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. 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.
John’s gospel is brought to a close and then there is a prologue—the story is not quite over.
As the seven disciples go fruitlessly fishing, it could be perceived that none of what they had seen meant anything to them. With Jesus not there 24/7, telling them what to do or where to go, they slipped back into their old lives. The sabbatical was enlightening, maybe even a little fun, but now back to the grindstone and the daily life they knew.
But was this ‘going fishing’ really slipping back into old ways? Was it really a resignation from all that they had come to know and believe in the previous three years?
We know the disciples had a common purse and some of its contents, like church bank accounts, would have come from wealthy benefactors and donations. Yet they would have had to earn some of its contents too. There is a lot to be said for trusting that there will be enough in the purse to ensure the community is fed, but at no point did Jesus plant a money tree! Going fishing, therefore, was possibly just those disciples who were fishermen going out to make a few pounds to ensure the physical needs of the community were met. There are necessities in life and they must be paid for. Whether a community with a building or without, there are bills to pay and the money needs to be raised to pay them.
Yet, what of the elusive catch—of their nets remaining empty until Jesus turns up? Does that not suggest that we should only put our trust in God?
The disciples had to re-lower the nets; the fish did not jump into the boat by themselves. Jesus’ presence, however, reminded them what their catch was to sustain—a community that would enable others to know and believe.
Sustaining God, you know our needs and you provide: you show us where to cast our nets; you give us vision and perspective.
Help us not to seek more than we need, or look for what is not necessary.
Remind us of our mission: to faithfully follow and enable others to come to know and believe in Jesus Christ, Saviour and Lord. Amen
The Rev’d Dr Elaine Colechin, Minister, Bromley United Reformed Church and St Mark’s United Church, Greenwich