Why the Charcoal Fire?



“Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves; Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. … They said to him, ‘Are not you also one of his disciples?’ He denied it and said, ‘I am not.’ One of the servants of the high priest, a kinsman of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, ‘Did I not see you in the garden with him?’ Peter again denied it; and at once the cock crowed” (John 18:18, 25-27).“[After the Resurrection,] Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat; but that night they caught nothing.Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, ‘Children, have you any fish?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his clothes, for he was stripped for work, and sprang into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.’ (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, ‘Follow me’” (John 21:1-19).

The image of the charcoal fire in the Gospel of John is an image of divine mercy. John very deliberately contrasts these two scenes in his Gospel. Thus, I have chosen this imagery for my little Web log.

Over the first charcoal fire, Peter thrice denies having even known Jesus. Over the second charcoal fire, Peter thrice affirms his love for Jesus. As the first charcoal fire burns, the powers of death and fear seem to hold sway, and Peter succumbs to fear during his test. As the second charcoal fire burns, the Lord himself, almighty victor over death, has in his infinite mercy prepared the fire for Peter, who receives this commission to “feed my lambs … tend my sheep … feed my sheep.” From thenceforth, Peter himself burns like the charcoal, full of authority, boldness, and zeal. And he would later be put to the test again, and this time, he would heed the words of the Lord, “Follow me.”

The Lord stands always waiting for us on the shore when we venture out into the waters of sin and death. He stands there waiting, having prepared a fire for us, though we have denied him again and again. Will you have the courage to approach and not only confess your love for him, but continue through trials that carry you “where you do not wish to go”? This happens indeed to this very day. So let us take solace by the fire on the shore with the Lord and remember his words, “follow me.”