“The Great Resignation Meets Grace”
May 1, 2022
After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 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 after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to 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 because there were so many 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 some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped 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, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish 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 fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared 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.” Jesus 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.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt 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. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.” ***
Last fall Dustin Snyder was the assistant manager at a McDonalds when he decided it was time to call it quits. Telling of his long work weeks, low wages and grumpy customers, Dustin drafted a petition to the regional office and invited his workers to sign it.
“We are all leaving,” his petition stated, “and we hope you find employees that want to work for $9.25 an hour.” Nearly all of the 24 day-shift employees signed the petition because they knew that 20 miles away from Bradford, employees at a McDonald’s across the state line were receiving that state’s $15-an-hour minimum wage.
Dustin transmitted the petition to the regional office. Moments later, his phone rang. It was the regional supervisor. “Why did you do it?” she asked.
“I was trying to get better pay for my people.” Only .75 cents per hour better pay.
“There are better ways to go about this,” chided the supervisor. “No one gets a raise,” she told him. “If your workers don’t like it, they can quit.”
And so they did. Nearly all of them. On the spot. They took off their headsets and abandoned their stations at the drive-through and cash registers.
The line at the drive-through began to grow longer. Mystified customers watched the employees congregate in the parking lot. Then they watched Dustin lock the building and hang a sign on the door. On it he had scribbled in blue highlighter — the only pen he could find — “Due to lack of pay we all quit.”
“Hey!” a man called out to Dustin from his car. “We just want a Quarter Pounder and fries.”
“Well, we just want to be paid more and treated better,” Dustin replied.
When Dustin told store manager Stephanie Kelley what they had done, she wasn’t upset. She was sympathetic and decided to join them. She texted her night shift employees, telling them what the day shift had just done, and that she, too, was quitting. Most of the night shift did the same. Dustin and Stephanie spent the next few days helping their workers find better jobs — in some cases driving them to other fast-food restaurants with vacancies.
As for the Bradford McDonald’s, it wasn’t long before the store was up and running again. The franchise owner also owned the store across the state line. He bussed in $15-an-hour workers from that location to re-open the drive-through, then hired a whole crew of new employees in Bradford. But he had to do it for $10 an hour, giving his new workers the 75-cent raise his former employees had been asking for.
This McDonald’s story highlights what economist are calling The Great Resignation. In the wake of the pandemic, workers across America — professionals as well as shift workers — have been rethinking the work they do. In some cases, they’ve decided to walk away from their jobs, sometimes to new jobs or different pursuits entirely.
Today’s reading tells us about Peter in what appear to be another resignation. Only a few years earlier, Peter had been part of a great resignation when he and several of his colleagues walked away from commercial fishing to follow Jesus.
Note how this reading begins: “After these things …” It is sounds ordinary, but in reality, it is not. “These things” refers to the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Peter had seen all “these things” from the highs of Jesus entering Jerusalem, the lows of Good Friday, and the amazing news of Easter morning. Peter and his colleagues had seen it all. It had been an emotional rollercoaster. In the back of his mind though, Peter lived with the shame of having denied Jesus.
In light of all “these things” and in what sounds like the biggest non sequitur of all time Peter tells his fellow disciples: “I’m going fishing.”
Fishing? Peter, that’s the life you resigned from and now you’re going back? You’re throwing in the towel? You are resigning from the gig with Jesus? Poor Peter, he doesn’t seem to know which direction to go.
What happens next harkens back to how Jesus first called Peter away from fishing. But this time Jesus is standing on the shore instead of sitting in Peter’s boat.
Peter and the others are discouraged because they have fished all night and have caught nothing.
Their backs are sore and the spirits are low.
“Children, you have no fish, have you?” Jesus shouts. It is a question, but also a statement.
The late Peter Gomes calls Jesus’ inquire a lawyer’s question. “A very good lawyer never asks a question to which he doesn’t already know the answer” — and this is what Jesus is doing. He knows the guys in the boat have had a miserable, exhausting night. He just wants to hear them say it.
They admit it; then Jesus gives them a fishing tip. He tells them to cast their net on the right side of the boat and voila, the net comes back so full they fear it will split wide open.
Then it dawns on the disciples who this man is. Peter is so excited he dives into the sea, so as to reach his Lord that much faster. Jesus makes a fire and they share a beach breakfast of grilled fish and bread.
There had to have been some conversation about another meal recently shared together, the Last Supper. The contrasts are stark. The “First Breakfast” takes place at daybreak rather than night, in joy rather than solemnity, in hope rather than fear.
When they had finished eating, Jesus turns to Simon (Peter) and asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” What happens next is profound.
There on the beach, Peter’s fear and denial from a few days earlier (“I don’t know the man!”) evolves into trust and worship: “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.”
By the end of the exchange, Peter comes to understand several things. He realizes that Jesus knows we are more than our worst failures and betrayals. He knows we are prone to shame and resignation. He knows the deep places we flee to when we fail. And he knows how to build the fire and prepare the meal that will beckon us back to shore, to the presence of grace and forgiveness.
Jesus’s appearance to Peter — like all of the post-resurrection appearances we see in the Bible — speak volumes about God’s priorities. In the days following the resurrection, Jesus does not waste a moment on revenge or retribution. He does not storm Pilate’s house, or avenge himself in Rome, or punish the soldiers whose hands drove nails into his.
Instead, he spends his remaining time on earth feeding, restoring, and strengthening his friends. He calls Mary Magdalene by name as she cries. He offers his wounds to the skeptical Thomas. He grills bread and fish for his hungry disciples. He heals what is wounded and festering between his heart and Peter’s.
In other words, Jesus focuses on relationship. On reconciliation. On love. He spends the last days before his ascension delivering his children from fear and shame, despair, self-hatred, resignation and paralysis. He wastes no time on triumphalism or smugness. Even at the height of his power, he chooses humility. He chooses to linger on a lonely beach till dawn, waiting for his hungry children to realize how much they need him. He chooses to ask Peter an honest and vulnerable-making question about denial, even though the answer might hurt. He chooses to feed and tend his sheep.
Peter’s shame and move toward resignation meets Jesus’s grace, and grace wins. That is the Gospel story in a nutshell.
 Greg Jaffe, “‘It’s a walkout!’ Inside the fast-food workers’ season of rebellion,” The Washington Post, November 6, 2021.
 Peter Gomes, “Life on the Other Side,” in Sermons (New York: Morrow, 1998), 81.
Image credits: (1) Prince of Peace Lutheran Church; (2) Midway Mennonite Church;