Imagine a crisp spring morning on the seashore when the risen Lord Jesus Christ invites you to his surprise charcoal-cooked breakfast! What if you had denied Jesus once, twice, three times at another charcoal fire recently? What if you had just been fishing all night, caught no fish, and are exhausted? And what if Jesus is the one cooking breakfast for you and your fishing friends who had also been up all night? As you eat and dialog together, what timely instructions will He add into your life? How could this breakfast meeting help you in your life decisions now on earth? How will it transform you and your friends? Could there be a better Earth Day?
Welcome to Jesus' awesome impromptu breakfast meeting with seven of his followers – Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, John, and two others who are not named. Apostle John reports this event as a splendid encore after he had already movingly summarized his recording of the Gospel (John 20:30-31).
This outdoor charcoal breakfast relates in many ways to our own time, present needs, priorities, and pilgrimages. Rereading aloud John 21:1-17 with family or friends at an outdoor hot meal in a park or on a shore would be a splendid addition to your Earth Day, April 22, or any day. Now, what stands out in this resurrection story? Here are three notable issues.
First: As is especially evident in crucial moments in leaders' lives, Peter was in great need for someone else to lead him. In this transition time, he seemed to be confused and just groping for his next steps. Consider these evidences in John 21. Peter did not organize the fishing trip. He simply said what he personally wanted to do, and the others individually chose to join with him! (v.3) Also, Peter and the others did not find any fish all night! (v.5). This failure recalls an earlier somewhat aimless time of his life when he was ripe for a major decision. In that case, too, Jesus proved his authority by guiding Peter to a huge catch of fish. Peter's earlier decision had significantly influenced others also (Luke 5:1-11). Moreover, Peter did not lead or even help bringing boat in (v.8). Furthermore, Peter did not ask for help, but pulled the fishnet miraculously full of 153 large fish on to the shore by himself (v.11). Peter needed Jesus' leading transformation to become a true leader. Godly leaders need to be leadable – exemplary leaders need to be led by God! What a reminder for our choices and leadership on Earth Day!
Second: Jesus modeled excellent, caring leadership. Jesus exemplified "MBWA" (Management By Walking Around). Jesus' ministry of "Presence" matters hugely. After all, he always is "Immanuel," God with us. Also, Jesus graciously shared supernatural guidance, divine wisdom. Jesus was not a professional fisherman, but he knew exactly where the fish were in the water even 300 feet away – one football field length away. Moreover, Jesus' choice of bread and fish for the breakfast he cooked and served vividly reminded these Apostles of other times he taught with bread and fish. More than once he miraculously multiplied small amounts bread and fish to feed huge crowds. As the sovereign Lord of all Creation, he knew how to make delicious bread and tasty fish. What a hugely uplifting and inspiring example to all of us for Earth Day!
Ever since, both bread and fish have been powerful symbols helping communicate Gospel truth and grace. In the Church we are reminded that Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6:35,48), he taught us how to pray for our "daily bread," and Jesus ultimately is the Bread of Communion. The image of fish is crucial, too, for Jesus' followers are called to be "fishers for people." Besides, Jesus positively compared the Kingdom of God to a huge fishnet capturing all kinds of fish, to then be sorted (Matt 13:47-48). We know that a fish was the source of one of his tax payments (Matt 17:47); Jesus eating a fish was a proof of his literal resurrection (Luke 24:42); and the fish "Ichthus" (ΙΧΘΥΣ) acronym and simple drawing has been for centuries a memorable symbol of Christian faith. "Ichthus" stands for Jesus' complex title: Jesus Christ, of God the Son, Savior. Of course, both bread and fish are also basic foods (and experiences!) for people all over the world. It is in the natural resources of the earth that we find awesome Gospel lessons. What a reminder for Earth Day that bread and fish and the environment that sustains them need to be both protected and enjoyed!
Bread and fish also are secular and religious symbols of hope, health, prosperity, and favor. This is why there is a giant goldfish aquarium in Chinese restaurants! Such golden fish are an ancient symbol of good health and prosperity—partly because the sound of a Chinese word for "fish" is the same as the sound of a different word meaning health and prosperity. Wisely, fish are also a special feature in some Korean architecture. The fish eyes that stay open are a reminder that we should always be attentive, vigilant. Besides, "bread" is a delightful slang word for income. Jesus' selection of bread and fish for the outdoor breakfast he cooked for his followers was intensely meaningful to them and to us now. What a basic reminder for Earth Day!
Third: Most importantly, Jesus demonstrated humble servant leadership. He personally prepared this hot breakfast and humbly served it to each one. Why did no one else help? Perhaps Jesus' solo service was an established, familiar routine that these followers had already accepted. Of course, if they were more fully his "followers" they would have followed his example and served one another – and him!
Jesus' transforming leadership was especially dramatized in his concluding, profoundly humble dialog with Simon Peter. In that dialog, Jesus' language goes quickly to where cautious Peter is at, not to where Jesus urges him to be (vs. 15-17). Jesus is asking Peter three times about his devoted, sacrificial love [agape] to him, but each time Peter responds in terms of just "really liking" [phileo] Jesus. In his third question, Jesus joins Peter by asking if he really likes him. This change of wording demonstrates Jesus' remarkable choice to meet us wherever we are. Besides, "really liking" Jesus is still a good start! Keep in mind that humbly coming to where we are was the point of Jesus' incarnation in the first place!
Here is how the John 21:15-17 text reads in literal English:
15 When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you sacrificially love me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I really like you." Jesus said, "Feed my lambs." 16 Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you sacrificially love me?" He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I really like you." Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep." 17 The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you really like me?" Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you really like me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I really like you." Jesus said, "Feed my sheep."
We understand that in this dialog Jesus was helping Simon Peter overcome his guilt for denying him three times by giving Peter three opportunities to express his love for Jesus. The shock to our sense of propriety is that in the process Jesus also humbly adjusts to where Peter is at – really liking Jesus but not yet committed to him in sacrificial love. Knowing the "rest of the story," Jesus then prophesied that Peter would later be crucified for his bold faith in Jesus. Peter would eventually achieve sacrificial love for Jesus, but already Jesus affirms Peter "really liking" him as the new starting point. What a lesson for us that people start wherever they are in their personal grace-walk on earth. What a reminder for Earth Day – that our love for the Creation and its Creator can sincerely start where it is now and grow to where it should be!
"Liking Jesus" is no small matter, of course. Well-guided, those who "really like Jesus" will more likely spiritually (1) hang out with Jesus, (2) get to know Jesus, and (3) grow into mature, sacrificial love for Jesus. Following his model of humble caring service will help draw others to truly like and love our Lord Jesus, too.
While offering a hot fresh breakfast outdoors on the shore, Jesus showed and taught the principles of humble, caring, servant leadership to all of his followers. That includes us! This awesome story of Jesus and these seven followers at his personally prepared hot outdoor breakfast is a vivid, instructive, attractive picture of our Lord. Make it serve as an exemplary model of Christ-centered, grace-filled, living and leading on earth. What an excellent story for each of us this Earth Day!