“Have You Caught Anything, Friends?”
April 5, 2013
John’s Gospel closes at chapter 20, so this narrative is really an appendix. It has two significant episodes – the appearance of the Risen Jesus in Galilee by the Sea of Tiberias, and the commission to Peter as head of the apostles. We will consider only the first, the disciples’ fishing expedition which ends with an apparition of the Risen Lord.
Seven disciples, led by Peter, go fishing in the lake, but in spite of their labors the whole night, they catch nothing. At daybreak, a man on the shore calls to them, “Have you caught anything, friends ?” None of them guess it is Jesus who is speaking; still when he tells them to cast their nets to starboard, they do so and are overwhelmed by the abundance of their catch.
At this, John cries out, “It is the Lord !” On hearing this, Peter, as impulsive as ever, jumps into the water and swims towards the shore. The others follow, dragging the nets heavy with a hundred and fifty-three fish of all kinds.
On a similar occasion in the past, Jesus had worked a miraculous catch in the lake. They disciples had toiled all night and caught nothing, but at Jesus’s word, they let down their nets and hauled in a bumper catch. It was a miracle which opened their eyes to this enigmatic rabbi, and had made all of them his followers. Now John, the beloved disciple, is the first to recognize that such a miraculous catch could only come from Jesus !
The disciples gather around Jesus on the shore, a little sheepishly. They don’t quite recognize him as the old Jesus, yet he has a charcoal fire for them and is preparing breakfast with loaves and fishes. Is this another cue to the past, when he multiplied loaves and fish on the mountainside and fed the hungry ?
What does this apparition of the Lord mean? In the context of the Resurrection and Jesus’s command to proclaim the Good News, it may point to the abundance of the ‘catch’, large numbers from all nations who will become disciples. But Peter also has an important place in the narrative, as he had in the earlier story of the miraculous catch. In the first story, he received his calling to follow Jesus; in this narrative Jesus forgives Peter’s denial of him completely, and reiterates his primacy among the apostles.
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