To read the texts click on the texts: Acts5:27b-32,40b-41; Rev 5:11-14; Jn 21:1-19
The post resurrection appearance of Jesus on Lake Tiberius is the Gospel text for today. The focus of these verses is on Jesus and on his “Church”. There are three parts to this story. The first part deals with the miraculous catch of fish, the second part is the recognition of the risen Lord, and the third part is the dialogue with Peter.
The text begins with Peter telling his companions that he is going fishing. The response of the other six to Peter’s statement is to affirm that they will go with him. This indicates oneness and a sense of community. Though they may not be able to fully understand the significance of going fishing at this crucial time, they collaborate with Peter. They pull together. However, despite all their efforts, they are not able to achieve anything. Jesus appears, unobtrusively, when it is light, and asks a question about their catch. They respond that they have caught nothing. They obey Jesus’ command, then, to cast the net on the right side and they are successful. The quantity of fish is so great that they struggle to haul in the net.
The second part of the story narrates their recognition of the risen Lord. The enormity of the catch is detailed in the number of fish caught, namely, one hundred fifty three. A variety of interpretations have been offered to explain this number. St. Augustine proposed a mathematical way of reading this number which is regarded even today as plausible. His explanation was that the number 153 is obtained when all of the integers from 1 to 17 are added together. This mathematical fact suggests the completeness of the number 153. Others regard the number as clearly indicating that the narration of this event is an eyewitness account of what actually happened. This explains why the number is not a round number, but 153. Still another interpretation is that 153 was the number of species of fish known to Greek zoologists of that time and thus, it signifies that every kind or species of fish was caught in the net. This symbolizes that no one is excluded.
That the net did not break, despite the fact that there were so many fish, is an indication of unity, even in diversity. That this may be the best explanation is confirmed by the fact that the verb, “to haul”, used here to describe Peter’s hauling the net ashore, is the same verb used to describe those who come to Jesus from God (6:44). It is the same verb used to describe the salvific effect of Jesus’ death when he will “draw” (haul) all people to himself (12:32). Thus, what seemed like aimlessness before the appearance of Jesus becomes, with his presence, a focussed ministry. The disciples continue the mission of Jesus even when they fish, by drawing all to him. Each one who is drawn to Jesus, and makes up a part of his community, has his/her place. In this community, diversity is not to be frowned upon but to be celebrated. It is good to be different and yet, united. It is good to be unique and special and yet, part of the whole. It is good to be an individual and yet, part of one community. Thus, exclusivity has no place in any mission that has its roots in Jesus’ mission. All are included. All are welcome. Even more, each retains his/her identity and is still very much a part of the whole. There is no need for uniformity in the family of Jesus, but unity itself is a basic, core value.
The third part of the text links this section with the previous one (21:4-14) through the words, “When they had finished breakfast”. It is a continuation of the appearance of Jesus at Lake Tiberius where the disciples, because they obey his instructions, are able to haul in 153 fish.
These verses narrate the conversation that Jesus has with Simon Peter. One possible reason why Jesus asks Peter three questions is because Peter denied him three times. However, it is important to realize that the three questions are all different. The first question that Jesus asks is inclusive. It includes the other disciples, the boat, the nets, and the fish. Jesus is asking Peter whether Peter loves him more than he loves the other disciples and/or his livelihood. The second question is direct and involves only Jesus and Peter. Everything else recedes into the background and the spotlight shifts to the two. Does Peter love Jesus? Though the third question seems similar to the second, it is really different because in it, Jesus asks Peter about friendship. It reads: “Simon, son of John, are you my friend?” This is a crucial change from the earlier question because, in 15:13, Jesus had explained the true meaning of friendship when he said: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” By Peter stating that he is, indeed, a friend of Jesus, he is affirming his willingness to die for Jesus.
This interpretation is confirmed by the fact that, as soon as Peter affirms his friendship, Jesus invites him to lay down his life. The text ends with Jesus inviting Peter to follow him. This command of Jesus may be seen as a general invitation to discipleship. However, here it means a specific command to martyrdom and even death. Peter knows, even as he answers, that trials and difficulties are part and parcel of his commitment. He is aware that following Jesus is not going to be easy and that he will be called to make great sacrifices. He is ready, willing, and able. This willingness is evident in the first reading of today when, as narrated in the Acts of the Apostles, Peter was willing to suffer for his Lord. Not only was he willing to suffer, he also learned to rejoice in his suffering. As the second reading states, he knew that in suffering, he was privileged to imitate the lamb that was slain.
The call to follow Jesus today will continue to be heard as long as there are people who dare open their hearts to his call. While it will not always be a call to martyrdom by death, like it was in the case of Peter, it will always be a call to be a martyr or witness. This is because the voice of Jesus can only be heard today in his disciples. He can be seen and experienced today only when those, who profess to follow him, reach out to others in love.