Our gospel story for today ( John 21, 1-14) must have taken place at Tabgha, the quiet stretch of wooded land on the Sea of Galilee just south of ancient Capernaum, the center of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. Seven springs of water flow into the lake there. Some years ago, during an early morning visit I made to the place, birds were singing in the trees and drinking from the streams of fresh water.
Fishermen would surely draw into Tabgha after a night’s fishing for fresh water from the springs and maybe fry some fish over a fire on the beach. It’s a likely place where Jesus would meet with his disciples. Two ancient churches are on the site. He met his disciples here after his resurrection, tradition says.
Peter and the others returned to Galilee after the Lord’s death and resurrection and went fishing, John’s gospel says. They caught nothing through the night, but at dawn they heard a call from the shore to cast out their nets again.
“… Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.”
They caught a large catch– 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 figures prominently in this story. He jumped into the water to get to the shore. Then after they ate, Jesus took him aside and asks the disciple who denied him three times, “Do you love me?”
Three times the apostle cursed and swore he did not know Jesus. Three times he answers “Yes, I do. I love you.” And Jesus tells him “Feed my lambs. Feed my sheep.” Peter isn’t alone in this encounter, the other disciples and all of us are with him.
A statue at Tabgha marks that beautiful meeting, an example of God’s forgiveness! 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. God’s mercy does not take away, but gives more.