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 lake. 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 and 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.
This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Following the resurrection Jesus appeared to the living as one of them. On the first Easter morning he appeared to Mary Magdalene when she came to the tomb in mourning. He appeared to the disciples who were locked away in fear of the Jews. Now he is appearing again, on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias. Unlike Jesus’ first two post-resurrection appearances the one we are offered today has some stylistic differences that are significant and that we should not ignore.
There is another miracle which results in the bestowing of abundance. Simon Peter, on recognizing his Lord, rushed to put on some clothes. We are told precisely how many fish were caught (153). Jesus cooked breakfast for them and shared in the meal they had on the beach. So much detail, far more than might otherwise be necessary.
When a writer adds scene-setting facts to his narrative he or she is usually trying to reinforce a sense of reality to the scene they are creating. There is no doubt that people were doubting, as well as believing, the tales they were hearing of Jesus’ resurrection. In these few verses John is underlining the reality of that resurrection by including so much detail.
Of course, this passage raises many questions which no commentator has adequately answered. Which leaves us in the position of taking what we can from this moment near the end of John’s gospel.
Simon Peter rushes to put on clothes. It has not been long before the man upon whom Jesus is going to build his Church denied even knowing him. Was Simon Peter feeling the shame of that denial and a need to cover himself up, to hide the naked truth from the one whom he betrayed outside the kangaroo court conducted in the High Priest’s house?
The miracle of abundance. The fishermen had worked all night and caught nothing. It was only when Jesus intervened that the abundance of life-sustaining food was produced. As evidence of that abundance we are given a very precise number of fish caught, one hundred and fifty-three. Many people down the centuries have tried to explain away this exact number: Augustine spoke of its being a triangular number, while Jerome spoke of zoologists classifying it as the precise number of species of fish that lived in the Sea of Tiberias. There have also been complex manipulations of this number to create a connection between the Holy Spirit and the Ten Commandments. Perhaps we just need to connect it with Jesus’ prediction from the first moments of his calling of the disciples to become fishers of people, all people.
Jesus cooked and ate breakfast with the disciples on the beach. This certainly gives evidence of the reality of Jesus’ resurrection: a ghost cannot eat. However, does it also show us that when the Lord provides for us we can be sure of being sustained and strengthened in living out the call to love and serve which he modelled throughout his earthly ministry, and beyond?
This well-known passage leaves us with so many questions, but that is a good thing. This well-known passage allows us to find our way into a closer relationship with the risen Christ. This well-known passage inspires us to accept Christ’s forgiveness for our human weakness, to accept the food he offers, to go out and share the abundance of his love with all.