Imagine spending a whole day fishing without a single nibble — only to discover that all the fish are on the other side of your boat!
After Jesus rose from the dead, the disciples were befuddled and didn’t know what would happen next. Peter decided he would not wait to find out, so declared that he was going fishing, going back to what he did before Jesus called him to follow Him. Others went with him.
Perhaps fishing had been a satisfying calling before Jesus came along, but Peter had left that life. He and the others hoped to be part of the new kingdom. Then Jesus was killed. Even though He was alive again, that event threw the disciples for a loop. Peter was confused. Perhaps he felt like a loser whose life was not anything he’d hoped or wanted. He may have thought he had no other options now, and resigned himself to being a fisherman. Not that there is anything wrong with this occupation, but after a few years of walking with Jesus, fishing was not going to do it for him, particularly with the failure of this first venture back at his old job.
Then Jesus appeared on the shore and called out to Peter and the others who went with him. They’d already seen Him, saw Thomas touch the thorns in His side, and knew that He could appear whenever He wanted. This this change was too much for them. The former days, as challenging as they were, were better than trying to cope with this new version, this risen Christ and the fact that they didn’t know what would happen next.
He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. (John 21:6)
The normal lesson teachers and preachers offer from this is a life lesson for those who toil and never find the satisfaction they are longing for. They challenge readers with words like, “Christ knows more about the proper management of your life than you do. He told them where to fish. He knows most about life, and the common things of life. He knows where peace and happiness are found…”
But this is not the lesson I am getting today from this incident. Being happy isn’t the priority that Jesus has in mind, nor is it a catch of fish, whether literal or spiritual. He is simply teaching the disciples to do what He tells them, to obey even when the commands do not make sense, or go against the grain of all that they know.
Life is full of examples. I went to visit my uncle in the hospital. My mother (his sister) told me not to talk about spiritual things with him because it would just make him angry, but Jesus clearly laid it on my heart to talk to him about spiritual things.
When mom left the room to visit another patient, I did as Jesus asked and my uncle was eager to find out what he must do to be saved. Imagine my mother’s astonishment when she returned to his room just as he was praying the sinner’s prayer! Both of us felt like the disciples must have felt as they hauled in that big catch of fish.
I can think of opposite examples too. I’ve gone “fishing” and left Jesus on the shore. I did this or that, hoping for success and coming up empty because I never found out from the Master what He wanted, or when He wanted it, or what He wanted me to do, or not do, or any other details. After all, I knew how to fish.
Sometimes I still forget that relying on what I know is not going to cut it. More and more I come up empty when I do not first turn to Jesus before going out on any fishing venture, or trying to do anything else. For me, the lesson is not about the right way to find success so much as it is about paying attention to Jesus, about obedience.
One reality is that success is not mine to measure. Much of what God asks of me may not result in any visible or immediate result or reward. I cannot be motivated by the outcome or aim for “success” but must instead listen and do what I’m told. Only God knows the end result of obedience — and I’m often oblivious to whether or not my net is filled with fish.