On Fishing and Freedom

Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” (John 21)

In reading St. John’s epilogue this morning I was reminded of Tom. Tom would sober up for weeks, even months at a time. But the signs of his return to the street were almost always evident. He would begin to drop critical remarks about Hope Mission staff, or about his old street buddies. He would slowly become unforgiving of people around him, and especially of people who tried to care for him. I’m not sure what this was except a sign of his own return to a sense of not-worthy-of-being-forgiven.

Tom is not unique. This oscillation between preening and self-loathing is a primal thing that haunts us all in a thousand ways. And when we lose ground in this inner turf war we fall back on what we know. We stop moving to where we are called.

Peter, after a three year run with Jesus, and then, even after seeing and speaking with the resurrected Jesus, was going back fishing. Only after Jesus grabbed him by the lapels of his toga and shook the forgiveness into him three times did he sense possibility…sense salvation. Only after this did he find the freedom to move out from an old place. In his case, packing in fishing, making a few surprising speeches and basically changing the world. Most of us won’t be called into the drama in quite the same way; in fact, some of us may be called to go fishing. The point is that we find the freedom borne in receiving forgiveness. 

When we live the unforgiven life we stay chained to that ball. But when we sense a love that eclipses all our, ahem, crap; even the crap that we know we’ll step in today, we walk in freedom, or as Luther said, we sin boldly.

Remember Judas? The “problem” with Judas wasn’t that he betrayed Jesus. Every disciple and hanger-on betrayed Jesus. The problem was that Judas believed that his betrayal was uniquely unforgivable. This is the definition of binding despair.

This is not at all like a line in a song Ruthie Foster (she was wonderful by the way) sang at the Jubilee Auditorium last night: “Well I woke up this morning with my mind…stayed on freedom.” When we wake up like that we know something is going right. We know that yet again, we will experience the freeing presence of the risen and forgiving victim. Do I hear a hallelujah!?…Ruthie’s rubbing off.

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