Read John 21:1-12
What is My Workplace Like?
A long night on the water. Acrid smoke fills the air from torches lit to draw fish to the light and nets, burning eyes that have been awake all night, straining to see through the dark.
Waves slap against the boat. Hour after hour nets go out and are pulled back empty.
The men on the boat say nothing. Working together in silence, each is wrapped in his own thoughts. Pain and confusion mingle with the metallic taste of hunger on the tongue.
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Here they are again, ordinary fishermen, back in the same lives they’d left three years ago, back home among the network of extended families who lease local fishing rights from Roman administrators.
So much for being called. So much for everything these men had come to know they wanted. Instead, they’re at work again — out on the same lake where it started, doing the same work they’ve always done, their lives as light and empty as the boat on the water.
Here on the Sea of Tiberias, Jesus had called them to follow him. Here, they had seen him calm a storm and walk on water. Along the shore they’d watched him preach, heal, send a legion of demons into a herd of swine and over one of the many cliffs into the dark blue water below, and feed 5,000 with some bread and a few sardines from its fish-rich waters.
But there was also that last week in Jerusalem; Jesus’ arrest and death, the reports and experiences they still didn’t understand. Worse, no one is quite sure how to be a disciple if Jesus is not physically with them. No wonder the empty net, tossed out and pulled in, is so disheartening.
Glimpsing Jesus at Work
To the east, a faint hint of light outlines the hills. Cold, wet, tired, empty-handed and discouraged, the disciples turn the boat full of nothing toward shore. A hundred yards off, a stranger shouts a question about the night’s catch. Learning that the boat is empty, the stranger tells them to try another cast. When the net comes back, it’s full — too full to lift into the boat.
The sight jogs John’s memory. He realizes the stranger is Jesus and tells Peter, “It is the Lord!”
Peter responds immediately, plunging into the sea. The rest of them come in on the boat, towing the net full of fish.
Seeing Work Differently
I can’t shake the sense that Jesus is saying, “Here I am, waiting, right where you’re working, earning a living. Come: bring your work with you.”
But a lot of us in the church don’t see it that way. Instead, we experience our work as a sort of weariness, a barrier between ourselves and God. Rather than recognizing our employment as a place to live out Jesus’ call to love God and love others, we secretly dream of chucking our jobs to follow Jesus as a full-time pastor, retreat leader, writer, counselor, whatever.
Since most of us can’t do that, the temptation is to let work degenerate into something we do from Sunday to Sunday, retreat to retreat, as filler between one experience of God and the next, a stretch of desert before we retire and can do what we want.
Yet the disciples were out on the lake because Jesus said he would meet them in Galilee. Work is where Jesus meets his friends so they can learn how to follow him after the resurrection, to be disciples when he is no longer physically with them.
Even though I know better, I still spend a lot of time at work looking and fishing off the wrong side of the boat. What I typically see Monday through Friday is the safe, tangible, and familiar parameters of my job, not a place to carry my cross and minister to others.
I not only forget that I am watching and waiting for him, but that Jesus deliberately calls me to be with, labor with, and support others, Christian and non-Christian, who are in the boat with me.
John’s gospel also reminds me that when I leave work at the end of the day convinced that I have nothing of substance to show for my labor, God perceives the matter quite differently. I tend to forget that, once the disciples see Jesus, the first thing he does is ask them about their work.
He asks me about my work too. Have I been listening?
Questions for Reflection:
- Where is my workplace and how do I see it? What does my work involve?
- How might Jesus be asking me to see/experience my work and workplace differently?
- How might Jesus expect me to actively follow him in my place of work?
- What is one concrete, specific thing I can do this week to follow Jesus as I work?
Written by Julie Gochenour, contributing editor for Faith@Work magazine. Free Stock photos by Vecteezy Used by permission. Content distributed by WorkLife.org > Used for non-profit teaching purposes only.