This is part of a series of teachings that began with Passover Crucifixion and Easter Resurrection – The Big Bang of New Creation (see my notes Part One and Two)
Then, Jesus Breaks Lockdown, Part 1 and Part 2
Then, The Resurrected King Changes Everything (see my notes)
These notes, on The Risen Lord Renews Our Calling: Fishing & Feasting, are reflections on John 21, the last chapter of John’s good-news story of King Jesus. I acknowledge drawing from Craig Keener, David Carson and Leon Morris in their respective commentaries on John.
The chapter has two parts (or ‘pericopes’), each with two internal subsections.
John 21:1-14, Jesus’ resurrection appearance to the disciples on the shore: a) the fishing story and miraculous catch, and b) the breakfast story where Jesus feeds them. (Part One)
John 21:15-23, Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter as leader: a) his confession and commission, and b) his unfolding future call/leadership. (Part Two)
Renewal of Calling: Fishing & Feasting, John 21:1-14
The context: The life changing events of Jesus’ traumatic death and resurrection, and his appearances to his disciples (over a period of 40 days, Acts 1:3). John records two prior appearances of the risen Lord to Peter and the gathered disciples in Jerusalem (John 20:19-29). After that, Peter and six others return to fishing (their business) in the Galilee.
Failing at business and life as usual (John 21:1-3)
In the aftermath of all that had happened in Jerusalem, Peter and 6 others return to ‘business as usual’. This fishing story shows the well-known tradition in the gospels of Jesus first calling fishermen to follow him, to make them “fishers of people”. The story echoes Luke 5:1-11 as a renewal of that initial calling to fish people for Jesus.
The fact that John mentions seven disciples, the number of completion, could symbolize the uncertain mind and mood of all the apostles. Peter takes the initiative (as usual, a natural leader), “I’m going out to fish”. The others follow. But that night they caught “nothing”; the same word John uses in John 15:5, where Jesus says, “without me you can do nothing”. In other words, John emphasizes their failure in going back to business and life as usual in their own resources and efforts.
Jesus gives fish – renewing their calling (John 21:4-8)
“Early morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize it was Jesus…” A repeat of Mary’s experience (John 20:1f), early morning, seeing Jesus but not recognizing ‘the stranger’ (as with the two on the road to Emmaus, Luke 24:13f). It’s the early morning darkness of dashed hopes and human failure. Yet it’s the first light of a new dawn of new creation. Through their dark experience they see Jesus on the shore of resurrection – the other side of death, the coming age – from their boat of business and life as usual, in the untamed sea of the uncertainty of this age.
They don’t recognize Jesus. That ‘stranger’ takes the initiative and calls out, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” “No!” After a whole night of hard work! He makes them face and confess their own insufficiency of effort and resource (indeed, they can do “nothing” without Jesus, 15:5), so that they trust and obey his word: “throw the net on the right side of the boat and you will find some”. Some fish? They catch so many that they can’t haul the net into the boat, confirming Jesus’ miracles of ‘over the top’ abundance in God’s Kingdom come in him (John 2:1-11, 6:1-14).
“Then the disciple whom Jesus loved” knew “it is the Lord”. He said (confessed) it to Peter. Revelation of who Jesus really is, the Risen King, is not only by the obedience of faith, and miracles, but also by the intimacy of love. John is “the beloved disciple” who is at Jesus’ side (‘bosom’, John 13:23, 21:20), as Jesus is at the Father’s side (‘bosom’, John 1:18) – that profound intimacy is the source of Jesus’ revelation of God. The others come to know/recognize later that it’s Jesus (at the breakfast, John 21:12), but dare not ask him “who are you?” This indicates that revelation unfolds differently for each person, with intuitive immediacy (John), with responsive action (Peter), or with timidity and doubt (Thomas and the others, John 20:24-29, 21:2,12). Jesus came to the world and it did not know/recognize him (John 1:10), but his own know him because he calls us by name and we recognize his voice (John 10:3-5, 20:16).
Peter’s response to the first miraculous catch of fish when he first met Jesus, in Luke 5:1-11, was to fall to his knees and say, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man” (v8). But Jesus responded, “Don’t be afraid, from now on you will catch people” (v10) – their calling to work with him to fish people into God’s Kingdom. Now, seeing this second miraculous catch, he must be thinking, “I’ve seen this movie before!” His response this time is not to run away, but to clothe himself, dive into the sea and swim 100 meters to the shore – the impulse and passion of love to see his “friend” (v5) and “Lord” (v7), despite acute awareness of his failures. He swims over the water that Jesus walked on (6:19), crossing the unknown, from the uncertainty of business/life as usual to the shore of intimacy at Jesus’ side of resurrection.
Jesus gives a feast – confirming their calling (John 21:9-14)
Peter finds him making “a fire of burning coals with fish on it, and some bread” (a South African ‘fish braai’!) Jesus provides his own fish and bread to feed Peter and the disciples after an exhausting night that produced “nothing”. All who come to Jesus will not hunger or thirst (John 6:35). “Jesus came, took bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish” (John 21:13). The Resurrected Shepherd lovingly feeds his hungry sheep with his own life (John 10), with the bread of heaven (his body, John 6), with the waters of his Spirit (John 7:37-39), the power of new creation (John 20:22).
The breakfast he prepares symbolizes the Kingdom banquet/feast that he frequently enacted during his ministry. He invites the disciples to “bring some of the fish you just caught” – that he (also) provided! All we have is, literally, all from him! We are, however, invited to share what we do have, just like the little boy’s “five small barley loaves and two small fish” (John 6:9), that Jesus multiplies to feed the nations through the hands of his followers. The Kingdom is indeed a collaborative relational work with the Resurrected King, in his power, to reach all peoples, all nations.
Peter gets up and helps the others to pull in the net. They count them: 153 fish! Commentators try to make the number mean “the nations” or all sorts of things! I agree with Keener: It was obviously so impressive that they remembered the number, and it simply suggests the great abundance of unlimited supply from the Risen Lord, at the table of The King (john 6:13-15).
John deliberately adds, “even with so many (fish) the net was not torn” (John 21:11) – in contrast to the net breaking with the first miraculous catch when they were first called (Luke 5:6). Is this a picture of the Resurrection Church, relationally joined and united as one (John 17:20-26): God’s net to “fish the nations” into his Kingdom? And to bring them to the table fellowship of the Shepherd-King’s “abundant life” (John 10:10)?
In Summary: Seven Lessons
1. After life-changing events like the crucifixion and resurrection – also the Corona Pandemic – we cannot simply go back to life and business as usual.
2. We must cross over to find the new normal, to live resurrection now.
3. Discipleship is hearing Jesus’ call, trusting and obeying his word, which releases his resurrection life and power.
4. The call of discipleship is to follow Jesus, to be formed into the net of his Kingdom, to fish people (the nations) for The King.
5. If we act on the revelation we have, we receive more revelation and enter the abundant fullness of the Kingdom.
6. Collaboration with King Jesus in all things, joining what we have with what he has, is the great enterprise of the Kingdom.
7. Fishing and Feasting with King Jesus is living Resurrection Now.