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John 21:1-3, NIV1 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Tiberias. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. 3 "I'm going out to fish," Simon Peter told them, and they said, "We'll go with you." So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
June 1, 2012This last chapter seems to me to have been added later by another writer. John ends his gospel at 20:31, summarizing once more his great theme of believing Jesus to be sent from God and thereby receiving eternal life. How many times throughout his work, did John repeat these words. Most famously in John 3:16 -- For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. It was love that sent Jesus to earth, so that we may "see" him and believe.
Chapter 21 contains none of these words. But it does contain two important stories found no where else in the Bible. It's a third resurrection appearance. This time Jesus met his disciples, not in Jerusalem but on the familiar sands of the Galilean Sea. They were fishing; Jesus was on shore preparing breakfast.
There's a listing of the disciples who were present that day. Interestingly, Nathanael is named as a disciple. We were introduced to Nathanael near the end of chapter 1, and I believe he was the disciple otherwise listed as Bartholomew. Of course Peter was there, although in this episode he is known as Simon Peter. Also James and John who were sons of Zebedee, Thomas/Didymus, and two others.
Once again, Peter is their leader. He began by saying he is going fishing, and the others decided to join him. They were returning to their old occupation--the way things were before they met Jesus, yet sticking together in the relationships they formed while knowing Jesus. Back to the days of daily work, selling fish so they could provide for every day needs the way normal people did.
They fished at night, out on the water in boats, with nets. But that night, there were no fish to catch. Very discouraging. Had they lost their touch? It could have been 3 years since they fished with any urgency.
Were they really thinking they would get back into the fishing business now that Jesus was not longer among them? In real time, that is probably where logic took them. From our perspective, what a loss it would have been to the world had that been the end of the gospel story.
John 21:4-6, NIV4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. 5 He called out to them, "Friends, haven't you any fish?" "No," they answered. 6 He said, "Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some." When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
June 2, 2012They fished all night and caught nothing. Did they need some cash? Were they indebted to friends and neighbors who helped to tide them over? Uncertainty is a difficult thing to deal with. Should they wait and see if Jesus would show up again to point them in the right direction. Tell them exactly what they should be doing. What did faith mean to them at this crossroad? Were they getting worried and stressed out?
Then a stranger called to them from the shore. An amiable fellow wanting to know how the fishing was, or maybe needing something to eat. Upon hearing they had caught nothing, he told them to try the other side of the boat, and he added with certainty they would catch some if they followed his instructions.
Maybe they didn't recognize Jesus because it was daybreak, before the sun was up. They were a distance from shore, and may have been peering through a morning mist.
We don't know why the disciples obeyed this stranger. We don't know why we do some things either. But when they did as he suggested, to their delight they caught so many fish the net was too heavy to pull into the boat!
Did a miracle take place here? How could it happen that they had fished all night without success and suddenly they landed a catch so huge they had difficulty bringing the net to shore? Miracles could be like love--in the eye of the beholder. When I want to believe God did a special favor for me, I call it a miracle. Life is what I believe it to be.
But if Jesus granted these fishermen a favor, why did his favor only go so far? Why did they have to labor with great effort to haul the catch to the shore?
Not to take anything away from this resurrection appearance, but in Luke 5:1-11, there's a description of how Jesus first attracted the attention of Peter, James and John. In that account Luke's details sound very similar, and because of their astonishment at all the fish they had netted, the three of them left everything and followed Jesus.
John 21:7-8, NIV7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, "It is the Lord," he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water.
8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.
June 3, 2012The moment of recognition for John was behavior. This man on the shore did the sort of thing Jesus would do. After fishing all night and not catching anything, then following the instruction about putting the nets on the other side of the boat and catching more than they ever imagined, that's vintage Jesus.
Or we could say love is the first to recognize. The disciple John, throughout this gospel, is not referred to by name but by the phrase, the disciple Jesus loved. Being a loving and lovable disciple was what distinguished John from the others. That's not to say the others did not love Jesus or each other; it's just that John did it better.
As soon as the fishermen know it is Jesus, Peter reacts first as he usually does. Spontaneously, he grabs his outer garment and jumps into the water. I interpret that as his desire to rush and be the first to greet Jesus. We can look at this scene and wonder why he would put his coat on before jumping into the water. But then when emotions take over, logic evaporates. Or as the footnote in my Bible says, a proper greeting is made when one is properly clothed.
"Captain" Peter has deserted his ship, and the others are left with the task of bringing in the huge haul.
John 21:9-11, NIV9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. 10 Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you have just caught." 11 Simon Peter climbed aboard and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.
June 4, 2012By the time the remaining disciples brought their boat to shore, Jesus had a fire going, with which he baked bread and grilled some fish. "More fish--bring me some more." So Peter rushes to the boat and with a great surge of adrenalin dragged the net ashore.
I get the impression the other disciples had learned in the past three years to simply step aside whenever they saw the blaze in Peter's eyes. So they let the big man through. If he wants to go first, let him--make the blunders, test the waters, take the heat, learn what doesn't work.
While Peter dried himself by the fire, someone counted the fish worth keeping--153 large ones. Everyone was marveling that the net had not broken. Another miracle?
It hardly seems likely that the disciples would stop to count the fish when they could have been visiting with Jesus. Unless Jesus was just as excited about their catch as they were and was helping with the tally. A fisherman's delight counted with childlike glee.
Were they thinking numbers of fish, or dollars? I like to think in the presence of Jesus money takes on an entirely different focus.
John 21:12-14, NIV12 Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." None of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
June 5, 2012Then they enjoyed a delicious breakfast. Oh the joys of good food in great company. No one questioned if this was Jesus. They knew it was. Which raises some questions for us. What did the resurrection body of Jesus look like? What was different from his human body? Why didn't the gospel writer tell us more about this mystery? It would aid our thinking about what to expect in the world to come. Questions like, "Will we know each other in heaven?"
Jesus passed out the bread and the fish. Was it like a holy communion, a joyful feast, a well-deserved respite, or what? Breakfast on the beach with Jesus. What was that like? What did they talk about?
John's gospel does not include a parting "great commission." No final words telling the disciples what he expected of them. Jesus had already done all that before his trial and crucifixion.
This chapter seems to be mostly about Jesus and Peter. Joy and sorrow go hand in hand; when breakfast is over, the seriousness begins.