The scene in which Jesus and Peter meet in John’s gospel, have breakfast on the beach together, and walk to talk and reconcile is one of my favorites. With this story, as with many, I am always surprised by the little details that stand out to me different years. This year, I thought about the fish. Peter is out with some friends, fishing, and they have been fishing all night, but caught nothing. A man on shore tells them to let down their nets, and they come up full and overflowing. Peter recognizes the Lord’s presence in the bounty and he jumps into the ocean, “lightly clad” to swim to Jesus. He can’t wait for the boat to be brought into shore.
Peter leaves behind all the fish in the nets, all the bounty of his expedition, in order to go to Jesus. All our focus is on Peter’s passion for Jesus. Although the story tells us that the other disciples bring in the load of fish to shore, I have never really thought about this element before. I so deeply identify with Peter that all my focus is on him and his relation to the Lord. I forget about all the others that are in the boat with him. Like Peter, we are indeed invited to go “all in” with Jesus and to follow him, to run to him, to swim in soaking wet clothes to him, if necessary.
But there are, in fact, others in this scene. On the beach, together, Jesus, Peter, Didymus, and the rest all eat some of the fish and bread, and sit at a warm fire. The details of the text tell us that there was already fish on the fire, and some bread, and that the disciples added their fish to it. There is plenty to eat both because of what Jesus provides but also because of what we contribute. It’s a joint venture. It is not only between Peter and Jesus, but between Jesus, Peter, and the whole community of friends who follow the Lord. The meal comes as a result of God’s gracious gift—for the fish only came from Jesus’ providing it both in the nets and on the shore— but they still had to do the work of putting down the nets and dragging it all into shore. And when they arrive, they find that there is still more: God not only gives us what we ask for but so often, even more than we ask for.
The scene is not only Easter, but in a way, also the pre-figuring of Pentecost, because it already points to how the Lord wants to share the work of the world’s healing with all of us.
This afternoon, I am headed to a retreat for volunteers that engage in prison ministry. We will have Mass together, enjoy fellowship and light refreshments, and share in our diverse experiences of ministry. We will also hear a talk by a French Dominican priest who is advocating the cause for beatification for Blessed Jean Joseph Lataste, OP, a priest devoted to prison ministry. You can read more about Fr. Lataste here: http://www.bethanyhouseministries.org/bl-jean-joseph-lataste-op/.
Prison ministry is very much a community effort. Prison is an environment that can often be a lot like an empty boat in a dark night with no fish. But God always manages to provide the bounty that we need, and there is always bounty: the presence of God speaking through our reflections together (just as much in their words as my own or the authors that we read together), and a place where not only the men but also, in many ways, the volunteers find reconciliation, community. We all find a Lord who keeps asking us, “Do you love me?” already knowing that our answer is, “Yes, Lord, I do”. We don’t have bread and fish, but sometimes we do share in Eucharist together, and then there is always the quiet grace of a cup of hot coffee with a lot of powdered sugar and creamer in a styrofoam coffee cup— their own “catch,” shared with all of us who meet on the shore of inside/ outside.
Whatever one’s own ministry is, whether in community service, or to family, friends, parish, or other community, we can be confident and trusting that if we “let down our nets” God will provide, and will be waiting on shore for us to break bread with him and with one another.