Let’s Go Fishing

Image by Quang Nguyen vinh from Pixabay

Gospel of John 21:1-25

In the twentieth century, this chapter was relegated to the role of add-on. In this century, cooler heads have prevailed. There are no—zero—manuscripts without this ending, and no one in ancient times ever suggested it was added later.

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. ESV

The phrase after this tells us little. There is no way to know how long they lingered in the city. At the least three days were needed to walk to the north shore from Jerusalem, perhaps more. Nor can we know how dangerous it was for them to leave the city. They may have left singly or in pairs, arranging to meet along the road. Undoubtedly, if they walked out as a group in daylight, they would have faced possible arrest. Do not forget they would return to Jerusalem in another month or less.

The Greek records the lake as the Sea of Tiberias. By the end of the century, the name was the one most Christians knew.

Seven men, Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John, and two others, decide to go fishing. The two unnamed disciples may not have been of the eleven. Notice that John is indirectly named here as a son of Zebedee.

I get the sense here that the disciples are waiting for directions. They may or may not know that Pentecost is the next milestone, but they have little to do for now except talk to one another about their years with their Master and try to understand more fully what it all means.

Peter, the man of action, is bored and decides to see if he can still catch fish. Six join him, and the others opt to watch from the shore. Or something.

Any fisherman can tell about a night of no fish. On the other hand, the disciples may not have been trying very hard.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. ESV

I like that Jesus called them children. They are children of God.

The disciple whom Jesus loved told Peter they were looking at Jesus. There were only seven men on the boat and John is named, but two are nameless. That narrows things down to three men as the one whom Jesus loved. I still vote for John over two who did not rate names.

Peter, likely like the others, had stripped down to his undies. He chose to slip his robe back on to be presentable before wading ahead of the rest. The boat was two hundred cubits out, which equals 300 feet, or a hundred yards. The slope was likely gentle there, so Peter did not have to swim far. The man of action.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. ESV

Jesus had arrived early enough to get a fire going and to have some fish cooking already. By this time, everyone knew they were looking at Jesus.

Notice Peter personally dragged the net ashore. If the large fish weighed two pounds each, that would be over 300 pounds, not counting the wet net. Do not doubt the strength of Peter.

As John records it, Jesus first appeared to the ten, then the eleven when Thomas returned; now Jesus appears for the third time on the shore of the lake.

Many people, especially on the internet, have tried to make a big deal about the number 153. There are a few important numbers in the Bible—seven, ten, three—but mostly they are just numbers.

15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.” ESV

The Greek word translated breakfast simply means principal meal. The first of two meals was typically eaten mid-morning. This sunrise feast would have been a treat. John no doubt had fond memories of that particular meal for many reasons.

We should remember that John helped Peter enter the inner court of the High Priest. While he did not overhear Peter’s denials, he heard very soon after. Now, he may be within hearing as Jesus questions the man who was and will be the leader of the Twelve.

Jesus indeed used two words for love and Peter used only one. Ian Paul has an excellent post (April 30, 2019, on https://www.psephizo.com/) where he points out that John and others use the same two words interchangeably. The words are agapeo and phileo—the high moral love and brotherly love. Paul stresses that Greek speakers in the first century saw little difference in the two terms, so John did not worry about them. He seems to have followed the lead of the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, which used them interchangeably.

The same is true of the three commands Jesus gave to Peter. The first and third were bosko, to feed, and the second was poimaino, to shepherd or tend. Both words end up with feed because the shepherd leads them to grass. Jesus uses arnia, lambs, first, then probata, sheep, for two and three.

Ian Paul concludes by emphasizing that Jesus is giving his number one leader a chance to heal from the shame of denying Jesus. It may be that the third question finally stirred up the caustic emotions of his denials of his Master.

William Barclay points out that Peter’s confession of love leads Jesus to command him to give up his life as a fisherman and spend the rest of his life helping the fledgling Church become an instrument for God’s Kingdom on earth. Satisfied, Jesus simply says, as he says to all of us, follow me.

20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” 22 Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” 23 So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?” 24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. 25 Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. ESV

I will give Karen H. Jobes the final words.

“Lord, what about him?” I have no idea if John intended this to be humorous, but I find it amusing that, after being reconciled in his relationship with Jesus and appointed to shepherd Jesus’ followers, Peter’s first words were to get into another person’s business. There is an implicit comparison intended in the information Peter seeks. How does his relationship with Jesus stack up against Jesus’ relationship with the beloved disciple? How like human nature! We all seem interested in the question, “But what about him?” Jesus was quick to nip the direction of Peter’s thoughts in the bud. “What is that to you?” is a rebuke that tells Peter to mind his own business. And his business was to follow Jesus regardless: “You must follow me” (with the emphatic Greek singular pronoun su, “you”) emphasizing Peter’s charge in contrast to that of others. Peter apparently got the point, for many years later he instructs his own readers in 1 Peter 4:15 not to meddle in the business of others. …

Peter and the beloved disciple—whether he was John the son of Zabedee or another man—were two great apostles of the early Christian church. And yet as the fourth gospel tells it, they were quite different from one another, had different gifts and abilities, different roles in the Lord’s work, and different destinies in life. There may have been an element of competition between them. The worth of Peter could not be measured by comparison to the perceived worth of the beloved disciple, or vice versa. Sheep are not all the same, but they are called to unity in the flock when they all follow the same Good Shepherd.

Be Righteous and do Good

Mike Lawrence

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