I love Saint Peter for his impetuous yet practical nature. When Jesus called him to fish for people, his life turned upside down. Yet according to John’s Gospel, even after the resurrection, Peter does what most of us do when we don’t know what to do: he goes back to what he did before. It’s familiar, it’s comfortable, and it worked well for a long time. So when Peter, standing by the Sea of Tiberias with six other disciples, suddenly says, “I’m going fishing,” the others go, too.
At least two of those others—James and John—had been, like Peter, professional fishermen before Jesus walked into their lives. The sea is the same, the feel of the oars, the muscle memory of rowing and hauling up the nets, which are disappointingly empty. Peter is not the same, however, nor are the others. And the fish aren’t swimming into the nets. This, too, they must have remembered: the nights when they worked hard for nothing.
At daybreak, a man on the shore is grilling some fish they didn’t catch. He calls to them, asking them to put down the net again, this time on the right side of the boat. The net is now soggy and heavy, harder to toss out and pull in, so this isn’t an easy command to heed. But the net comes back full of fish, so many that the men have trouble hauling the net into the boat.
This morning I took heart from that story. My life, like Peter’s, has been radically changed, not (this time) by a meeting with Jesus, but by a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Now in remission, on the other side of surgery and chemotherapy, my hair and my energy back, I take comfort in doing what I’ve always done, especially writing. Some days, no matter how many words I toil to put down, the net of the page seems empty of anything that will feed and nourish others. I keep doing it, though, because it’s the only way I know how to be. In time I may be asked to do something that seems crazy now, the equivalent of letting the net down on the other side of the boat. I sense vague stirrings that can’t yet be identified or disturbed with too much prodding.
After a diagnosis of cancer—or any other life-altering event—the old patterns don’t seem to work as well. The good news is, Jesus is still among us doing something surprising, cooking up something to feed us.