What do you do the morning after, the week after, the month after: the morning after the game, the week after the celebration, the month after the life change? The hard reality is that we can’t live on the mountain tops. We can’t sustain ecstasy. What do we do? We do what we know. We go back to work. We go back to what is routine. We go back to the familiar, to give our lives coherence and meaning.
After the resurrection, Jesus appears among and disappears from the disciples. John isn’t clear about the chronology – we don’t know how long after Easter Sunday this story by the Sea of Galilee takes place. Evidently, Jesus had disappeared for a while, and the disciples, not knowing what else to do, went back home, and back to work. That’s what you do when you don’t know what to do – you do what you know. They needed to eat, and they needed to do something. They were men, after all. So, seven of them, according to John, went back to fishing.
They fished all night, and caught nothing. In the wee hours of the morning, they noticed a man standing on the beach who called out to them, “Children, you haven’t caught anything, have you?” One of my parishioners on the Eastern Shore was a dedicated fisherman and storyteller named Grayson Rogers. Grayson taught me not to ask, “Did you catch anything?” When I did that, he was highly insulted. The proper question is, “How was the fishing?” That way, the angler can answer, “Well, we didn’t keep anything.”
“You haven’t caught anything, have you?” You can just imagine the tone of the answer: “No.” “Well, throw your nets to starboard, and you’ll catch a mess of fish.” Great. Just what we need: some turkey telling us how to fish.
Think about this for a moment. What would you have to do to throw your nets to the other side of the boat? You’d have to turn around. The Greek word for turning around is metanoia, which is usually translated repent.
When the fishermen turn around and throw their nets to the other side they catch – John is very specific – one hundred fifty-three large fish. The large fish of the Sea of Galilee is the musht, which weighs about three pounds. That’s 450 pounds of fish. Immediately, Peter realizes the turkey on the beach is Jesus. Peter throws on his clothes, jumps overboard, and swims to Jesus. The other disciples, no doubt delighted that Peter has abandoned them, row the boat the hundred yards to shore, dragging the net full of fish behind them.
Fish on the other side of the boat. Turn around. How does Jesus know where the fish are?
When Jesus had called the fishermen, he had said, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” The memory of that moment propels Peter’s recognition of Jesus on the lakeshore. This is the master of the wind and the sea. This is the creator of fish and of people. Jesus knows where the fish are, and, more importantly, he knows where people’s hearts are. Jesus knows where the human heart lives, where it hides, where it breaks, and where it hopes. Follow me, Jesus says to the fishermen, and I will show you how to touch the heart of God’s broken people.
At the climactic moment of Field of Dreams, Ray Kinsella is confronted by his brother-in-law, Mark, who is trying to save Ray’s farm by selling it to the bank. Ray and his family can stay on the farm and work it, but they cannot own or control it. In the midst of the argument, Ray’s daughter, Karen, says they don’t have to sell the farm, because they can charge people to come watch the imaginary games played by the ghosts of baseball players.
It’ll be just like when they were little kids, a long time ago. And they’ll watch the game and remember what it was like.
Writer Terence Mann agrees with her:
They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray.
Twenty-one years later, thousands of people still come every year to Dyersville, Iowa, to play ball, watch the game, and walk through the corn where the movie was filmed.
The poet and the child know the deepest hopes of the human heart. And Jesus, child of God and poet of Creation, knows the heart best of all. Jesus knows how our hearts are broken by grief and despair. He knows all our shattered hopes and lost loves. He knows how desperately we want to know we are loved, and desperately want to give ourselves away in love. He knows how scared we are down deep beneath our brave facades. He knows how unsure we are under all our proud knowing. And, beneath all our wisdom and maturity, like Terence Mann he knows it is money we have and peace we lack.
Turn around, Jesus says. Stop doing what you are doing because it is comfortable and familiar and safe. Turn around. Throw the net of your time and attention and energy and resources to the other side of the boat. Listen to the voice that floats across the waters like the Spirit moving across the face of the deep: turn around. There is a greater catch waiting for you, one so great you cannot begin to pull it in. Turn around.
When Peter realizes this is the same risen Lord who called him to a new life years before, he jumps out of the boat. Peter leaves his companions, he leaves the vessel of his livelihood, and he swims to Jesus. It is not the first time Peter has left a boat to get to Jesus. This time, he will not go back.
Every now and then – an Easter Sunday, a Christmas Eve, a Walk to Emmaus, a mission trip, youth retreat, special movie or song or book – we experience the mountaintop. But then most of us go back to what we know best, casting our nets with the same hand on the same side of the same boat. If you’ve been throwing your net day after day, month after month, year after year, and, in the words of Grayson Rogers, not keeping anything, maybe you need to turn around. Maybe you need to cast your net on the other side of the boat. Maybe you need to leave the boat and swim hard for Jesus, and follow him to a new fishery.
Jesus knows where the fish are, and he knows where our hearts are. Turn around.