I am an old man now, and tomorrow they will lead me out to die. A few bitter hours, and then I shall be with Him forever, just as, in this broken world, whether I knew it or not, He has always been with me. It is strange to think that once the fear of death was the strongest thing in my life, stronger than love or truth. For fear’s sake I denied Him, and the acid shame inside me afterwards corroded me like death. But it was what happened after that which changed my life forever.
It was early morning, up in Galilee, when spring was at its fairest. Locked in my shame, thinking myself an outcast, I had returned there to pick up the pieces of my broken life. I was a failed disciple, but at least I still knew how to fish, or thought I did. Perhaps if I was unfit to be a fisher of men, as He had once called me, I could at least go back to being a fisher of fish?
But we had caught nothing. Even that last refuge was denied to my pride. And then the stranger on the shore in the blurry light of dawn commanded us to throw our nets on the right side of the boat. There were more fish than we could haul aboard, and, in the abundance, we recognized our Lord. Once before He had done that, and I had said to Him, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man!” This time, already exhausted by the knowledge of my sin, I only wanted to come to Him so, without thought, I jumped into the water and made my way to Him.
It is so hard to understand when I think about it rationally, yet when my eyes were fixed fast on him, it seemed somehow in the strange new order of things that the Lord who had overcome death and risen again in glory should cook our breakfast for us on the beach. I was almost beyond the capacity for further humiliation, I was willing to accept His grace gifts on whatever terms He chose to give them. I was not worthy to be called His disciple, but He was still my Lord.
It was after breakfast that He turned to me and, gesturing towards the rest of our catch of fish, asked me, “Simon bar Jonah, do you love me more than these?” Was He kidding? Hadn’t I given it all up once before to follow Him? I replied positively, not even stopping to think. “Feed my lambs,” He said.
He asked me again and I answered the same, Then He asked me the third time, and I was hurt. Didn’t He believe me? Was He playing games with me? Or had I only been playing games with Him, ready to desert the moment that real trouble threatened? His questions lanced open my reservoir of shame – three times I had denied Him, three times He questioned my love. He had every right to, but I could not bear it. How easily I would give all this away to follow after Him forever! But did He still want me? In the end, all I could blurt was, “Lord you know all things. You know that I love you.”
And in saying that, I realized that He knew my whole heart – the love and the fear and the shame. He knew every inch of my soul more clearly than I did. And did He brand me with my failure? No, He called me afresh to follow Him and to be one who gave His grace to others, and to follow Him all my days through to this place of death and loss – not only was I restored in His love and forgiveness, but I now had His sure and certain promise that I would continue to follow after Him all the days of my life. And so, by His grace, it has proved to be.