When the King Came: Stories from the Four Gospels - George Hodges

The Vision of the Seven Fishermen

Our Lord had now shown himself alive to most of the apostles, and to a few others. They were all able to say that they had seen him face to face. But there were two who would not believe, even on the word of all these honest persons.

One of these unbelievers was James, our Lord's brother. James had never believed that Jesus was the Son of God. He believed, indeed, that the King would come, the King of Glory, but that his own brother with whom he had played as a boy was the King of Glory seemed to him impossible. James had not appeared when Jesus left the carpenter's bench and began to preach. At one time, he had convinced himself and his brothers that Jesus was out of his right mind, and they had gone to bring him back. None of his brothers believed. They all loved him: we may be sure of that. But their love did not make them his disciples. All this must have grieved our Lord. He must often have remembered his unbelieving family in the midst of his new friends. And now that he had come back out of the grave, one of the first persons whom he sought was James. What he said, and what James answered, we know not; but after that our Lord's brothers were always found in the company of the disciples.

The other unbeliever was Thomas. He had, as we have seen, a gloomy way of thinking, and was always sure that things would turn out for the worse instead of for the better. "Let us go with him," he said once, "that we may die with him." Thomas had seen our Lord upon the cross, and he could think of nothing but the nails in his hands and feet and the gash of the spear in his side. The two came and said, "Thomas, last night at supper while you were away we saw the Lord. He came into the room where we were and blessed us." Thomas answered, "I know that you all think so, but it is something which I cannot possibly believe on any evidence except that of my own senses. Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe." So the days went on till Sunday came again; and that evening as they sat together, and Thomas with them, still having the doors tight shut, again came Jesus, and appeared of a sudden in the midst of them; saying as before, "Peace be unto you." Then he said to Thomas, "Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side; and be not faithless but believing." And Thomas tried the tests. Down he fell upon his face, crying, "My Lord and my God." And Jesus said, "Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed."

Sometimes even those who saw him did not believe; for though he was the same friend and master who had died upon the cross, and had in his body the marks of his suffering, yet he was mysteriously different. Two disciples could walk with him and hear him talk and yet have no idea who he was. He appeared and vanished. He lived, but the new life was not a continuation of the old. He did not come back as Lazarus did, having the body of our common human nature. He had now, as St. Paul says, a spiritual body. Though when we say that, we are not much wiser than we were before, for we do not know what a spiritual body is.

At last there came a time when days and days passed by without a sight of him. Even on Sunday, which they were beginning to call the Lord's day, he did not visit them. When he would come again, they did not know; and he had given them no directions. They knew not what to think or what to do. One day, Peter and Thomas, and Nathaniel, and James and John, and two others, all fishermen, were talking together, and Peter said, "I am going a-fishing." The others answered, "We also will go with thee." They could not bear to be idle; they would return to their old trade. So they got into a boat and went out upon the lake, as they had done so many times before, and fished all night with a torch in the stern of the boat to attract the fish. But they caught nothing. And it began to be morning. A faint light appeared in the east, the water changed from black to gray, and a dim line of shore appeared.

And on the shore somebody stood and called. "Boys," he cried, as one says to fishermen, "have you caught anything?" They answered, "No." He said, "Cast the net on the right side of the boat." So they cast the net on the right side of the boat, and so many fish came into it that they could not pull it over the side. Immediately John said, "It is the Lord." And Peter, when he heard that, fastened his coat about him and jumped into the water, and so swam ashore. The others rowed the boat, dragging the net with fishes. As soon, then, as they were come to land they saw a fire of coals burning on the shore, and fish laid upon it, and bread, and the stranger standing beside it. The stranger said, "Bring some of the fish which you have caught." Peter went to help and they drew the net to land, and counted the great fishes, a hundred and fifty and three; and for all there were so many, yet was the net not broken. The stranger then invited them to breakfast. "Come," he said, "and eat of the meal which I have prepared," and he gave them bread and fish.

All this time they looked at him, and at one another, and then back at him. He seemed a very friendly stranger. There was something familiar, too, about him, stranger though he was. Indeed, they all knew that he who stood beside the fire and fed them was the Lord himself. But was it the Lord, indeed? They wished to say, "Who are you?" but they dared not ask the question. It was the Lord, but they did not know him as they would have known Andrew or Matthew. They recognized him with their hearts rather than with their eyes.

So they breakfasted together on the sand. And after they had eaten, the Lord turned to Peter. "Simon, he said, calling him by his other name, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?" "Yes, Lord," said Peter, "thou knowest that I love thee." But he did not claim to be a better lover than the others: he had learned the hard lesson of humility. The Lord said, "Feed my Lambs." The fisherman was to be a shepherd; the lambs which he was to feed were to be the little children of the flock of Christ. He was to show his love by his great care for them.

Then the Lord said a second and a third time, "Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me?" And when Peter again assured him of his love, he answered, "Feed my sheep." Thus Peter, who had three times denied his master, spoke now these three times to tell him that he truly loved him.