Peter just wants to go fishing. It is, given both his career and the town in which he lived – Capernaum – likely his comfort zone. It is familiar and, presumably, safe. It seems that many of the disciples concurred – seven in total – and they climbed into the boat. If they expected this to be a normal night of fishing they were very disappointed. Lake Tiberias (Sea of Galilee) was rife with fish, yet they caught nothing. That is in itself pretty remarkable.
We are not sure when, or why, they left Jerusalem and returned to the Galilee, yet there they are, going about their daily lives almost as normal. Although Mark tells us that Jesus told his disciples to “go to Galilee,” John does not present that same instruction to them. The encounter, then, with the Risen Lord is totally unexpected by the apostles.
Peter is always a curious study. Impulsive and strong-headed, he also shows signs of being a deeply emotional and sensitive individual. Having denied three times that he even knew who Jesus was, he nonetheless ran to the tomb on Easter morning, and seems to have kept intact his reputation with the other disciples regardless of his moment of weakness. Since they all fled, they demonstrated even less courage than did he.
The encounter between the resurrected Jesus and the apostles now is more personal and intimate, than the other encounters. Jesus is waiting on the seashore and has already prepared some bread and fish for breakfast. When he calls to them as they are about to disembark the boat and inquiring of them about their catch, they report that they have nothing. After suggesting they cast their net on the other side of the boat, they haul in a 153 fish.
This great catch of fish – somewhat reminiscent of the catch of fish recounted in Luke’s Gospel – strengthens their call to be “fishers of men.” That there are only seven disciples here, and not the then full complement of 11, and the call to cast their nets to the other side of the boat, is likely a call to proclaim this message to the Gentiles.
The bread and fish remind us of the multiplication of the loaves and fish from Jesus’ public ministry. This time he is not feeding thousands, but merely the seven apostles and himself. There are strong Eucharistic overtones to the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, and certainly that is repeated here. In a curious way, the events recounted here remind us of the Last Supper events and discourses. They are again sharing a meal and, where Jesus had previously stood in the role of servant as he washed their feet, he now repeats the role of servant as he makes their breakfast. We can see Jesus reinforcing his instruction to them to be servants.
This point is made clear to Peter in the conversation that they share after the meal. At the Last Supper Jesus told Peter that he would deny him three times, and now he asks Peter three times if he loves him. Also at the Last Supper Jesus told the disciples that he no longer called them his servants, but his friends. When Jesus asks Peter if he loves him “unconditionally” Peter’s response is more akin to “yes, Lord, I love you as a friend.” We see this shift from servants (disciples) to friends, or co-workers in the Gospel, as apostles.
In fact, when we consider this image of the apostles and Jesus sitting on the shore and eating breakfast together, we can see really for the first time in the Gospels, Jesus and his disciples enjoying one another’s company as friends and not as master-pupil. It is a sign of the intimacy that the Lord calls us to share with him. It is also a sign of the community that he calls us to have with one another. To be a Christian is to be a part of a community of faith – the Church – and not to be a soloist doing it on our own. Apart from a community of friends –co-workers in the Gospel – we cannot truly be Jesus’ disciples.[[In-content Ad]]
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.