1 After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; … 14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
There is a lot in this little account that is revealing. The number of fish caught in Galilee tells us that John was there as an actual witness; the fact that 153 were caught may be God’s way of expressing deeper or symbolic meaning. However, in the end this is not a story about symbolism, it is a very specific, very particular and very human story. The disciples are creatures of habit, failures at their task; ignorant of Jesus’ identity; impulsive; surprised; and cowed.
Yet even though the story is full of rich detail and reveals so much truth to us about the disciples, it’s not really a story about them either. This story, as with all the Gospel stories, is a story that reveals the truth about Jesus. Not a symbolic truth. Not a moral lesson. This story is the truth of Jesus revealed once again to His disciples, and to us. For in this account we see Jesus Revealed in the Miracle, in the Meal, and in the Mercy.
2 Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 3 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. 4 Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any fish?” They answered him, “No.” 6 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, for the quantity of fish.
Jesus performs a familiar miracle, a huge catch of fish, echoing the miraculous catch of fish at the beginning of His ministry with the apostles. The point of comparison is hard to miss. It is a miracle designed to help the disciples recognize the man on shore and to remind them of the lesson of that prior miracle: Just as Jesus’ power is available for their fishing, it will be available for all their mission activity. They have nothing to fear; He will still make them fishers of men.
Despite all that had happened since He first stood beside that shore and called those men to follow Him, nothing had really changed. Through life and death and life again, the mission is the same, the promise is the same, and the power of Christ to fulfill it in those men has not diminished one bit. If anything, the mission is now more urgent, and the message more powerful! It is a new net that will not tear no matter how big the catch.
9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying 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, a hundred and fifty-three 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.
And here we see our Lord revealed once again, in the breakfast on the shore, already prepared when the disciples arrive. It assures the frightened disciples that Jesus is not a ghost but a body with normal needs and appetites. This man is truly a man. This Christ is really risen from the dead. See the marks of the nails as he reaches for the bread, hear the rustle of the robe as he flips the fish. Feel the brush of his hand as he hands you the food. This is no ghost, no vision or dream. This is the Lord.
This seaside meal, like the miraculous catch of fish, also reveals Jesus’ compassion and provision for the disciples’ every need. Being a physical being, a man of flesh and blood, He understands the needs of this body and life. Be it the need to eat, or the need to rest, or just the need to spend time with those who know you and care for you … He knows these needs and He meets them.
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.
And last, but certainly not least, Jesus reveals Himself not only in the miracle and in the meal, but finally in His great mercy. In His threefold exchange with Peter – who in pride and weakness had failed His Lord – Jesus restores this disciple for service to Him and His flock. Restating the call to leave the fish behind and be a shepherd of Christ’s flock. Peter denied Jesus three times, and now the Lord invites him to declare his love for Him three times. In His mercy Jesus will leave nothing unsaid, no nagging doubts. It is dealt with – forgiven – and once and for all left behind on that nameless shore. Why? He truly does know Peter, He loves Peter, and no amount of denial can change that.
As I said, even though there is so much of the human nature of the disciples on display in this account, it is not about the disciples. It is not about their skill as fishermen but His miracle. It is not about their offering, but his table. It is not about their remorse, but His forgiveness. And the same holds true even to this day – even in our own lives.
For the story of what happens to each of us still reveals Jesus. It is not about how hard we work, or how well we live. It is not about how much we give, or the sacrifices we make. It is not about our faith, our repentance, or our understanding. Its all about Jesus. For the same Jesus who revealed himself to the disciples there on the shores of Galilee still reveals Himself to His beloved disciples today. Still reveals himself through the miracle, the meal and the mercy.
It is a miracle when we are called through the waters of Holy Baptism, caught in the net of God’s kingdom. Fished from the waters of this sinful world. At Christ’s Word the nets are cast forth and young and old, rich and poor alike are gathered in. People of every tribe and nation, every people and language are brought through the waters, a rich harvest for Christ’s Church. It is not our doing. It is beyond our skill. Indeed if we were not ourselves fist caught up in that net, we wouldn’t be here today. Through life and death and life again, the mission becomes ours, the promise is for us, and the power of Christ to fulfill it has not diminished one bit. The mission is still urgent, and the message miraculous in its power!
And so is the compassion of our Lord for all of our needs. Think back in your life and you won’t have to think far to see where your needs have been graciously given by the one who knows and cares. Our daily bread is richly and abundantly received, sometimes without even a thought to the hand that provides it. And along with all the blessings of body come the blessings of our souls. The rich table prepared in the face of our enemies. A feast of Christ’s own flesh and blood – His real body and blood – for the forgiveness of sins. A meal shared with God, a divine fellowship to gladden any heart. A meal to nourish and sustain us for the days ahead.
For if it were not for the mercy of our Saviour, none of us would make it through the days ahead. Yet, no matter our sins, no matter our failures, no matter our short-falls. No matter how many times and in how many ways we have denied Him out of fear, or carelessness, or apathy. No matter … He is there with mercy beyond all understanding. A mercy that meets Saul on the road. A mercy that calls to us in the confession and absolution, whether in public or in private. A mercy that speaks again and again to our troubled consciences, to our burdened souls. A mercy that leaves nothing unsaid, nothing in doubt, nothing unpaid for. A mercy that forgives and forgives and forgives.
For this is who our Lord is. This is what our Jesus does. This is our God revealed. And that is why we sing with the Galilean disciples, the hosts of heaven and the saints who have gone before us: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”