John 21:1-19 (NRSV)
Jesus Appears to Seven Disciples
21 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 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. 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 after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” 6 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. 7 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. 8 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.
9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish 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 fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 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. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Jesus and Peter
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.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 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.” 17 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. 18 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.” 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, “Follow me.”
I’M OFTEN STRUCK by large swathes of modern Evangelical Christianity for many reasons. One of the more complicated questions is the degree a good deal of people in this tradition place a significant emphasis on the crucifixion of Jesus. One of my professors, Dr. David Downs, noted how quickly we celebrate the crucifixion as the center for Christ’s saving work, while talking about resurrection as an appendage to the Christ event. So perhaps the question I want to pose is what role the resurrection plays in our theology. I think this passage helps us imagine what an answer to that question can contain: that the resurrection grounds us in an embodied hope.
Much has been made in the life of the church of Jesus’s final days with the disciples before Ascension. Perhaps the most oft-used lesson is how teachers time and time again draw upon the direct parallel between Peter’s denial before Jesus’s trial, and the three questions his Master asks him as to how much this disciple loves him. This is an important conclusion.
Here the disciple’s do not ask for a sign. And yet the gospels, in some way, records Jesus offering his people a symbol, something which points to the reality they’re called to. But it only makes sense if we’ve followed Jesus through the cross. And it only makes sense if the life Jesus leads is incidental to the whole narrative scope. It is a symbol that reawakens the imagination of the disciples to see their Lord. It is a symbol that confirms in beautiful poignancy the identity of Jesus. He is the “fisher of men,” capturing the hearts of his followers once more as they themselves struggle under the laborious task of catching their fill for the day.
They did not need words. They knew it was the Lord.
On the shores of the lake, Jesus once more breaks bread with his followers. Jesus is he who calls his followers to be fishers of men by being a fisher for these men. And Jesus is he who sits in the presence of humanity, demonstrating his commitment to his people by breaking bread and eating fish.
Paul writes in his correspondence to the Corinthian church that if Christ has not been raised, Christians are most to be pitied, we are still dead in our trespasses. But Christ has been raised. Resurrection Sunday is the culmination of what it means to embody the life and person of Christ. It points to the truth that all Christians are called to proclaim – that death does not have the last word; that, as the old adage goes, we are more sure to rise from our graves than we are to rise from our slumber.
John’s account of Jesus’s appearance on the shores of Galilee teaches us what this resurrection life is going to look like; a community of failures, or unfaithful disciples, of followers, or workers, coming together to eat with their master. It is to become the great reality of our lives. Not a purely spiritualized account of what resurrection will one day be about. We are resurrection people because we have been raised with Christ. If we’ve been raised with Christ, we are to proclaim that resurrection in the here and now by breaking bread and sharing communion.
As Jean Vanier might conclude, the resurrection life is to welcome all people because that is to see Christ in all people. We no longer seek a sign as to what our resurrection life is to look like. We have looked upon it in the person of Christ, the fullness of God and the fullness of humanity. Whether we dive out of the boat like Peter, or meander our way to the shore in the ship, we all make our way to Jesus. We break bread. We listen to the words of our Lord. We go and do likewise. We go and live the resurrection in this concrete and tangible way.
Phil resides in sunny Southern California, having moved from Dublin to pursue a Masters of Divinity at Fuller Theological Seminary. Phil is passionate about the local church, and wants to encourage and develop deep, theological foundations for the conversations and life in the church. When not writing another paper for class, he can be found expanding his whiskey and coffee palette, composing prayer poems, travelling around a small percentage of the U.S., or engaging in another deep life conversation over a pint or two.