“I'm going fishing.” said Peter.  “We’ll come with you,” said the others.  They went out and got into the boat but caught nothing that night.  After the calamity of Jesus's death and the annihilation of their hopes they had nowhere to turn but back: back to their old trade, fishing.  “But they caught nothing that night.”  As the black hours passed, those bewildered men in a boat must have felt that now there was nowhere to go, not even back. 

Among them were James and John, the “sons of thunder,” who had aspired to prominent position.  Three years earlier they had left their father Zebedee to his boat and his nets, and followed the Stranger.  But now their thunder was silent, they had no future, no past: it was an outright defeat. 

Where do you go when you can go neither back nor forward?  You are driven into the present.  But their eyes were long accustomed to the long view, the absolute horizon, the Kingdom.  It is hard to go back to the poverty of one’s own existence.  “Day was dawning and there stood Jesus on the shore, though the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus.”  They could not even see the fish that were right beside their boat.  It seems they had lost not only the past and the future, but even the present. 

No past, no present, no future.  They knew only silence and the numbness of defeat.  Then John recognised him: “It is the Lord!”  The resurrected Lord is harder to recognise than the familiar Jesus: our sight is deadened by habit, by our lazy minds and imaginations, by great and little vanities, and self-indulgence.  When all are taken away together, when our illusions about the past, the present and the future are all wiped out by some enormous tragedy, than we will recognise the Risen Lord.  We have often imagined that our contact with him depends on the very things that hide him from our eyes: illusions about the past, present and future.  We imagine we cannot be right unless we have always been right in the past; we imagine we are right now; and we imagine that we will always be right, just as we are.  But this is to forbid the Lord to rise, or it is to put him back in the tomb: there we can manage him better; we can claim his dead body to call ‘Christian’ our unconverted ways of living and thinking. 

“Come and have breakfast!” he said to them.  We might have expected something loftier than this, some esoteric teaching about the Spirit, or the urgency of faith, or the coming of the Kingdom.  But no, his talk was of fishing and breakfast.  He was not about to encourage them to spend their lives looking up at the skies, expecting visions and wonders.  They were to find him close at hand, not far away; in their work, not in their dreams; in the present, not in the past and the future. 

Besides, at that moment they were capable of nothing but breakfast.  He knows our poverty and is not ashamed of it.  He is the Lord of all life, especially the plain ordinary part, which is nearly all of it. 


Donagh O'Shea

These are brief articles, one per month,
on a wide variety of topics concerning the living of the Christian life.