John 21 Fishing for Answers

Questions: For what are the disciples fishing? For what is Jesus fishing? Do they get what they’re looking for? How? In the end, will it matter? Why?

“Read More” to pursue answers in the Gospel of John.

Lord, make me a Fountain of your Love.
Draw me into your holy Presence, that I might know you as my Father
And manifest the image of Christ in this world, and the world to come. Amen.

John 21:1-25

After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed he [himself].

Again with the (seemingly) random patterns of appearance.

There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the [sons] of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples. Simon Peter saith unto them, I go a fishing. They say unto him, We also go with thee. They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing.

I see Peter is acting as leader, though not very fruitfully.

But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. Then Jesus saith unto them, Children, have ye any meat? They answered him, No. And he said unto them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.

Obviously following Jesus is far more fruitful! Intriguingly, John figures it out first, but Peter is the one who acts on it:

Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved saith unto Peter, It is the Lord. Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he girt [his] fisher’s coat [unto him], (for he was naked,) and did cast himself into the sea.

The other disciples follow more deliberately, with their haul:

And the other disciples came in a little ship; (for they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes.

Which is somewhat redundant since Jesus already has breakfast ready;

As soon then as they were come to land, they saw a fire of coals there, and fish laid thereon, and bread.

Though, Jesus is still interested in the fruits of their efforts:

Jesus saith unto them, Bring of the fish which ye have now caught. Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken.

I wonder if this might itself be a mini-parable; Jesus caught and prepared a small catch, whereas his disciples — under his direction — brought forth a massive harvest to lay at Jesus feast. At least, they trusted it was Jesus:

Jesus saith unto them, Come [and] dine. And none of the disciples durst ask him, Who art thou? knowing that it was the Lord.

That is one of the most bizarre things about the resurrection stories — nobody seems to recognize Jesus by his appearance, yet they still come to trust that it is Jesus. And this isn’t just an isolated incident; virtually all the stories have that exact same element.

This — at least to me — is what gives these stories the flavor of eyewitness accounts, rather than a carefully crafted fable. Of course, the disciples at this point are more worried about breakfast than literary criticism:

Jesus then cometh, and taketh bread, and giveth them, and fish likewise. This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead.

Though, food isn’t the only thing on Jesus mind:

So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, [son] of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.

This passage was the first time I’d heard the distinction between Jesus’ “agape” and Peter’s “phileo”. Someone else pointed out to me that Peter’s three affirmations here mirror his three denials earlier:

He saith to him again the second time, Simon, [son] of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, [son] of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep.

I not sure why Jesus switches from lambs to sheep, though I presume the switch to “phileo” was in response to Peter’s implicit humility: “Lord, I no longer dare to affirm my undying love for you, knowing my human frailty, but all the heart I have I give to you.” And Jesus is in effect saying, “Even that level of affection I will accept, and is sufficient for me to commission you to serve my flock.”

And it is perhaps that very commission that leads to Peter’s doom:

Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry [thee] whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me.

Now, I don’t know if it was genuine concern or sibling rivalry that prompted Peter — I suspect the latter — but for whatever reason he couldn’t resist a comparison with John:

Then Peter, turning about, seeth the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrayeth thee? Peter seeing him saith to Jesus, Lord, and what [shall] this man [do]?

To which Jesus basically says, “Mind your own business!”

Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what [is that] to thee? follow thou me.

Which of course gets thoroughly misinterpreted:

Then went this saying abroad among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what [is that] to thee?

Though it also helps us connect this unnamed character with our unnamed narrator:

This is the disciple which testifieth of these things, and wrote these things:

who apparently is vouched for by the editors:

and we know that his testimony is true.

And that, as they say, is that. Well, except for one last little postscript — perhaps an apology for all the things they left out:

And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.

There we have it. Like so many things in life — in law, science, and history — all we have is the testimony of someone who claims to be an eyewitness. We can ask, argue, and analyze, but in the end we must choose whether to doubt or whether to believe. And either way, someone’s life is one the line; perhaps yours.

However, the choice to believe is not so much the end of doubt but the beginning of faith. Like in science, belief is the motivation to perform more experiments, e.g. tests of faith — to find out if what we believe actually holds true under new (and more extreme!) circumstances.

Peter, John and countless others knew what they believed, and proved it true to the end of their lives. Will I be able to say the same? Will you?


God, I thank you again for the faithful men and women who took the time to write down what they saw, or received from people that they trusted. I thank you for the courage, often risking disgrace and death to pass on what they valued more than their own lives. I thank you for the life and healing I’ve received through the gospel of John, and more importantly from the One portrayed here. Thank you that nothing can pluck me out of your hand. Help to devote my life to feeding your sheep. Teach me to love you with all that I have. I ask all this in the precious name of Jesus, Amen.

Programming Note:

Next time we will turn our attention to the Prophet Daniel. This was prompted in part by the (potential) opportunity to preach on it at my friend Josh’s InterVarsity chapter, but also because of its relevance to some higher-visibility projects I’m undertaking at work. Wish me luck!