John 21:1-19 • April 10, 2016
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and risen Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
Ok, I’ll admit it. Two unique, albeit unusual things, stuck out for me in the gospel reading today during this resurrection breakfast story with Jesus on the beach. It might be a sign of still being a little tired following Lent, Holy Week and Easter. Or, it might just be the way the Holy Spirit was speaking to me this week. I’ll let you decide.
First – Simon Peter fishing naked. I don’t fish, but I know many people who do. And as far as I know, none of them fish naked. Like I said, as far as I know. I can’t actually assume to know the proper way to dress or not dress when fishing. And did you catch what Peter does when he hears about Jesus on the shore. He puts his clothes back on and THEN he jumps in the water to swim to shore. Wouldn’t it have been easier to swim to shore without the weight of wet clothes? Or maybe easier to just stay in the boat and get to shore with the other disciples that stay in the boat and at the same time stay dry?
And the second thing, again remember, I’m not a fisherman. Jesus says to cast the next to the other side of the boat. I’m sorry, but how can a few feet make that much of a difference in how effective your fishing with a large net will be? As we see though, it made a great difference. Zero fish on one side of the boat after fishing all night long. 153 fish from the other side in just a short time.
I have no idea what the daily limit on walleye is in North Dakota, but I’m guessing it’s not remotely close to 153! And why do you think it’s so important for the writer of John’s gospel to make sure that we know it was 153 fish caught?
In fact, why are either of these details necessary in telling us this part of the Jesus story – Peter fishing naked and the disciples catching 153 fish. Both take place during the fourth appearance of Jesus after the resurrection in the gospel of John?
Cyril of Alexandria in the 5th century said that the 100 represented the fullness of the gentiles, the 50 symbolized the remnant of Israel and the three of course was there for the Trinity.
Saint Augustine, also in the 5th century, said that there are 10 commandments and 7 is a perfect number of grace, which makes 17. If you add all the numbers from 1 to 17 together – 1+2+3+4+ etc. you’ll get to the number 153.
Also from the 5th century, Saint Jerome believed that there were 153 different types of fish in the sea and it was symbolic of the church reaching all the people of the world.
And still other Christian theologians believe that 153 represented the total number of nations that existed in the known world at the time of Jesus resurrection and appearance to these disciples.
I think it’s just fine to consider any of those theological or mathematical theories in a positive light. It’s also fine to consider any of the hundreds of other theological insights that have been written about the reason for 153 fish over the past 20 centuries.
But here’s what I was hearing in this text and the significance of this incredibly large catch of fish. I believe that this is the Gospel of John’s version of the commissioning or sending the disciples into the world in mission. Similar in many ways to the other three gospels.
In Mark’s gospel Jesus says, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”
In Luke’s gospel Jesus opens the disciples minds to understand the scripture and says, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations,”
In the gospel of Matthew Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
And in the gospel of Saint John, in the story before us today, Jesus calls the disciples to go into the entire world and fish for all people – not just those in their inner circle of friends. Not just from the side of the boat that they have always fish from before.
For those of us who are called by Jesus to be his disciples in 2016, I think that means we are supposed to fish for all people, even those who don’t call North Dakota their home and those who haven’t been raised their entire life as Lutherans and those who may not fit into the United States economic classification of middle class. Jesus says to the first disciples on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and to disciples on the shores of the Missouri River today, that we are to fish. For all people.
I think there’s a simple interpretation for Peter fishing naked. Fisherman in Jesus’ day would often take most of their clothes off while fishing. It was as much of a safety measure as it was a comfort measure. If they accidentally got caught in the net and ended up in the water, it was much more likely that a fisherman would be able to get back into the boat and not drown under the weight of the wet clothes. Which was actually a pretty common occupational hazard for fisherman in the ancient world.
As for the large number of fish that were caught, Luther Seminary Professor Karoline Lewis sees John 21 as a reflection on the main point of John’s proclamation of the good news of Jesus Christ, the risen savior of the world. Professor Lewis believes that the entire gospel is about abundant grace, beginning in the very first chapter when we hear “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (1:16) And although we never hear the word grace again in John’s gospel, we see it in action over and over and over again. Jesus healing, raising the dead, extending love and acceptance to people that the rest of the world ignores or casts off as dead.
The purpose of any of the four gospels that are contained in the New Testament is not to show us how to contain God’s grace and forgiveness and mercy and love and keep it all to ourselves. The purpose of the gospel is to invite us into a journey of faith that will empower us to extend God’s grace and the good news of the risen savior of the world to every corner of God’s creation.
Professor Lewis says that, “Resurrection is abundance.”
The abundance of the resurrection is what you and I are being called to share today. An abundance of grace and unconditional love that extends beyond our wildest imaginations. An abundance of mercy and forgiveness that will break down every wall of sin and fear and hatred and exclusion that we try to build. 20th century Trappist monk Thomas Merton said that, “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business. What we are asked to do is to love.”
So brothers and sisters in Christ, as we continue this journey together through the season of Easter, the resurrection is calling us to cast our nets. To cast our nets and share the Shepherd’s love with all of God’s children. Let’s go fishing. Amen.