To read the texts click on the texts: Acts 5:27b-32,40b-41; Rev 5,11-14; Jn21:1-19
The post resurrection appearance of Jesus on Lake Tiberius is the Gospel text for today. The focus of these verses is on Jesus and his “Church”. There are three parts to this story. The first deals with the miraculous catch of fish, the second with the recognition of the risen Lord and the third with 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 a sense of community and oneness. Though they may not be able to fully understand the significance of going fishing at this crucial time, they will collaborate with Peter. They will 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 the catch. They respond that they have caught nothing. They obey Jesus’ command to cast the net on the right side and are successful. The quantity of fish is so great that they struggle to haul in the net.
The second part of the story narrates the 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 thus 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 is 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 not only in diversity but even in diversity. That this seems to be the best explanation is confirmed by the fact that the verb “to haul” used here of 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 that is 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 and 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 is very much a 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 to the disciples at Lake Tiberius where, because they obey his instructions, they 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 also important to realize that the three questions are all different. The first question which 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. 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 affirming that Peter 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. Though this command of Jesus may be seen as a general invitation to discipleship, 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 soon after this event as narrated by the Acts of the Apostles; Peter was willing to suffer for his Lord. Not only was he willing to suffer, he also learnt to rejoice in his suffering because as the second reading states, he knew that in doing so he was being privileged to imitate the lamb that was slain.
The call to follow Jesus today is a call that will continue to be heard as long as there are people who dare to open their hearts to this 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 and he can be seen and experienced only when those who profess to follow him reach out in love.