The Rock

May 5, 2019           Easter 3

John 21:15-19

Of course my name is really Simon. A lot of the newer Christians forget that. Peter is just a nickname – what Jesus liked to call me. The Rock. Well, I’ve always liked to think of myself as the steady reliable sort. But I really wasn’t much of a rock as far as Jesus was concerned. Nor, really, as far as my family is concerned: they have had to do a fair bit of shifting for themselves over the years. I guess the truth is, I’m not much of a rock at all. Too impetuous – I do what my heart tells me to, and think about it afterwards. Jesus knew that, of course. And this nickname, the Rock, was his gentle way of teasing me a bit. And yet, when Jesus said something, even when he was teasing, it had a strange way of turning out to be true.

I’m a plain, simple man, I’ll admit it right off. Not a lot of education, like Paul. I’m a working man. And I think I said before, I don’t always think things through. Paul caught me out at Antioch, one time, when I wouldn’t sit down with our non-Jewish brothers, just because some strict brothers had come from Jerusalem. He was right, too, I have to admit it – I just hadn’t thought it through. If I’ve been able to offer the church anything, it hasn’t been my head.

Now there was a time when I thought I was pretty clever. We had only been with Jesus a few months, and we were all wondering who he really was. I spoke right up: “You’re the Messiah!”, and I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. For once in my life I had got it right! But you know, I hadn’t really understood a thing. When the time came for him to show us who the Messiah is, I wasn’t ready to hear it.

I’m past being ashamed of it now, though it took me a long time. I denied him. Three times I denied even knowing him. Everything had happened so fast. Suddenly the soldiers were there, and when I tried to fight to save him, he wouldn’t let me. This wasn’t supposed to happen! I didn’t understand anything, and I guess I wasn’t sure I even really did know him. But the worst was, when I heard the rooster, it all came back to me. Of course I knew him, and loved him, and now I’d blown the last chance I’d ever have to make it up to him.

Even when he had risen, I was torn. I wasn’t sure I wanted to believe it – I was still afraid to face him. What a relief it was when I found the tomb empty. The others were all so full of joy, even Thomas overcame his doubts, and I was joyful too, at least part of me. But it was like I didn’t really belong, like I’d given up my right to follow him. So I held back from him.

And then we weren’t really sure what we were supposed to do. It was great that he had risen from the dead and all, and we could see him and touch him and know that death had no claim on him. But it wasn’t like it was before, wasn’t like he had come back to stay with us. And in between, we were lost. We just didn’t know the way forward.

And so we found ourselves back in Capernaum, back where we started, not really knowing what to do with ourselves. Me, I’ve got to do something, so I decided to go fishing, and some of the guys came with me. But it was no good, we didn’t catch a thing, all night. And as we sat at the oars, worn out and hopeless, suddenly in the mists of dawn we could barely make out a figure on the shore, telling us to try our nets on the other side of the boat. And then I knew it was him, and I was over the side. He was standing on the rocks, just as solid as they were, and he had a fire going, and the smell of woodsmoke and sizzling fish mixed with the morning mists. And it was all so real, and so lovely. But still I couldn’t look him in the eye.

And it was then, after breakfast, he fixes me with that look, and asks me if I love him. I could only stammer, “Yes, Lord.” “Feed my lambs,” he says. Then he looks away and asks me again, “Simon, do you love me.” It almost broke my heart, and I answered almost in tears, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” “Tend my sheep.” Then he asks a third time, and I can only say “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you” — and I know now that it is okay between us. He has forgiven me, completely and utterly, and he has helped me to put it behind me.

“Feed my sheep,” he said. Often I don’t know what I have to feed anyone with — just a heart so full of love for him. So I tell them what I remember about Jesus. And I tell them this story: how I denied him, yet he loved me and set me on my feet again, and set my heart free to love him.
He said something else to me then, too — that when I am old, I would stretch out my hands, and someone would lead me where I don’t want to go. I’ve thought a lot about that. I always assumed he meant that I would be taken prisoner, and perhaps killed for him. That doesn’t frighten me anymore. I know I ’m so secure in his love, and it would be wonderful to be able to make the sacrifice for him that I held back before. But you know, the older I get, the more it seems that my whole life has been like that. It’s funny: I’m the guy who always does the first thing that comes to mind, and rushes in where angels fear to tread. I like to make things happen. Yet none of this that has happened to me is my choice; I wouldn’t even have dreamed of it. If I’d been left to go my own way, I suppose I’d still be fishing in Galilee and picking quarrels with my neighbours. But here I am, with this great responsibility of the church resting on my shoulders, with so many sheep to feed, so many needs to be cared for. And when people look to me, I do feel pretty solid and reliable most of the time, firmly rooted in that love and forgiveness Jesus gave me. And then I remember that little smile he used to give me, whenever he called me the Rock.