Welcome to our fifth “On Further Reflection” entitled “Jesus says, ‘Come and Have Breakfast’. We aren’t far past Easter and I’m inviting you to use your creative imagination to reflect on one of my favourite resurrection stories from John the Gospel writer.
In moments when we are not sure what to do next, when we have faced some major shift in life, it sometimes takes a courageous friend to help us, like Peter does in this story. Peter decides to go fishing and asks if anyone wants to join him. His group now is seven – Peter, Thomas, James and John, Nathanael plus two unnamed disciples. Maybe John, who wrote this account, was fuzzy on the details, but the two unnamed characters leave a space for us to become part of the group as we pray our way imaginatively through the story.
I have prayed this story with hundreds of men and women on spiritual retreats. This story is an amazing doorway to understanding Jesus’ love for us and his commitment to us at all times.
This same group of disciples had already seen Jesus at least twice in the upper room in the first week after his crucifixion and resurrection – but the enormity of what they were being asked to believe left them in confusion and fear. I know those feelings.
When Peter returned to the comfort of fishing, he did what any of us do when we are confused or upset, he went back to doing what he knew, and found his comfort zone. The implications of what Peter had seen, heard and participated in were still percolated within, and Peter wanted company on the fishing trip. Not only would it be good to be out on the water with friends, but if the fishing trip was successful, it would help pay the bills.
WE ALL CAN CONNECT WITH THE DISAPPOINTMENT OF WORKING HARD FOR NO RESULTS.
I find it interesting that one of the core men in the group is Thomas. Only John the gospel writer gives Thomas a voice in the events he records. Thomas is a remarkable person, honest, forthright and loved by Jesus because of those very characteristics. He is important to the core group of disciples precisely because of his ability to freely express his doubts and concerns in his conversations with Jesus.
After fishing all night, their hopes for success and profit were dashed as the sun came up over the horizon. The boat was empty of fish. We all can connect with the disappointment of working hard for no results – the reward we expect for effort sometimes doesn’t happen. It has been a long night. Then something extraordinary happens.
The next part of the story invites us to slow down and enjoy the sights, sounds, smells and most especially the conversations among the group and with Jesus. If we allow ourselves to slow down, we have an opportunity to explore the breadth and depth of the story.
One of the first things a slow reflection on the story offers us is how long it takes, how slowly it unfolds and how much time Jesus commits to his friends’ present work and future vocation. He is the Son of God risen from the dead, on his way back to the Father. Yet he has hours to invest in his friends.
Imagine you are one of the other unnamed disciples. You are in the boat, deflated. What does your body feel like after a night of disappointing hard work? What have you talked about? As you worked, did you talk about what the future holds for you and your friends as you live out your loving commitment to Jesus? Are you considering a “Y” in your career path fearing it had all been a mistake?
A LOVELY MOMENT EVOLVES IN THE MIDST OF THE CONFUSION AND EXCITEMENT.
As you work and grouse about the results, you hear a voice from the shore. Looking into the mist rising off the water, you see someone, but you can’t make out who is calling. You can hear what they are saying though, “Have you had any results for your work?”
And then comes some fishing advice. “Try the other side of the boat.” Do you sigh impatiently but go ahead with the others and reconfigure your nets? We have all been in groups working away when someone offers a different course of action. Some of you are more open to trying something new than others, but you all manage to follow the shoreline figure’s advice.
And now you really hurt because you are straining at the nets. The water boils with fish. You will eventually count and discover 153 of them.
A lovely moment evolves in the midst of the confusion and excitement. Jean Vanier in his winsome book Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John, points out John’s importance as a complement to Peter’s leadership. Peter is the leader. Six other people followed his lead and went on the fishing trip. He is no doubt directing the operation and making sure the nets are secured and the boat is headed shoreward.
But Peter’s ability to recognize some of the subtler things going on was limited. It took his friend John leaning into him to say, “It is the Lord we see on the shore.” In prayers, as in life, we often need the help of friends and wise counselors to get perspective that we need and can’t find on our own.
“THANKS FOR SHOWING UP WHEN I LEAST EXPECT IT”.
I am not convinced John was any more quiet than Peter – he was, after all, one of the “sons of thunder.” But John possessed a keen eye for nuance, and while everyone else was confused, he saw what no one else did. When we meditate on Jesus’ life, and engage him in conversation, a companion with a different perspective is a valuable gift. We all may need a John.
As you sit in the boat, resting until you can get to shore, Peter suddenly erupts. He jumps in the water and does the hundred yards to shore in some sort of record for a fisherman running through the water.
Let’s take a break and savour the story. What would you like to say to Jesus about this experience so far? Perhaps you are comforted by his presence in your own difficult work circumstances. Or you may want to express your frustration with how hard it is to have faith in what is going on in life. A simple thank you might be what is on your mind – “Thanks for showing up when I least expect it.”
As the story continues, you are getting the boat to shore, counting the fish and readying them for the market. As you look up you see a charcoal fire burning. There is fish frying and bread ready to eat. Jesus invites us to bring some of the fish we have caught to add to the barbecue. Then he says, “Come and have breakfast.”
A slowing of our hearts and minds is now in order. The invitation to breakfast is followed with this phrase: “…then Jesus served them the bread and the fish.” This is a remarkable moment. Jesus Christ, the redeemer of the world has cooked breakfast and is moving from one to another serving bread and fish. A time to sit and savour in the silence.
AS WE SIT, HANDS OUT TO RECEIVE, WE OBSERVE HIS HANDS.
THE WOUNDS ARE OBVIOUS.
I often imagine the scene as though it is Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach. The huge redwood logs on the beach make a comfortable backrest for my tired body. The sea smell salts the air, gulls flit and cry around us. And I sit with my hands and arms extended as Jesus comes with his wounded hands to serve me breakfast.
Your imagination may transport you somewhere else. But do imagine yourself in the scene, receiving bread and fish from Jesus. It is a very important picture – key friends of Jesus who are leaders of the movement sitting as supplicants being fed. For many of us, it is easier to offer service than receive it. And yet Jesus here is concerned about something as basic as work and nourishment when we are worn down. Even the physical action required to receive food and sustenance is a good picture of receptivity in prayer. Sitting with our hands extended in a receptive posture is an excellent prayer pattern.
Being conscious of our desire to be fed by Jesus is also important in our praying. This manner of prayer moves us from our head into our inner being. We know that nourishment from God is what we need more than all the good ideas and propositions we may come up with when we read scripture.
If we are observant as we sit quietly or go for a walk with a story in our minds, we can see Jesus in conversation and action with us. We imagine on any given morning that rather than doing our devotions, we are responding to Jesus’ invitation to “come and have breakfast.” Maybe Jesus is saying, “Have coffee with me and I’ll feed you what your soul needs for the day ahead.”
Some historic religious art depicts the Eucharist as a fish on a plate with a goblet of wine beside it. Jesus wants us to remember him in our simple moments of nourishment, because he knows we need his nourishment as well. And as we sit, hands out to receive, we observe his hands. The wounds are obvious. Jesus’ invitation is not to escape from challenge, but to be nourished to follow him into the same sort of sacrifice he offered in obedience to our Father.
THINGS THAT SEEM LIKE DISTRACTIONS OR WASTE OF TIME ARE ACTUALLY EMBRACED BY JESUS AS SACRED ACTS.
We are pressed for time in so much of our lives that to leisurely reflect on a story, to become part of it and join in Jesus’ intimate conversations seems out of reach on most days. But here we have a perspective on time demonstrated by the God of the universe, the savior of the world – he doesn’t talk about time, but he does spend it extravagantly.
Jesus spent several hours in compassionate observation of his friends at work, anticipating their need of food, lighting a fire – it takes quite some time for it to become charcoal. He fillets the fish, begins cooking the first portion of the meal. He has brought the bread and fish. An abundance of humble work went into creating this moment.
Things that seem like distractions or a waste of time are actually embraced by Jesus as sacred acts. Buying the bread, filleting the fish, lighting and feeding the fire, cooking the fish when the fire is at its hottest, chatting from the shore with his friends, serving them the food – it is not a glamorous popping in and out and offering a few kind words. Jesus has time for us. All we need do is respond. It may take us a week or more to slowly savour this last chapter of John’s gospel, because there is still more to embrace and imagine. It takes about four minutes to read this passage at a normal pace. We need more than four minutes to truly engage with Jesus in this story as it unfolds. Watching and listening to Jesus shapes our conversation with him – and in the silence we listen for responses to our prayers.
The story now makes a shift. As breakfast finishes, I imagine seeing Jesus leave the circle and stand beside Peter, who is standing by the shore looking out at the water. Perhaps Peter is remembering the miracle catch as he digests the breakfast.
Peter may still be sheepish about his embarrassing lack of courage around the courtyard outside Jesus’ trials and wondering if he is really accepted. All the signs are there that Peter is welcome. He was with John running to the tomb from the gathering of the disciples. He is in the upper room and when he asks for company on this fishing trip, six people join him. But appearances can be deceiving for all of us – we can look like we are operating in a healthy way while little by little dying inside.
STANDING STILL AND QUIET WITH SOMEONE ELSE IS A TERRIFIC WAY TO HAVE DEEP, NON-THREATING CONVERSATIONS AND CLOSE COMPANIONSHIP.
Self-doubt, shame, regret and recriminations all can be a poisonous soup feeding our souls in a disastrous direction. One morning, as I prayed this story, a picture emerged that Jesus had committed these many hours of his resurrection life to one encounter with Peter.
It is just one picture, on one day, which helped me engage with Peter and Jesus. We do not know, but can imagine the quiet conversations as they sat on the beach with Thomas, James & John and Nathanael and the two unnamed. Deeply engaging with the recorded conversation with Peter helps us in those other imaginings.
Jesus stands next to Peter looking out at the sea. Standing still and quiet with someone else is a terrific way to have deep, non-threatening conversation with a close companion – and Peter was Jesus’ close companion. Standing side by side, looking out on the same scene is a safe, non-confrontational and freeing conversational pattern.
That particular morning, I heard Jesus’ questions of Peter in a slightly different way than I had before. It may have been the needs I was bringing to the prayer time that shaped my imagining, but it felt to me that Jesus was trying to draw expressions of love and commitment from Peter that he was too sheepish or embarrassed to express.
Many times I have made declarations of intent knowing full well there would be people who were listening, who, because of past failures, doubted my ability to follow through. It only leads to self-doubt and a kind of insecurity that can damage our ability to serve God and love those who come across our path.
JESUS IS CAREFULLY DRAWING OUT FROM PETER A HARD-WON CONFESSION OF LOVE.
Peter decided hours before the breakfast to just go fishing, only to be reeled in by the Master Fisherman to be found and profoundly reinstated to his role as leader. When we pray, we start out with many intentions and preoccupations, but we can be confident that the God who loves us is taking more initiative with us than we realize.
Jesus watched the disciples together, watched their struggle, and their lack of successful hard work. He offered helpful advice, but most profoundly offered them the most memorable breakfast they would ever have.
This is another area to note as we develop our prayer conversations with Jesus. Every time we sit for a while in the silence, something dramatic does not always happen. This was a special moment of provision and not a prescription to be used in all of life’s challenges.
This becomes clear in the conversation Jesus has with Peter. Jesus is carefully drawing out from Peter a hard won confession of love. Regardless of his success or failure to this point, the greatest command is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
Peter’s difficult last few events may have left him doubting all the great declarations he had made in the past. Yet Jesus wanted him to declare “I love you,” three times in succession. The requests were so persistent that Peter was hurt by the third one. It was Jesus’ way of leading Peter to a freedom to love and serve that would be costly in time.
The second half of the great command is to love our neighbour as ourselves. Jesus includes this in more specific ways, because the damaged Peter could not have been a good shepherd to the flock he was going to be called to lead.
Gently, as Jesus leads Peter through this conversation, he indicates that Peter’s service to God will end in humiliating fashion. Peter would not be in control, others would. But as John writes, it was the means by which his good works would glorify the Father in Heaven.
Peter is still fidgeting with the conversation. Spotting his friend John, he asks what John’s fate is to be. Jesus gets at a particularly important part of our spiritual development and growth in maturity. Comparing ourselves to others’ roles, positions, recognition, devotion and religious practice leads us down an unhealthy road.
Peter says, “What about him?” Jesus asks, “What’s it to you? Follow me.” When we are in conversation with Jesus, our search for clarity can be painful.
So, what are we learning about Jesus and his conversations with his friends? What can we embrace in our own practices of prayer?
IT IS A GOOD POSTURE FOR US IN PRAYER TO BE A SUPPLICANT RATHER THAN AN ANALYST OR INTERPRETER OF TEXT.
First on the list for me is Jesus has all kinds of time for us. Even though the story takes a few minutes to read it has unfolded over many hours – we need a holy leisure to experience the story and engage Jesus in conversation.
Jesus is the initiator of conversation in this story. We discover he is concerned about many mundane things – like success in our work and nourishment for our lives as we live daily.
Jesus places a high value on manual, domestic work and integrates it into his higher purposes seamlessly. Being slowed down to do the mundane sometimes frees our minds and spirits to converse with Jesus. Benedict in shaping his order believed that manual labour was an excellent balance to contemplative prayer. For those of us who don’t do physical work it keeps us humble, grounded and often helps us connect to the humble servant Jesus.
We observed the posture of the seven fishers as Jesus served them the food he had prepared for them. It is a good posture for us in prayer to be a supplicant rather than an analyst or interpreter of text. We can imagine sitting still and expressing our need for nourishment and inviting Jesus to care for us.
Jesus invests heavily in the clear ground of love for his relationship with us, and our relationship with him. He doesn’t ask Peter how much he had done or was prepared to do. Jesus simply asked “Do you love me?” This is a great place to discover that the ground of our relationship is on freely expressing our love for God, however mysterious that seems.
Go to our website www.touchstone.ca and under Resources, click on Personal Contemplation to find An invitation to a 4 Day Experience of Prayer. It will guide you into a form of prayer that will teach you by doing, a way of connecting with Jesus in a story and end in conversation with him.
Let me close with a lovely poem that expresses some of the earthiness and beauty of this story.
Two fish fresh from Galilee bleed on Jesus’ hands.
They stare dumbly into a chastened sky.
Galilee’s hills are scrubby & thick with dust.
Jesus’ feet stir up clouds That land timidly on his skin.
The fish ride through the air in Jesus’ hands, gaze
at the hard dry world. Brushing a rock
with twigs, he lays them down & makes a fire.
He slits the fish tenderly as if remembering,
sets their innards and eyes on the sand for birds.
Small flames lick at the fish’s soft flesh.
Lake water laps at Jesus’ feet
as he bends to wash blood from his scars.
(Ruth Golding Yellow Doors)
Listen to the “On Further Reflection with Norm Allen” Podcast
I invite you to listen to “Come and Have Breakfast”, and encourage you to share it with a friend or colleague.
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