The Longest Night

It was one of those dead end nights. The Sea of Tiberius was calm and the sand was still warm from the hot day that had ended hours ago. They had been there for hours, walking and reminiscing. Remembering the last three years; how their lives had been completely turned upside down by this Jesus of Nazareth. None of them knew what they were getting into when He called them to be His disciples. And now here they were. They didn’t know if they should be looking backward or forward. They were on the shore, not only of Tiberius, but of their entire communal life together.

Now what?

Jesus had risen, but by now the initial shock had warn off. At first, they were elated. He came to them in a room filled with bitterness, anger and paranoia and His return changed everything. They were no longer frightened and cowering from the authorities, but these days Jesus came and went as He pleased. They couldn’t produce Him at will. He seemed to be up to something and they couldn’t figure it out. Whatever it was, it was on His timetable and not their’s.

Peter remembered seeing the resurrected Jesus for the first time. Looking back, it was like a dream. The moment he saw the face of Jesus looking Him in the eye and felt the wounds of nails and spear, he was a changed man. The universe was a much different place than he imagined. God was not the God of the important and powerful, He was the God that Jesus revealed. Jesus being raised vindicated everything Jesus ever said and did. The world was now a fascinating place. Peter saw everything differently. He paid special attention to how seeds died to bring new life and how certain animals underwent transformations – caterpillar into butterfly, tadpole into frog. He now knew that death was a defeated enemy and that his friend was the first to fully defeat it. When Peter let himself think about these things, his heart would ache and he would stare intently at nothing. The other disciples also noticed that Peter was much quieter than before and gave him all kinds of grief.

“Wow, Peter! I don’t know which is the bigger miracle! That Jesus is risen or that something finally shut you up!”

Peter would laugh too. He was also astounded by the changes happening in him. But then he would experience a weight and sadness that would grip him for hours at a time.

Jesus is alive! And I denied Him three times.

Every time Jesus would appear to them, Peter would keep his distance. He wouldn’t make eye contact with Jesus. He didn’t know what to say. He figured it was just a matter of time until Jesus told him to leave. At any rate, Jesus had only appeared in small rooms behind closed doors up until now.

Peter breathed a deep breath of sea air. Here was something familiar. Something he could go back to. Before Jesus had to ask him to go. Out by the sea, he was safe from Jesus. He uncovered his old fishing boat, laden with sun-warped nets. Here was something he understood. Something you didn’t have to be a spiritual guru to be able to do. And who was he kidding anyway? He wasn’t the religious type. He was a simple man. As long as he had two hands, he could provide for himself and his family. That’s all a man needs in this world. He didn’t need to save the world to be happy. Some things are just to big to get bogged down with. He dragged the boat down to the edge of the water.

“I’m going fishing.”

It was Thomas, Nathaniel, James and John. And those other two guys. He’d been around them for years and could never remember their names. They just sort of tagged along places. They came too.

As they pushed the boat out, Peter took a moment and watched the stars reflecting off the water. Here’s to a man knowing his limitations, he thought, and threw out the first net of the night. The night went by so slowly. Every net came up empty. Time stops when you aren’t catching anything. Peter found himself in his old, gruff persona and it still fit like a glove. He yelled orders at the other six and called them names when they were too slow or sleepy. Right before the sun came up, he found himself saying something that was a little too sharp and spiteful.

“Come on, Thunder-sons. We’re going to have to get used to fishing again. Jesus has no more use for us.”

John glared at him while the others uncomfortably avoided the conflict.

“You don’t need to take your own failures out on us, Simon.”

John knew that called Peter by his old name was a low blow. But here he was fishing, going back to his old life. Why pretend he was Peter? Peter was slowly crafting a devastatingly cynical response when there was a voice from the shore.

“Children, do you have any fish?”

Doubly irritated, Peter turned toward the shore and shook his head. John yelled “No” as loudly as he could because he knew it would get a rise out of Peter. The voice came from the shore again.

“Try casting out from the right side.”

Failing at fishing was always doubly aggravating because when people stood on cliffs by the shore, they could see where the fish were…or so they thought. Great, thought Peter, another expert who has me chasing shadows. But to be polite, he motioned to a few of the others to cast out a net for a second or two.

Then it happened. There are moments that completely redefine your life in an instant. Moments in which you know there is no going back. Once the net hit the water, fish literally started throwing themselves into it. It was ridiculous. Peter began to shake. He didn’t know if this shaking was going to end up being laughter or tears but he knew it would be one or the other if not both. He stood up and whirled around, trying to make out the silhouette on the shore.

John stated the obvious, “It’s Him!”

Just then a wild thought popped in Peter’s head. It was something Jesus said to him before He died. He said, “Peter, Satan has demanded to sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you.” Something was happening in Peter. All of those things he was telling himself earlier about accepting a second-rate life, even though they sounded so noble then, they began to evaporate. Suddenly, Jesus was on the beach and Peter knew that he had to get to Him before He disappeared again. Peter had to know if Jesus still wanted him to be there.

Before he knew it, he was out of the boat and swimming frantically for the shore. As he swam, every molecule in his body told him to swim back and give up. He had denied Jesus three times. He had fled with the other disciples. He had nothing to offer. He wasn’t smart or good at much of anything but fishing. Of course the Master didn’t want him. Yet for some reason, he kept swimming. He didn’t know why. Then it hit him. He wanted to be around Jesus. Jesus was everything he wished he was. When he was around Jesus, he came alive. Life meant something. It was bigger than just making money to pay bills and put food on the table. Life had an excitement to it when Jesus was there; you never knew what to expect.

And there was something else to it…something he couldn’t put into words. He wanted to know the God Jesus knew. He never wanted anything so badly. Let the boat drift out to the middle of the sea and sink. Jesus, show me the Father!

He emerged from the sea wet and pathetic. He collapsed in the sand and caught his breath. He realized that the rest of the disciples were already there, eating breakfast with Jesus. Apparently the wind was on their side and a boat is actually faster then a human.

“Beat you again,” John smirked.

“Again?” Peter asked breathlessly.

“You know what I’m talking about.”

Many years later, Peter realized that if he had to pinpoint the moment his life changed forever, it was that morning. Jesus took him aside and they had their first one to one talk since Jesus had died.

“Simon.”

The old name hurt coming from Jesus.

“Yes, Lord?”

“Do you love Me more than these?”

“Of course, Lord, you know I do.”

Yes, more than the boat, the nets, the seas, the other disciples, especially John. Having tried out his old life to see if it still fit, he realized there was no going back. Jesus would either re-accept him, failures and all, or his life would only ever amount to one enormous regret.

“Feed My lambs.”

He caught the meaning. Look out for my followers. If you love me, you better love them. Don’t use them to make yourself feel important. Don’t discourage them with hurtful words. Don’t hold grudges. Don’t favor the ones who are nicer to you. Feed them. For My sake, feed them.

“Simon, son of John.”

“Yes, Lord”

“Do you love Me?”

“Yes, you know I do.”

“Tend My sheep.”

The silence was heavy. For once Peter had nothing to say.

“Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”

And it happened. The world of regret, shame and despair that he had been silently carrying with him was removed. Jesus knew. He knew the most important thing. Accept me or reject me, but you know. You know I love you. The Peter that denied you was someone who only cared about himself and saving his own skin. I don’t want to be that person anymore. But can a tiger change his stripes? Am I destined to repeat my failures, or is it possible to become new?

Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not wish to go.”

Then he looked Peter intently in the eyes. Peter looked away. He still couldn’t look Jesus in the eyes. The last time their eyes met, Peter had just finished saying Jesus was nobody to him. He still remembered the expression of knowing betrayal Jesus had. But he could see out of his peripheral vision that Jesus was not moving. It seemed like an eternity, but Peter slowly moved his gaze to meet Jesus’. And what he saw shocked him.

Jesus’ eyes were laughing. His face was stern but His eyes were laughing.
“Follow me,” Jesus said.

Two words and they gave Peter back his life. Peter heard these words echoing in his memory for as long as he lived. That grave voice, that regal face; those laughing eyes.

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~ by shardsofeternity on April 3, 2010.

One Response to “The Longest Night”

  1. good read. thanks bro.

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