After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. 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.
Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.”He said to them, “Cast the net to 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 there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead
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.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt 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. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
Gospel of John Chapter 21:1-19 NRSV
One of the best things about the post resurrection gospel stories is how ordinary they can be. Sometimes we are tempted to come up with grand meanings and deep metaphors for these stories. But sometimes the story is simply what it appears to be.
One wonders why Peter and the disciples decided to go fishing. Some commentators think is is a sign of their apostasy, their abandonment of Jesus. Some think this story is recalling Jesus’ call of the disciples to be fishers of people. My hunch is that it’s more ordinary than that. In John’s gospel, Jesus has appeared twice to the disciples before chapter 21. In those appearances, Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples what they are supposed to do now, after the resurrection. Of course, Jesus could have given quite detailed instructions and no one wrote it down. But all we have to go on is what we have. I expect the disciples were still shocked and confused. They (barely) knew how to follow Jesus before the crucifixion and resurrection. What on earth were they supposed to do after the resurrection? Perhaps they were waiting for Jesus to show up and stay with them? Perhaps they were waiting for more clarity about what they were supposed to do?
In any event, what do people do when they don’t know what to do? We do the familiar. We do what we know how to do. We do what worked in the past. Peter and the disciples had been fishermen. It’s what they knew how to do. Whether they were hungry, or needed to earn some money, or just needed to keep busy; fishing seems like an understandable choice.
And then Jesus appears, once again not in a spectacular way. Not in a showy way. Not in a way that draws attention to himself. He walks along the beach and asked some guys in a boat, as one does, “Hey did you catch anything?” It’s lake shore small talk. And then as those not fishing are apt to do, he offers some advice. And rather oddly, don’t you think- when was the last time you took the advice of a stranger on the beach? Rather oddly, the disciples do what he says.
Only after the big catch of fish, do they figure out who is talking to them. And then impetuous Peter, just can’t wait the few minutes for the boat to get to shore. He puts on his clothes and swims to Jesus.
Meanwhile, Jesus has built a fire and is cooking some fish. Jesus evidently had some fish of his own. But notice the disciples are asked to contribute some of their fish also. And then Jesus simply feeds them breakfast. “Come and have breakfast.” What a completely ordinary thing to say!
Then Jesus gives Peter- and by extension all disciples- the instructions they have been waiting for. “Do you love me?” “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep.”
This is what gospel love looks like. Feeding hungry people (and letting them contribute to the meal). Tending to the people around us.
We live in a culture that loves the grand gesture. We are a people who want to do, and think we need to do, great things. As I write this, I’m looking at a cup from a denominational campus ministry office that says “life changing. church changing. world changing”.
That’s a pretty tall order. Honestly I’m not up to changing the world, or the church. Most days I don’t do any noticeable life changing. But I can do, most days, what Jesus asked the disciples and me to do. I can tend some lambs. I can be attentive to the ones around me- doing my best to help them flourish.
I like this story because it reminds me what I’m supposed to do. When I’m perplexed about the future, when the way forward isn’t clear- I do what I know how to do. When I do that, with amazing regularity, Jesus shows up. He brings some fish, I bring some fish and people eat. And then fed and reassured, I go off to tend some sheep.