Casting Nets on New Sides: Reflections from a Campfire with Jesus

Rev. Bradley Swire   -  

Every year, as the holidays approach, I look forward to what Kate’s brothers and cousins affectionately call the “crazy cousin campout.” This annual gathering, woven into our holiday traditions, centers around a crackling campfire—a symbol of community and warmth that has drawn people together for millennia. Just like those fires, our gatherings spark conversations and connections, sometimes leading us into unexpected spiritual reflections.

This reminds me of a powerful campfire story found in John 21:1-19, where the resurrected Jesus appears to His disciples on the shores of Galilee. These disciples, grappling with uncertainty and loss, return to what they know best: fishing. Yet, despite their expertise, they end the night with empty nets. How often do we find ourselves in similar situations? Sticking to the familiar, yet finding it unfruitful, especially when our mission feels unclear or our efforts seem futile.

Then, at dawn, a figure on the shore calls out, “Have you caught any fish?” It’s Jesus, asking a question He already knows the answer to—a question meant to challenge the disciples to reflect on their efforts and to invite them to try something different. His suggestion to cast their net on the other side of the boat is met with overwhelming success, a vivid reminder that sometimes, the solutions to our most persistent problems lie just beyond our conventional methods.

As the disciples haul their bursting nets towards the shore, they find Jesus waiting with a campfire, ready to turn their catch into a shared meal. This isn’t just breakfast; it’s a sacramental moment, symbolizing the nourishment of body and spirit that community and Christ offer us.

The campfire scene sets the stage for one of the most intimate and transformative conversations between Jesus and Peter. Three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Each time, Peter assures Him of his love, but each query digs deeper, challenging Peter to move from affection (phileo) to unconditional, sacrificial love (agape). This conversation isn’t just about affirming emotional attachment; it’s about committing to action—feeding lambs, tending sheep, following Christ.

This story resonates deeply with our own spiritual journeys. Like the disciples, we often find ourselves going back to what we know, sticking to routines that no longer serve us well, especially within the church. We cast our nets from the same side of the boat, sticking to traditions and practices that no longer yield the fruit they once did, hoping for different results.

Jesus’ call to cast our nets on the other side is a metaphor for innovation and courage in our faith practice. It challenges us to step out of our comfort zones, to try new ways of reaching out and building community. It asks us to be daring in our discipleship, to not only gather around the warm glow of familiar campfires but also to venture into the chilly unknown, where the unchurched and the unloved dwell.

The campfire with Jesus by the Galilean shore isn’t just a physical gathering; it symbolizes the transformative community that Christ wants to kindle through each of us. It’s about the church being more than a building—it’s about being a dynamic, living network, casting nets far and wide, reaching those who feel unreachable, loving with a heart as wide as the horizon.

So, as we come to our own campfires, whether they be literal or spiritual, let’s remember the lessons of that morning on the shore. Let’s not be satisfied with doing things the same old way. Let’s dare to cast our nets on the other side, to love as Christ loves, and to follow Him into the deep waters where true transformation happens. And maybe, just maybe, like Peter, we’ll find our nets not just full, but overflowing.