The premise of Thomas Wolfe’s great novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, is that we change to such a degree when we are away from home for any length of time that home seems different when we go back there. Also, people who have stayed at home change, too, so, those visions in our absence of home as utopia are shattered upon our return.
Robert Frost’s narrative poem, “Death of the Hired Man,” reiterates the friction brought about by change, both in those who wander and in those who stay at home. Silas, the hired man, comes back ostensibly to help with haying, but Warren, the farm owner, and his wife, Mary, sense that he has come back to die. Quite cynically, Warren defines home as the place where when you have to go there, they have to take you in. Mary, however, says that home is something granted that you don’t deserve. Silas prevails and has his way in the midst of all the changing circumstances. It is as if Frost believes that no one deserves the blessings of home, but everyone’s longing for home should be honored.
My own longing for home was intense during my three-year tour of duty in Germany. When I finally got home, though, I realized that everything had changed, both in my folks and in me: Mother and Pop seemed to have grown and changed as much as I had, and I quickly realized that we had grown in different directions altogether.
Peter, as depicted in the last chapter of John’s gospel, had grown dramatically in a direction very different from his familiar occupation of fisherman. Nevertheless, we find him attempting to return to the trade, even though his life had been significantly altered by recent mind-blowing events. Camping at the lake, one night, he said, “I’m going fishing,” and several of his companions jumped into the boat with him. They fervently fished all night long but caught nothing. At about dawn, a fellow standing on the bank the length of a football field away, said, “Hey, y’all, any luck?” They gave the fisherman’s shrug. He said, “Throw the net on the other side of the boat. That’s where the fish are.” When they pulled in the net, they had 153 nice ones. That’s when John said, “It is the Lord.”
At that, Peter put on his coat and jumped into the water. Ordinarily, one would strip down to jump in, but Peter probably thought he was going to be walking on the water again, since it was the Lord over there on the bank. He had to swim on in though and Jesus had some fish cooking and some bread toasting on coals. He said, bring some of those you caught and add them. Come have breakfast. He already had something cooking and wanted them to participate. That is the Lord.
So, things had changed radically for Peter. He wanted to return home, that is, to the familiar occupation of fishing. However, he found that he had changed and that Jesus had changed his profession to that of fishing for men, or, as he told Peter later in the day, feeding his sheep. When we realize, “It is the Lord,” everything changes. You can’t go home again.