Another Miraculous Catch
John 21.1-11 (NIV)
“Afterwards Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. ‘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.
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven’t you any fish?’
‘No,’ they answered.
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.
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 round him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred metres. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn.”
Verses 1 to 11 of Chapter 21 are easily overlooked, seen as a preamble, merely setting the scene, for the story of Peter’s restoration following his denial of Jesus on Good Friday.
The title of today’s reflection is “A miraculous catch of fish” but a miracle is defined as
“an act or event that does not follow the laws of nature and is believed to be caused by God” http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com
Is the large catch of fish a miracle? Is the miracle in this story what it tells us about how God’s power works in the lives of Jesus’ followers, his disciples, you and me?
The best time for fishing was at night, when the fish would rise to the surface to feed, safe from predatory birds flying overhead.
Have you stood on the seashore and noticed the changing shades and patterns on the water caused by waves, tidal currents and the everchanging light?
The differences are easier to spot from a distance, less obvious in the water close by.
A person standing on the shore would see more clearly than the men in the boat and be able to point out to them where the fish were rising.
Those experienced fishermen knew where to find the fish, yet they had cast out their net all night and caught nothing. They had tried with all their power and strength but caught nothing.
The disciples were in a situation we are all familiar with. Trying to solve things in their own way, by their own strength, their own power.
Jesus had given them a task to do, to tell the Gospel to the whole world. To do nothing less than change to world. They had not yet received the power that would come from above at Pentecost (Acts 2). They feel helpless, floundering, not knowing what this means. So they turn to the one thing that they know, the one thing they can control by their own power – they go fishing but find that they cannot even catch fish.
How often when faced with a problem, searching for something we have mis-laid or feeling overwhelmed by events, do we struggle to fix things ourselves. We get anxious, we panic, we forget to turn to Jesus in prayer, we try to solve things by our own power. As the Psalmist says
“Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain.” Ps. 127.1 NIV
God calls us to work with him, to seek his help in all things. He invites us to work with him to overcome the individual and global problems of this world. But we must work in co-operation with Him, not try to go it alone. We will only succeed if we trust in God’s power.
As soon as the disciples listen, as soon as they stop trying to solve their own problems, the Lord appears to guide them. To meet their need, which at this moment isn’t to change the world but to catch fish – and what a catch – 153 large fish.
Much has been written about the significance of the number 153. Ingenious and complex mathematical formulae are used to break down the number to represent various symbols, Jerome suggests that the number represents every species of fish in the sea.[i]
All that we can glean from the text is that the size of the catch far exceeded the recommended safe capacity – the maximum weight – that the net was made to hold, yet the net was not broken.
The power of God far exceeds all our expectations, all our limitations, yet it is safe to handle for those who trust in Jesus. Jerome’s explanation is that the variety of fish represents the variety of people to whom the Gospel will be preached and who will eventually respond, accepting Jesus into their lives. All humanity in fact – the Gospel is open to all people – no one is excluded from Jesus’ invitation to sit and eat with him.
The disciples recognise Jesus and when they come ashore, he already has some fish and is cooking breakfast. He has enough fish for his needs but invites them to share some of their own catch.
This is the wonderful truth about God’s power. He doesn’t need our help, but he chooses to involve us. He wants us to be a part of the battle against evil, to help him to restore creation to the peace of the Garden of Eden. The truth about God’s power is that he became powerless on the cross in order to release the world from the power of death.
Unlike worldly ideas of power that depend on wealth, strength, authority, coercion or oppression, God’s power thrives on our weakness. He accepts us as we are, allows us to mess-up, and picks us up when we fall. He doesn’t need the disciples’ catch of fish, but he accepts it willingly.
He accepts us just as we are, where we are, with whatever we are able to bring to his table. Weak or strong, fit or ill, able or disabled, rich or poor, people from every race, language, colour and culture on earth, saints and sinners.
No contribution is too small, no contribution is too great, to be of value in the kingdom of God’s people for those who chose to follow Jesus.
Sometimes, like the disciples, we can spend the night searching fruitlessly, until the dawn rises and we turn our eyes towards Jesus.
[i] Barclay William Page 284 The Daily Study Bible – The Gospel of John Vol. 2, Revised ed. 1975, St Andrew Press, Edinburgh
Wherever the sun rose on you today may you be blessed by the power of God to bring peace in your life and the lives of those around you. Amen
(North East Hub)