May 17, 2020
by Mark Patrick
Some years ago my wife, Polly, and I led a group of senior high students on a backpack trip to the Wind River area in Wyoming. We made our way up the mountainous trails, across the streams, and down into the valleys. The water was so pure in the late spring we didn’t carry canteens—didn’t need them. Just dip your cup in the stream and enjoy all the cold crisp water you’d want. Our last morning we woke up seeing astounding views of the mountains all around and situated by one of the many lakes and streams in that area. And we were tired by now of freeze dried anything. A couple of our hikers rigged a fishing pole and caught some rainbow trout. I still recall the smell of the fire, the beauty of the place, and the aroma of the cooking fish which was a kind of cap to our week-long adventure together. That’s the memory that comes to mind when I read this chapter in John’s gospel.
You can imagine when I read verse 12 of John 21 I immediately resonated with what was happening: Jesus, called out, Come and have breakfast! I like that, because he too had the hot coals burning, and the fish grilling, and the beautiful scene by their lake.
First the context: Simon Peter and a half dozen friends had been out fishing all night. They were unsuccessful; they had nothing to show for their effort; they were tired; they undoubtedly were hungry.
Then Jesus appears on the shore near them. He tells them to cast their nets on the opposite side, which they do and catch so many fish that their nets can hardly hold them all. John says, It’s the Lord! And Peter literally jumps out of the boat and makes his way to shore to talk with Jesus. I always wonder if it was to talk with him this first time without the others present.
As we recall, Peter was the one who denied Jesus so publicly and forcefully only a few days earlier when Jesus was first arrested. And he famously denied him three times: in the courtyard waiting for the proceedings to begin—warming himself with the others present by that coal-fire.
A young girl asks Peter, Do you know him? No.
Several minutes later another person says, you look familiar; aren’t you one of his followers? No.
An hour later a third person looks carefully at him, comes up to him saying, I’m sure I’ve seen you with him before—you’re a Galilean, one of them. NO! I never knew the man.
Matthew’s gospel has Peter swearing and cursing he’s so threatened and angry. And Luke’s gospel has Jesus looking over at Peter at the moment he denies him the third time. The cock crows just as Jesus predicted and right at that moment his eyes met Jesus’ eyes. We’re told that Peter went out and wept bitterly.
So, that’s the set-up for this breakfast:
9When they had all gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.
When we read scripture it helps to experience it—not just read for superficial understanding. Imagine: what are the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, sensations that are part of the story>
10Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.”
When they finished breakfast Jesus and Peter had their difficult conversation.
Now, people think counselors are always trying to get people to talk; however, every counselor knows that there are four times to not talk: When we’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. HALT
So, now Peter has eaten breakfast—not Hungry, he’s relaxing—not worked up or Angry, they’ve broken the ice—not feeling isolated or Lonely, and he’s rested a bit from the long night of exertion—not Tired.
Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”
Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?”
And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.
After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
The three questions mirror the three denials. Each one becoming more intense. Peter experienced the ultimate second chance. But it wasn’t the first time. His whole life was a study in receiving second chances. He had wonderful strengths which made him a great leader and which made his mistakes even more visible.
Notice: We learn about change and growth by how Jesus approaches Peter in his difficult questioning. Jesus didn’t ask if he felt “guilty” enough. We don’t change by a negative reinforcement. Jesus didn’t argue with him and say, you don’t really love me. Peter did love him as much as he was able at the time. He aspired to love him. Jesus didn’t say, that’s OK, you’re forgiven. Being simply forgiven wasn’t the ultimate goal. Growing his capacity for faithful living was the goal.
And we recall that Peter had other instances in his three years with Jesus where he also needed other chances:
We remember the story of Peter walking on water with Jesus…for a few moments; then he literally took his eyes off Jesus, focused on the wind and waves and got that sinking feeling –because he was sinking!
We remember on the Mount of transfiguration when Peter was so amazed that Jesus was talking with Moses and Elijah that he wanted to construct a memorial to each of them. He wanted to stay in the mountain-top moment rather that move on to what was next.
We remember Peter with Jesus in the Garden. The soldiers came to arrest Jesus. Peter became so worked up that he took a sword and slashed it cutting off the ear of one of the soldiers, a servant of the high priest, trying to prevent Jesus from being arrested… and we don’t think he was aiming for his ear alone. He would have killed him. All the gospels record the event. Only Luke’s gospel records the miracle of Jesus healing the man.
So Peter had ample opportunity to learn of second chances. The goal of second chances is to learn from them… not to pretend our actions don’t have consequences. Its growing in grace and the capacity for change.
Psychologist, Carol Dweck, has written about the concept of Mindset. Her contention is that each of us tends to have either a Fixed mindset or a Growth mindset. A fixed mindset is not really open to change. We are simply the way we are. A Growth mindset is open to learning and change. It’s the belief that one can mature and improve.
Peter may have thought that all his mistakes were justified just because of the way he was made. It was natural for him. He wasn’t going to change, so why try? His mind was fixed. No change necessary.
At some point he came to understand that Jesus provides the path to change…not by Peter’s self-effort alone but with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And he chose to be on that journey in earnest.
This experience with Jesus and this very uncomfortable second chance he provided may have been the real catalyst Peter needed to move forward in his faith. The coming of the Holy Spirit provided the power to learn and live. Peter became quite a different person in the writings in the book of Acts…not perfect, but growing and leading…a growth mindset through grace and the Holy Spirit.
Where do we need second chances?
Walking into one’s AA meeting.
Entering the therapist’s office.
Asking the pastor or a friend to pray for us.
Calling the lawyer.
Apologizing to our spouse, parent, or child.
Making amends for something we did wrong.
Change is possible. Second chances are an integral part of the process. Thank God. No, really! Let’s thank God right now.
Our Lord, you set before us a way to live and love in our faith community and in the world. We mean well and do what we think is the best we can. Still we find ourselves often needing to adjust our attitudes and make things right again. We thank you that you provide for these moments of grace that give us second chances. May we receive them with gratitude and learn to act on them with renewed trust. And may we pass them on to others in your love. Amen
Grace Actually gives us Second Chances!
Let’s live in this grace today, and offer it to one another.
Let’s pray with the Psalmist who said:
Search us O God, and know our hearts
Try us and know our thoughts
See if there be any wicked way in us
And lead us in the way everlasting. Amen
Go in God’s Peace today.