We continue reading accounts of the resurrection as we move through the Sundays of Easter. This Sunday brings us to the third account in John’s Gospel. It takes place along the Sea of Tiberias (Sea of Galilee).
Once again, this account begins in the darkness of the night. The apostles are gathered near the Sea of Galilee. Peter announces that he’s going to fish. The rest of the apostles join him bringing their torches. They row out about a hundred yards and begin casting their nets. They spend the entire night fishing but catch nothing.
As dawn begins to break, a voice calls out to them from the shore asking if they’ve caught any fish. They answer, no. The man then instructs them to throw their nets over the right side of the boat. They listen to his suggestion. Often enough, while casting their nets, fisherman would have someone on the shore looking over the clear water to spot the movement of a school of fish. It’s very difficult for a fisherman to look into the water for fish while casting his net, hence, the need for a spotter.
To their joyful surprise they haul in a catch. Later when they bring the net to shore they count one hundred and fifty-three large fish! John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, and who looked into the tomb and “saw and believed,” shouts out that he recognizes the man. He’s Jesus! Peter, impetuous as ever, jumps into the water and swims to shore. There’s a strange scene awaiting him.
Jesus has built a fire and is cooking a fish. Along with the fish he has bread waiting for them. No one says anything. They know that it’s Jesus speaking to them but they’re in shock. “Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish.”
This description of Jesus feeding his apostles is a Eucharistic image. The language is very similar to Saint Paul’s account of the Last Supper. “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. In the same way also the cup…’” (1 Corinthians 11:23-24) As we search for the deeper meaning of this account it’s important to keep a connection between what takes place during this “breakfast” and the Eucharist.
Let’s look over John’s entire account. It begins with Peter attempting his ministry to be “fishers of men.” However, he begins his work in the darkness of the night and so his attempt is fruitless. With the coming of the early morning light he heeds the call of Jesus to cast his net on the right side of the boat. The catch is incredible, one hundred and fifty-three large fish! The reference to the number of fish is symbolic. John often uses numerological references, here 1+5+3 = 9. Nine is a numerological symbol of the divine. John is telling us that this catch, taking place in the early morning light, isn’t the work of man – it’s God’s work.
John continues delving into the meaning of the event. At this early morning gathering of the children of light, more wonderful things take place. Peter, commissioned to be the rock and foundation, is in need of healing and forgiveness before he can assume his ministry. Three times he denied any knowledge of Jesus. So three times Jesus asks him: “Do you love me?” Three times Peter answers, “You know I love you.” Jesus’ answers forgive him, heal him, and anoint him for his ministry. “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep! Follow me!”
This Sunday’s resurrection account once again, leads us to reflect on the Eucharist we’re celebrating. In this sacred gathering of the children of the light the risen Lord reveals himself. He feeds us and gives us himself, the bread of life. He heals us and forgives our sins. He anoints us so that we can assume the ministry he began.
The Sundays of Easter are a very special time. Each resurrection account is an invitation for us to open our hearts to the risen Lord. These are weeks of healing and anointing. These are the weeks we look into the empty tomb, when we see more clearly, when we believe more profoundly. These are the weeks we’re invited, like Peter, to become fishers of men.