It was the first time they met. Jesus just steps into Peter’s boat and says, “Take the boat out so I can teach these people.” And he did it (Luke 5:3). Why did Peter comply?
Remember that Peter is the same one who, at the end of the Gospels, tried to take someone’s head off with a sword. If in the garden on Maundy Thursday night Peter was willing to take someone’s head off even after spending three years with Jesus, what must he have been like at this point when they first met?
Peter and his crew had been fishing all night and hadn’t caughty anything. That can’t have left him in the best of moods, and surely he was tired. In what way did he listen as Jesus taught the crowds?
Maybe he kept fiddling with his fishing gear and had Jesus on his mental back burner. Maybe he stopped and wiped the sweat from his forehead, shook his head, and entertained him with a “Huh! Look at this guy!” I picture this is a few different ways, but in all of them Peter is going along somewhat reluctantly, just entertaining the teacher man. Maybe he’s too tired to fuss and resist the request.
Even though Jesus is teaching the crowds, it’s no mere coincidence that he is standing in Peter’s boat. He has Peter on the mental back burner as well. When Jesus finishes teaching, he turns to Peter and tells him to put his boat out farther and let down their nets. “You mean the ones we just cleaned?!” Peter didn’t say it, but surely he thought it. The text actually says that when Jesus first saw them that morning they were doing exactly that, washing their nets (5:2). What Peter does says is “Sir, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but at your request I’ll let down the nets.”
Was “at your request” accompanied with an eye roll? Was he frustrated to prolong his work day yet again? This isn’t “Saint Peter”; it’s a first century man who earned a living fishing. I mean, he prefaced his agreement by making known that he and his buddies had already let down their nets all over the palce. They did it all night! Whether at this point Jesus’ teaching had kindled in Peter a glimmer of respect and hope or whether Peter agreed with an eye roll and a sigh, I imagine Jesus’ response was the same. He smiled, maybe smirked.
If your Jesus doesn’t smile and smirk, well, I am writing this for you. Try to imagine with me. And if you think that an eye roll directed at him or a sigh of frustration can turn away Jesus’ smiling face, then please try to imagine with me. The kindest, most irenic person you have ever known is only a reflection of him.
Two boats so full of fish that they started to sink a little. Peter falls to his knees in amazement. Now, what was the nature of the amazement? Maybe Jesus’ gift of such a massive catch said to Peter, “Someone transcendent is here. You are unworthy.” Or maybe it was more like, “This catch is worth so much money. We did it! The night wasn’t wasted. Thank God I’ll make ends meet this month! Oh, my God …”
On their very first meeting, Peter was shown kindness by Jesus — so much so that he fell down and worshipped.
Today, on Good Friday, Peter is in a bad place. You think he thought about this first encounter? You think he can still see that smiling, smirking face. You think he can still hear Jesus laugh as they struggled to get all those silly fish to shore? I doubt it. Not today.
But he will. John 21 is coming. Soon, Peter will sit on the beach by a fire and see Jesus smile at him again. In just a few days, he will hear that kind voice call to him, he’ll jump out of another boat and splash his way to shore like those silly fish. Can’t you hear them laugh as Peter walks out of the water dripping wet and sees Jesus smile again?