Third Sunday of Easter. John 21:1-19
Peter and the other Apostles are at the Sea of Tiberias (aka the Sea of Galilee). They are restless, at sixes and sevens without their beloved Master, those wonderful, exciting days with him, soaking up the glory of his presence, his teaching, his miracles.
The risen Christ has appeared to them and to many others, but on a temporary basis only. Time is lying heavy on their empty hands. The glory days are over. What can life have in store for them any more? What will become of them, who have known intimacy with this holy, brilliant, strong and loving man? Are they now to be reduced to virtually nothing?
For nothing of value can come from them without their Lord. He had sent them out on missions of teaching and miracles, having given them the authority to expel evil spirits and to perform acts of healing for those in need. No more, it seems.
Peter, full of pent-up, frustrated energy, announces: “I’m going fishing!” Recognizing his leadership, the other men fall in line: “We’re coming with you.” At last! Something productive to do!
That is, potentially productive, for in fact they never catch even a single smelt all throughout the night.
Dawn breaks. A man is seen standing on the shore. A friendly voice calls out to them: “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” Of course not.
The stranger says, “Cast your net over the right side of the boat and you’ll find something.”
Really? The typical fishing boat of that era was only about two and a half yards wide. (And by the way, this is also the same kind of boat Peter and Andrew, James and John were in when Jesus first called them to become “fishers of people.”
What could be so different between one side of the boat and the other? There is nothing on one side, and seven feet in the other direction is going to be teeming with fish? But instead of laughing at such an absurd suggestion, the men do what is suggested. Voilà! The net is close to breaking from a catch of 153 (they counted them!) fish.
What symbolism! By themselves, the Apostles are restless and unproductive. Besides, all that energy uselessly expended has left them empty and hungry. John, who loved the Lord and whom Jesus loved, is the first one to recognize the voice of his Master.
Why does Peter jump into the sea? Surely the boat can cover those 100 yards to the shore more quickly than a man swimming. But that’s how Peter is: impetuous, competitive, charging ahead, needing to be first.
Arriving at the shore, they find that their Lord-servant has already prepared for them a freshly cooked breakfast of bread and fish. Another example of his tender care.
One would think that the risen Christ might have shown himself to his followers surrounded by brilliant lights, choirs of angels, heavenly hosts — in short, like the vision described by John in today’s reading from Revelation: Jesus, finally receiving all the honor due him.
Not yet. His way of revealing himself while still on earth, is quiet and unexpected: coming into the upper room; walking and chatting with two disappointed disciples; preparing breakfast for his tired and dejected friends.
For now, the ordinary. Splendor will come later.