The Gospel of John records 3 instances that Jesus appeared to the Disciples. The stories are about personal, individual experiences and group experiences. First, Jesus appears to Mary at the tomb in which Mary has a personal experience with Jesus. Second, Jesus appears to the Disciples; then, again, when Thomas is present. I would count that as 2 & 3, but John counts that as 1 appearance.
Third, Jesus appears to the Disciples on the lakeshore. This appearance has both a group and a personal experience. First, Jesus appears to the group of Disciples; then, Jesus has an individual encounter with Peter. This week, we’ll look at Jesus’ appearance to the Disciples and, next week, we’ll look at Jesus’ conversation with Peter.
The 3rd appearance happened this way. Seven Disciples, Peter, Thomas, Nathanael from Cana, the sons of Zebedee, who we know are James and John, and 2 others were together. Peter said he was going to go fishing and the others decided to go with him. After the extraordinary events of recent days, they need to escape to ordinary life, perhaps return to their day jobs as if nothing had happened. They want to return to the way life was as if they were not changed over the last 3 years of following Jesus and witnessing the miracle of resurrection.
So, the Disciples go fishing, but catch nothing. I’m not sure why they would have gone fishing at night. I remember my dad taking me fishing at dusk or early in the morning, because the fish bite more when the sun isn’t at its hottest. I’m not sure if that’s why they went fishing at night. But, night is significant for our theological interpretation of this text. Night or darkness in the Gospel of John tells us that it is a time of unbelief. We can see that this night was a time of unbelief for the Disciples. They were unable to believe what had really happened so return to ordinary life as if nothing happened.
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore as the Disciples were coming in. The Disciples didn’t recognize Jesus. This tells us that Jesus needed to in some way reveal Himself to those He appeared to in order for Him to be recognized. Jesus reveals Himself in moments of grace. Early in the morning, means light is dawning. Revelations are made in the light and belief or faith follows revelation.
As the Disciples are coming ashore, Jesus calls out to them, “friends, haven’t you caught any fish?” Here’s the ironic part of the story. These professional fisherman never catch anything in any of the Gospels without Jesus’ help. The Disciples call back to the man on the shore. “No, we haven’t caught anything.” The man replies, “Have you tried throwing your nets on the other side of the boat. May you will find fish on that side of the boat.” There was an abundance of fish on the other side of the boat. Their net caught so many fish that they weren’t able to haul the net into the boat.
This abundance is the revelation of Jesus. They recognize Jesus when they recognize the miracle of abundance or grace upon grace. In John chapter 1, the writer tells us that Jesus is full of grace. Verse 16 says “from His fullness, we have all received grace upon grace.” This abundance of fish is the fulfillment of grace upon grace.
The first and last sign of Jesus’ power is grace upon grace. The first sign was the miracle of turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana. There was an abundance of very good wine. Here, in our story today, there is an abundance of large fish. Grace, according to John, tastes like good wine and fish.
The Disciples recognition of Jesus’ presence changes everything. When the beloved Disciple, we don’t know which of the Disciples is the beloved Disciple, but there is a Disciple described as the one whom Jesus loved or the beloved Disciple, the beloved Disciple recognizes that it is Jesus. He calls out to the other Disciples, “It is the Lord!”
Peter is undone by surprise and excitement. Peter had run away from the empty tomb and now He is running toward the Risen Jesus. Peter is so confounded that he gets dressed to jump into the water. Men fished in their undies to avoid getting their clothes wet and dirty, because they had few clothes. Peter puts on his clothes and jumps into the water. The other Disciples came in with the boat towing the net full of large fish.
Jesus had built a fire on the shore to cook fish. He had prepared a meal for them of fish and bread. We call the Passover meal the Last Supper. And, I say the last night Jesus gathered around a table with His friends when we remember the Lord’s Supper. I suppose this meal on the seashore is really the last meal. Again, Jesus is serving His friends. Instead of wine and bread, He offers them fish and bread. In some ways, it is like the Last Supper and, in other ways, it is like the feeding of the 5,000 with fish and bread.
The significance is that this event is the fulfillment of grace upon grace which points to moments of grace in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus wants us to know that life after the resurrection will continue in God’s abundance as it had been in the incarnation of Jesus. The grace available to the Disciples and available to us cannot be contained by a fishing net.
153 is a lot of fish. Some commentators say that 153 is significant because 153 is the number of fish species known at that time in the Sea of Galilee. So, 153 is a complete number, it signifies all possible blessing. Because it cannot be contained in the net, the complete possible blessing is beyond what we can contain. The Disciples are asked to bring some of their catch to Jesus so He may prepare it for breakfast for them. So, they dragged the net ashore and gave some to Jesus. They gave to Him what He had given to them.
Jesus appeared to the Disciples as a group, because He wanted to remind them the great need for community. I have said before that we all have a deep longing to find a place to belong. It’s not a place to fit in which implies that we must change to be like the rest of the group. A place to belong is different because it is a place that accepts us as we are. A community of faith, much like the Disciples’ group, is a place to belong.
The community is important because they are the people who remind us that what we have experienced is real. The Disciples stuck together because they needed each other to be encouraged in faith and to be reminded that the tomb was empty and to be reminded that they had seen the Risen Jesus. I said that night was symbolic of a time of unbelief and that the Disciples that night had tried to do something ordinary. However, I have no doubt that those Disciples talked all night about what they had witnessed.
In their boat, they came to belief again as they reminded one another that everything was true. In our boat, remember our sanctuary is our boat, with the upside down boat ceiling, we encourage one another to believe. We are reminded of the truth of our experience when others share the story of what they have experienced. It is easier to believe when we are surrounded by people who believe. We help one another believe.
This story reminds me of the community of faith created by a little girl named Faith. Faith was a girl who lived in Litchfield. She became very ill after I moved away. I’ve followed her story on Facebook through things my Litchfield friends have posted.
The whole town rallied behind her when she was undergoing treatments. I believe she had cancer, but I’m not sure where or what kind. I don’t think that detail is important. It was not her illness that drew people to support her. It was her faith that drew people to her, the faith of Faith.
There were multiple fundraisers to help her family with medical bills. The Christian Church held a couple prayer vigils for her. People encouraged her to fight with their cards and calls. There was a great community of loved ones who gathered around her to help her fight and who were encouraged by her mighty fight. She gave all she had but it wasn’t enough to fight the battle. Unfortunately, she passed away.
However, the community of faith that Faith created lives on. Recently, people of the community delivered Share the Faith boxes. People who knew and loved Faith gave boxes full of goodies to friends who were thought to need a pick-me up or a token of friendship. Even after Faith’s passing, her community of faith carries on her memory through acts of kindness and love.
Each of us are made in the Divine image and have the opportunity to point others to Christ. Little Faith pointed others to Christ as people hoped and prayed for a miracle and gathered together in faith. Faith’s community reaches beyond the walls of churches and across boundaries of denomination to gather together people of faith. She continues to point people to grace and love, charity and kindness. Within this community of faith, people have a sense of purpose and belonging.
I pray, like Faith’s community, we are a community that fulfills your longing to belong and encourages you to fulfill the purpose God gave you. Amen.