In the dream, I am fishing with my friends. I am just about to bring in my nets as my boat sails past the beach, where I notice smoke coming up from a small fire. I don’t think anything of it and return to my work. It’s been a bit of a rotten day for fishing. We haven’t caught anything, and it seems like nothing will ever go right again. My friends are talking in hushed voices as I do my work by myself, but I don’t feel left out, really. I have been reminiscing and pensive these past couple of days, because my best friend died. Was killed, in fact. He was the one you could count on to lead the pack, who always seemed ten steps ahead of everyone else. And he was.
He was way ahead of me, that’s for sure. He knew I would run, just like the others. He told me it would happen, even as I stood there adamantly insisting that I would never run, betray, or wound. He caught me in plenty of other ramblings, too. But that last time…well, let’s just say I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut since then. As much as I thought I loved him, I couldn’t — wouldn’t — save him.
My friends are getting loud next to me. I look over, perturbed, but they’re talking to a man on the beach, the one who had started the fire. I follow their gaze back and listen to what’s being said:
“Hey, maybe you guys should try fishing on the other side of the boat,” he says. Yeah, whatever. The guy’s a kook who clearly doesn’t understand that if fish aren’t on one side of the boat, they’re likely not on the other. But, my friends look to humor him, so I pitch in. Let’s get this over with as soon as possible.
So, we let down the nets again and leave them for a couple of minutes. I look back to the man behind the fire but I can’t see his face. Maybe he expects us to bring him some fish to cook, if we catch any.
I’m pulled out of my reverie as I realize the boat is tipping to the side. Half in a panic, I rush to the nets and discover them breaking from the thousands of fish caught inside–thousands upon thousands, breaking strong braids of thick cording. I get the odd feeling of deja vu and turn my face to the beach. I look again at the fire and the man sitting behind it stoking the flames. I don’t recognize him at first, so I squint, trying to find his eyes through the haze of smoke coming up between us.
Either this is an apparition, or I am most certainly hallucinating. It’s my best friend. Alive. Sitting by the fire like nothing happened. Yes, it’s an hallucination for sure. As soon as I think this, the smallest hint of a smile plays on his face and he slightly shakes his head. He knows what I just thought in my head. No, it’s not an apparition. This is just the sort of thing he would do.
I throw caution to the wind — it’s one of the things I’m best at — and I jump off the boat and swim to the shore to greet him, unsure of anything in my head at this point.
I stand up and wring my clothes out a bit as I walk over to him, losing excitement with every step. If he’s really here, really real, really alive, I don’t know that I can face him after what I’ve done. My steps grow awkward as I draw nearer. He’s watching me the whole time. The slight smile has vanished from his face and he is looking at me with that piercing gaze of his, looking into my soul. Looking concerned.
“Hi,” he says. “Come have some fish with me…I see you have plenty to share.” I have to laugh a bit, as overflowing and breaking fishing nets have become sort of an inside joke between us. He is quite peculiar. He always has been. One time, we were all on the boat and there was a huge storm–a squall, practically, and he would’ve slept right through it if we hadn’t woken him up to tell him we were all going to die. I remember then, he just shook his head at us, walked outside, said one word, and the gale-force winds instantly calmed to a balmy summer breeze. And now he wants fish. After dying a few days ago. I’ve never had a friend like this, and I know I never will again.
He smiles up at me when I laugh, and I sit with him and eat as the others come. They had taken up the nets, tied up the boat, and embraced our friend as they also joined the repast. Their faces convey the shock that I am feeling, but our friend doesn’t pay any attention to our obvious confusion, concern, and wonderment. He makes small talk for a while and then drops off into silence. The others cautiously talk to each other for a while to break the tension of the silence, but my friend and I just sit there, staring into the flames, not speaking.
After a bit, my friend stands up and brushes the sand off his hands and clothes. “Come with me,” he beckons to me as he begins to walk off along the beach. I have time to shoot my friends a glance as I walk after my best friend and teacher. They look around at one another and cautiously walk after us a ways, so as to give us privacy but still remain close. I suppose they feel as I do — now that our friend is back, we can’t bear to be apart from him. After all, we spent the last three years together almost exclusively. And nobody was closer to him than me. Except I don’t feel that way. Not now. Not after what I did.
He stops walking and looks at me. I am taken by surprise and almost continue to walk along, but I turn back, and he has a look on his face that I’ve never seen before. “Do you love me?” he asks. I know he is addressing my betrayal of him, and I choke out the words, “Yes, I do.” He searches my eyes for a moment and says, “Feed my lambs.”
Feed your lambs? Huh? I’m sure my look betrays my confusion because he asks me again, “Do you love me?” I repeat, “I do.” He puts his hand on my shoulder and looks into my eyes and says, “tend my sheep.” I think I might be getting it. He must mean for me to take care of the others.
I nod cautiously and we start walking again. But he stops again and says, “Do you love me?” And then I lose it. I realize the gravity of the whole situation. What he’s really asking me. The fact that he asked me 3 times, the same number of times that I betrayed him. Does he really not know if I love him? Is he unsure of me? But I know him well enough to know there’s no way in the world that he wouldn’t know. I’m crying as I tell him so. “You know everything! You know I love you!”
I’m about to run off in shame when he grabs me powerfully by the shoulders and looks into my face once again. But this time, he’s smiling with compassion. “Feed my lambs.”
Relief floods over me, like nothing I’ve ever experienced. He’s not doubting my love, but he knows I’m doubting my love. This is his way of restoration. His way of saying he forgives me. His way of saying he loves me and still wants me in his service, as his pupil, as his brother, as his friend.
We’re smiling as we continue walking along the beach. After a while we are both composed and he’s telling me all these things that will happen in the coming days. I’m going to die too, he says in not so many words. I’m concerned, of course, but still glad in the moment of our reconciliation. But I’m also still me, so I look around at the men following behind us a pace and say, “what about them?”
But he raises his eyebrows and says, “What is that to you? You follow me!” And somehow, I’m comforted. Because I know that he’ll be in this with me. That he loves me individually and is the crux of my purpose in the world. We walk along together as he shares more with me, and I am happy.
The dream shifts and I am in the future, sitting at a table with my friends. We’ve been praying for weeks to seek guidance, and now we’re all looking around at each other. We’ve just finished praying and somehow we’re all speaking different languages, things I’ve neither heard nor learned before. And I feel something stir inside of me. Someone. It’s him. I’d know that presence anywhere. I haven’t seen him in body in a while, but he explained that he was leaving, and that someone was coming back to help us. I didn’t understand it at the time, but this feels so real. So like him. He’s still peculiar, I suppose. He leaves, and promises to send a helper, but it’s really him, in a way, and the helper now apparently lives inside of me, because I can hear his thoughts and feel the weights of glory and knowledge of the law in my heart. It makes no sense. And it’s just like him.
And suddenly I know what I must do. We followed him for 3 years, watching him feed the hungry, open the eyes of the blind, raise the dead, heal the cripples, speak brilliantly and hang around with outsiders and untouchables, thinking that all the while, that was his main work here. But it wasn’t. It was me. And the other few in our little band of brothers. And now it’s my main work. Bringing others into our group, so that they can bring more into our group. This is about people, and it starts with me. Here. Now.
I wake up, but I’m not Peter. I’m 2,000 years removed, but nonetheless a product of his realization. I make the same mistakes he made — moments of insane hubris, betrayal, times where my words do more harm than good — but I feel that same stirring inside of me that came upon him. I’ve never seen Jesus. I don’t know what he looks like, but I know his voice. It lives inside me. Every day I deny, every day I fail, and at the end of each day he asks, “Do you love me?” And I cry because I don’t trust myself. I cry because I hurt him, and because I hurt others. I cry because I know every day of my life will include a denial of some kind. I tell him that but he doesn’t even address it, really. He just knows my heart and says, “Feed my lambs.”