I think about Peter a lot. I don't only relate to him because I say patently ridiculous things and chop people's ears off when I get a little nervous, either. Mainly what I see in Peter is someone who was grappling with change. The kind of change that comes suddenly, which seems like the only kind that was ever invented. Peter reminds me of the hearty simplicity of blue-collar work. You catch the fish, you sell the fish. A good days work is aching bones, calloused hands and a satisfied heart. After Jesus, Peter would never go back to his day job. I wonder how often he thought about those early mornings, slowly rowing in to the familiar welcome of white sands and dawning suns, exhausted but happy from the hard toil. How different it was now. The toil wouldn't really end because ministry has never utilized the punch card system, even back then. People weren't fish, either. They were sheep. And Peter was becoming a shepherd.
I think about the confused look on Peter’s face during the transfiguration. I think about his sleepy exhaustion in the garden. I think about his abruptness during the arrest. I think about his profanity in the courtyard. I think of the unimaginable anguish when Jesus caught his eye after the rooster voices had echoed into the morning.
Days later, I imagine him running back to the boat, his head thick with memories. His short-lived career as a disciple was probably over. He would recall the past three years for the rest of his life. But he needed familiarity again. He needed that old boat. And nobody stopped him, not even God. So he pushed out from the shore, staring into the vastness of the night, the salty smells of black, unsteady waters transporting him back to his former life. Fish and nets. This is what he knew. He also knew he’d been wrong about Jesus. A Roman was still on the throne. There was a time when he thought things would be forever changed. And they were. But not how he thought.
And now, this thought: God is a reducer.
It's a thought that doesn't rest well on us. Like God, it's counter. We like to bask in the blessings of God, which, in our "more is more" minds, is always addition, not subtraction. I know we know that God subtracts. We're at our most theological when we wax eloquent about that subtraction, because it's usually infused with suffering, the very thing that Jesus told us we shouldn't be surprised by. But God is interesting in how He remixes our expectations. How He rearranges the original compositions we’ve written for our lives. I'm not going to lie; God has always exceeded my expectations. I thought one thing, and another thing happened. Sometimes He gives me the opposite thing, and other times He gives me the gift I hope for but it ends up being far less wonderful after I unwrap it. In both cases my expectations were exceeded. We think exceeded expectations always mean getting exactly what we want PLUS the extra dollop of whipped cream on top. But God is most likely to do to us what He did to all His people in the Bible, which is exceed our expectations by reducing our situations. The problem is that I like whipped cream a lot.
"But I thought . . . " we say. And we're stopped short. Our breath is caught. And another dream didn't end well, but unwell things in us ended as a result.
Back to Peter. Hope was still so near, so desired, so longed for. The impulsive gunslinger, the one who never hesitated for a second, found himself waiting for what was unknown. How many unsaid things he would say, if only Jesus would call again. And then, Jesus appears. Not as a ghost on the sea, but as a guest on Peter’s shore. And Peter swims to shore like the ex-fisherman he would always be. As his arms flap and flail in the cold sea, Jesus waits and cooks. Patience, food and forgiveness. Everything Peter needed was provided for. He hadn't lost everything, but he had lost some things, but the most important things would be recovered.