Coming Ashore

This Sunday is the 3rd Sunday of Easter. Our gospel describes the Apostle’s encounter with Jesus at the Sea of Tiberias. As noted yesterday, after a fruitless night of fishing, Jesus sent the disciples back out with the result that they just caught a “boatload” of fish. They had not recognized Jesusm, but now they have to bring the catch ashore. 

7 So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea. 8 The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish. 9 When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.” And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realized it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead.

O’Day [857] points out that this “miraculous catch of fish is the direct catalyst for the beloved disciple’s recognition of Jesus (v. 7a). His announcement of Jesus’ identity is couched in the language of the Easter proclamation: “It is the Lord” (cf. 20:18, 20, 25, 28). The two earlier Galilean miracles provide a clue in identifying what it is about the catch of fish that evokes the beloved disciple’s recognition. In the Cana miracle (2:1–11), the disciples saw Jesus’ glory in the abundance of good wine; the feeding miracle of 6:1–14 also points to the abundance of Jesus’ gifts. In this miracle, too, the beloved disciple recognizes the abundance of fish as deriving from the fullness of Jesus’ gifts (cf. 1:14, 16).” The beloved disciple is again the first to recognize what he sees (cf. 20:8), while Peter responds with his characteristic eagerness, dramatically, jumping in to the sea. A number of translations have Peter “naked” (gymnos) and then “putting on” (diazonnymmi) clothes. Given that the latter word more literally means, “tucks into,” the alternative meaning for gymnos (lightly clad) seems more reasonable. Brown [1072] suggests a more logical picture of Peter being clad only in his fisherman’s smock (ependytes) — without the normal undergarments – hence lightly dressed. Still, if one opts for Peter and nakedness, one can say Peter is caught between a desire to meet Jesus with respect and his eagerness to meet him immediately.

Meanwhile the other disciples haul the amazing catch ashore. The verb “to haul” (helko) is the same verb used in 6:44 to describe those who come to Jesus from God – “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw (helko) him, and I will raise him on the last day.”  It is also used in 12:32 – “And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw (helko) everyone to myself.”  This wording suggests that the disciples now join God and Jesus in drawing people to Jesus. The catch of fish, then, marks the extension of God and Jesus’ work into the disciples’ work. This story thus stands as the narrative fulfillment of Jesus’ promises to his disciples in the Farewell Discourse that they will share in his works (14:12; 15:5, 7–8, 16; cf. 17:18, 20–21).

The charcoal fire (v. 9) serves a double purpose. It sets the scene for Jesus’ servant role as he becomes giver of bread (and fish) to the disciples and also serves as a stage prop for Peter’s profession of love, recalling the previous charcoal fire (18:18), next to which Peter had denied the Lord. Another symbolic possibility at this point is drawn from the fact that the disciples bring the catch (humankind) to the meal (Eucharist) prepared by the risen Lord. O’Day [858] points out that “Verses 9–13 focus on Jesus’ identity as the source of life for the disciples. This identity is highlighted in two interrelated scenes: Jesus’ offer of a meal to his disciples (vv. 9, 12–13) and the attestation of the abundance of the miracle (vv. 10–11).

Following the landing of the fish, Jesus said to them, ‘Come, have breakfast’ – inviting them to the intimacy of a meal. The meal of v. 9 is the same food as that of 6:1–14, “fish” (opsarion) and “bread” (artos). Jesus’ preparation of this meal for his disciples confirms that he is the giver of gifts, the source of life-sustaining nourishment (4:13–14; 6:35, 51; 7:37; 10:9).

The next statement is puzzling: And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realized it was the Lord. It reflects some lingering doubts. Despite these lingering doubts, they did not dare ask, ‘Who are you?’ Intuitively they knew it was the Lord. What Jesus did next would have removed any last traces of doubt: Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. They had seen him do this before for a multitude (6:1–13), just as they had heard him tell them on a previous occasion where to net many fish (Luke 5:4–9). Together these things removed any doubt that it was the Lord they were encountering. Perhaps this is the Johannine “Road to Emmaus” when the disciples fully recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread.

2 thoughts on “Coming Ashore

  1. If the disciples did not immediately recognize him, had Jesus changed? Was he different from before the resurrection? Were they unsure because of that? Only when he performed miracles did they again recognize him. How often do we not recognize him unless something extraordinary occurs?

    • Great questions. To that list I might add, when you don’t expect to see someone, there are times when you don’t see them. I was recently at a HS reunion and did not recognize some classmates (of course many years had passed) but as soon as they spoke I knew who there were. Maybe something similar…. but all great questions.

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