I think I know where this gospel took place. It’s called Tabgha, a quiet, wooded area on the Lake of Galilee just south of the ancient town of Capernaum. It’s easy walking distance from the town that was the center of Jesus’ ministry.
The name Tabgha comes from the seven springs of water flowing into the lake there. When I visited some years ago, flocks of birds were singing in the trees and drinking from the streams of water.
For centuries fishermen must have pulled in here to get fresh water from the springs, and perhaps fry some fish over a fire on the beach. It’s a likely place where Jesus would come to pray. Tradition, witnessed by two centuries-old churches on the site, says he met his disciples here in this beautiful place after his resurrection.
According to John’s gospel, Peter and other disciples of Jesus came to Galilee after the Lord’s death and resurrection and went fishing. Through the night they caught nothing, but at dawn they heard a call from the shore to cast their nets out again.
“… Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.” They caught of large catch of 153 fish. Jesus then called from the shore to come eat some fish at a fire he had started and he gave them bread and some fish to eat and revealed himself to them.
Peter has a leading role in this story. He jumped into the water to get to the shore after he’s told Jesus was there. Then after they have eaten, Jesus takes him aside and three times asks the disciple who denied him three times, “Do you love me?”
Three times the apostle who cursed and swore in the courtyard of the High Priest that he did not even know Jesus answers “Yes, I do. I love you.” And Jesus tells him “Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep.”
A great example of forgiveness is found here. No scolding words or recriminations. No “I told you so.” No warning, “You do that again and …” No demotion, no putting on parole. Rather, Jesus gives Peter new responsibility. “Feed my lambs” as I do. A beautiful picture of what God’s mercy is.
Instead of punishing him, God calls Peter to new things. The mercy of God always calls us to something new, some new life.
Tabgha, along the Lake of Galilee where Jesus met his disciples, is a wonderful place to visit. My guess is that this spot was where Jesus often prayed during his days in Capernaum and where he often called his disciples to rest awhile. Here he communed with God his Father and showed his love for others; here he prayed and forgave. His memory lingers at this lovely place besides the Sea of Galilee.
We learn here that prayer and forgiveness go together, as Jesus taught. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Today’s gospel urges us to pray and learn to forgive as Jesus did. Maybe there’s someone who has hurt us, maybe we have an unforgiving attitude towards some situation we’re facing now. A job we don’t like, a home situation we’re angry about, something in society that upsets us.
Pray and forgive.