Ripley’s doesn’t give any more details on the story than that. Thomas MacClure hypnotizes fish. For me there are so many unanswered questions to this story. How does one go about hypnotizing a fish? Do you wave your watch over a pond and declare, “You’re getting very sleepy, Mr. Catfish, you’re getting very sleepy, sleepy, sleepy.” And more importantly, WHY would anyone want to hypnotize a fish? Yesterday was the first day of trout season and I know there were many persons out there at the crack of dawn, all of them anxious to catch fish. None, I believe, having a desire to hypnotize them. Why in the world did Mr. MacClure want to hypnotize fish?  What was his purpose? Ripley doesn’t provide answers to those questions.  And the last question on my list – how can you tell if fish are really hypnotized or not?   Would their eyes get very big, then become smaller and smaller? Inquiring minds want to know.  Ripley shares none of those details.

It was not long after the resurrection, the day we call Easter. Some of Jesus’ disciples had gone fishing on the Sea of Tiberias, also known as the Sea of Galilee.  What was the object of going out fishing that night?  Well, that’s a little easier for me to deduce than why Mr. MacClure hypnotizes fish. They were originally fishermen. If you listened to the list of names, you noticed there were seven. Some of Jesus’ followers had other occupations; this group were fishermen.

 Let’s look back at a similar story in the book of Luke, chapter five. Jesus is preaching and teaching by a lake when he joins a group of fishermen in their boats. After a disappointing night of fishing, the men were heading back to shore. When Jesus had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but we’ve caught nothing. Yet, if you say so, I’ll let down the nets.”  When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.”  

These simple fishermen became Jesus’ first disciples. 

Over the next three years, these fishermen saw Jesus preach, teach, perform miracles, and they stood by his side – sometimes cheering, other times with fear and trepidation – as Jesus  turned the established order upside down. Always by his side. Can you imagine their sorrow when, at the height of his ministry, Jesus is arrested and crucified? What are they going to do now? Then, just as they are giving in to fear and confusion, Jesus appears to them, undeniably alive and full of power, and announces that he has conquered death! So, after this amazing turn of events, why are the disciples out fishing again?  WHEN OUR WORLD-VIEW HAS BEEN TURNED UPSIDE-DOWN, OUR FIRST REACTION IS TO RETREAT INTO OUR COMFORT ZONE. It is not unusual under such circumstances to want to return to the familiar. Maybe the disciples needed time to clear their heads. The soothing rocking of the boat, the briny odor of sea water, the rough feel of the nets in their calloused hands–these things were comforting to Simon Peter and the others. And they needed this time in the comfort zone to sort out their thoughts and emotions. 

And so, as the disciples drift along on the sea at night, catching nothing, expecting nothing, Jesus appears to them again. This is the disciples’ golden hour, even if they do not realize it. This is the hour that will change their lives forever.  Remember, Jesus is standing on the shore, the disciples in the boat; they do not recognize it is Jesus. There is a simple reason: we tend to see what we expect to see and they do not expect to see Jesus. 

He calls out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”  “No” they answer.

He says, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” Perhaps they are remembering another time; perhaps they are remembering another boat, or perhaps they make no connection. Scripture doesn’t tell us. 

Management consultant Peter Drucker says there are four kinds of risks:

            One kind of risk is the risk you simply MUST TAKE. You have no other option. 

            A second kind of risk is one you CAN AFFORD TO TAKE. You calculated the cost, and           it’s worth it. This is my “pro’s and con’s” list I make when making decisions. 

            A third kind of risk is a risk is the other side of the list:  more pro’s you can afford to do   it, more con’s YOU  CANNOT AFFORD TO TAKE THE RISK . The results would be             too disastrous.

             And fourth is a risk you CANNOT AFFORD NOT TO TAKE. 

It is a risk to respond to Jesus’ call. But obviously, it’s a risk that the disciples cannot afford not to take. When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.  At that point memory kicked in.  Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!”

Full of joy, they begin rowing toward shore to greet Jesus. Simon Peter doesn’t even wait for the boat; he jumps into the water and swims to meet Christ.  Maybe it was Peter’s way of saying, “I’m so sorry I failed you, Lord! I want to be the first to shore, the first in your presence… because I’m so sorry I failed you.” 

Jesus was so perceptive. He knew what was going on deep down inside of Simon Peter and just as he gave Thomas what he needed, letting him touch his scars physically, now he reached out to touch Simon Peter emotionally with the help and healing he needs.  And a little later in the text Jesus takes Peter aside and says, “Simon, do you love Me?” “Oh yes, Lord,” Peter answers, “You know that I love You.” “Then feed My sheep,” Christ says to him.  Now, they go through this ritual three times. “Simon, do you love Me?” “Yes Lord, you know I love You.” “Then feed My sheep.” Three times! Why? To let Simon Peter’s three-fold affirmation of love wipe out the bitter memory of his three-fold denial. Jesus was saying to Simon Peter, “I believe in you. You are still the Rock. You can do it… but you have to put your failure behind you. You are forgiven. The slate is wiped clean. You can start over again.”  That is precisely what the Risen Christ does for us. He knows about our failures and our fears and He still loves us, He still believes in us.

 Easter was a few weeks away – we focused on the power of the Risen Christ to roll the rocks away and the charge for us to be rock rollers.  Have we returned to our comfort zone – doing ministry the comfortable way – catching little or no fish?

Can we hear Jesus say “There’s another side of the boat and if you trust me, throw out your net – I’ll provide the catch?”

And if as you hear those words you are remembering how many times we’ve tried and failed,

hear Jesus say “I know all that and I still love you. The question is do you love me?

Do you love me enough to do the work he has called you to do, especially when it is out of your comfort zone.”