Between Two fires

Simon Peter’s head was swirling with thoughts, and his heart was churning with emotion. He needed to get away, so he decided to say he was going fishing overnight. Of course, half of the other apostles immediately demanded to join him.

It was torture. All Peter wanted was to be left alone with his failures. Instead he spent all night listening to the chatter of his fellow-apostles, who didn’t seem to notice he wasn’t his usual, impulsive self.

All he could think of was the red glow of that coal fire, and the reflection of that glow in the faces all around him as he had denied again and again that he knew Jesus. And then the rooster had crowed, and his heart had sunk like a stone, and he had run away.

He would never forgive himself.

Jesus had made a terrible mistake in claiming that he, Simon Peter, could be the head of the group, the leader of the apostles. He couldn’t continue Jesus’s work in proclaiming the good news of Jesus! He couldn’t even stand up for what he believed standing on a side street with a bunch of strangers.

Dawn came and, on top of having to endure PEOPLE all night long in that little boat, they hadn’t caught a damn’ thing. It was hot, and it was still, and the beer had run out a long time ago. It was the perfect combination of conditions for someone determined to be miserable, and it almost gave Simon Peter a grim, black sense of satisfaction.

Then, just about dawn, some guy on the shore had started calling out advice—and if there’s one thing a fisherman can’t stand, it’s some yahoo giving advice from the comfort of shore. “Cast your net on the right side,” the stranger had called. Oh, sure, THAT must be the problem.

But they hauled the nets up, sorted and rolled them, and then cast them on the right side of the boat. For a moment, the nets just sunk out of view into the gloom. And then, when they started to haul it up, the resistance caused the boat suddenly to tilt to one side. As soon as they had shifted their weight to right it, John had yelled out that the guy on shore was Jesus. He sounded so sure that Simon Peter squinted hard at the stranger—and he recognized the slope of those shoulders.

Simon Peter’s heart leapt to his throat, and he did the only thing he could think of—he made himself presentable and jumped over the side. It seemed like it took just seconds to reach the shore. Dripping, he took the hand Jesus offered as he flopped through the rushes, but then dropped it like it was hot. He saw that coal fire burning merrily, and remembered.

He had no right to expect anything other than condemnation. He had denied his Savior three times to save his own neck, and he deserved nothing more than to be cast out.

Instead, he got breakfast. Breakfast, and forgiveness. There between the white-hot memory of two fires, and three denials.

It is in the ordinary that the true miracle of Christ’s love plays itself out for us in each moment, whether of joy or sorrow. We too often live between the fires of our past failures and our current temptation to take the easy way still. Yet we have all been called, like Peter, to proclaim our discipleship—and all of us have had times where we have failed. But not a word of blame is spoken by Jesus to Simon Peter, or to us. Just a simple question: Do you love me? And then he feeds us, body and soul.

Each time Jesus asks, one of Simon Peter’s three denials is blotted out. “Do you love me?” Jesus asks, and he already knows the answer. 

“Do you love me?” Jesus asks us right now. Then let down your nets, and gather all you can. Draw the world to Jesus in your words and actions, and in your love most of all. Don’t worry about being overwhelmed, or about the net breaking. The net of faith is strong enough to hold everyone. Don’t worry about your own failures and shortcomings and doubts—know that you are beloved of Jesus, beloved, and worthy, and called.

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