A Fish Breakfast by the Galilee
The 21st chapter of the Gospel of John provides a peculiar ending to the story of Jesus. Even as a resurrection appearance story it is unusual. While Matthew and Luke’s gospels tell of the ascension, John simply ends the story with Jesus having breakfast by the lake in the middle of a conversation. He asks a question in the middle of that conversation and then we have no idea how the conversation ends.
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 lake. 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 and 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.’
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’ So the rumour spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’
This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
It is impossible to know how this ending to the gospel of John evolved and when it was added. Like so much of the gospels we wonder if it emerged from an oral tradition. In this third and final appearance story in the gospel of John, 1) the disciples go fishing, 2) Jesus cooks breakfast on the shore and tells them to cast their nets on the other side, 3) the nets are filled to bursting, 4) the disciples come ashore and have breakfast and do not express surprise at seeing Jesus, 5) Jesus asks Peter three times do you love me, Peter answers yes each time and Jesus commands him to “Feed my sheep” each time, 6) Jesus implies Peter’s mortal fate and so Peter inquires about the beloved disciple John and Jesus implies that John’s mortality is not Peter’s concern but rather Jesus’. And that, oddly, is how the gospel ends.
Making this chapter even more curious is the way the previous chapter, John 20, ends:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.
That sure sounds like a conclusion to the gospel of John, sometimes called the “signs gospel.”
Whether we view this chapter as an authentic appearance story as told by the author of the Gospel of John or a scribe’s addition, the final chapter of John is filled with useful meaning and metaphor.
Peter’s decision to go fishing reminds us of Jesus call to Peter and the other fishermen to become “fishers of people.” The call to evangelism is contained in this metaphor. But in our present story, Peter and the disciples are catching no fish. Peter is exposed and naked. Jesus advises them to cast their nets on the other side. Given the undoubtedly late time of this writing, we can easily understand this to be a metaphor for evangelism among the gentiles. The story then shifts from fishing to breakfast conversation. Again the author employs metaphors for evangelism. The message is clear: disciples who love the Lord are called to minister to the community (feed my sheep). But Peter is forewarned that his obedience to the call to evangelism will come with a price: he will be pulled by the belt where he doesn’t want to go. This chapter again reminds us of Peter’s denial of Jesus and reluctance but also foretells his ultimate obedience and martyrdom. Will all disciples engaged in the call to evangelism share Peter’s fate? Not necessarily, this story tells us. That is Jesus’ concern, not ours.
And so concludes this most curious breakfast. What we are left with is a strong call to evangelism and a reminder that we journey in the mystery of God.
Spiritual Practices for Today
St. Ignatius of Loyola also encouraged a type of prayer called the Prayer of Examen. In the Prayer of Examen we contemplate the day’s events, discern God’s presence in the events of the day with gratitude, allow yourself to be led into prayer about a particular aspect of your day (any type of prayer), consider tomorrow and ask for God’s presence and light, seek God’s guidance and pray for understanding, help and hope.
Consider this prayer:
Pray: God of Resurrection, thank you for this day and every day. I am filled with gratitude and hope. Guide me in your ways and help me to be a faithful disciple. I pray in Jesus name, Amen.
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. – John 20:30
How is this passage speaking to you today?
Download or open the Community of Christ app on your smartphone or visit www.cofchrist.org to read today’s Daily Bread and Prayer for Peace. After reading the Daily Bread, consider these questions:
What resentment do you need to let go of?
What does it mean to truly forgive someone?
Pray the Mission Prayer: God, where will your Spirit lead today? Help me be fully awake and ready to respond. Grant me the courage to risk something new and become a blessing of your love and peace. Amen.
2021 Guiding Question: Are we moving towards Jesus, the peaceful One?