Today’s Gospel is taken from John 21:1-19. In a nutshell, Peter and six other apostles go fishing sometime after the resurrection. The risen Jesus appears to them on the shore and enables them to haul in a miraculous amount of fish. We’ve heard this story many times, but few people understand all the layers of meaning embedded in this passage. John’s Gospel is extremely rich in symbolism and this passage is no exception.
“Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5)
In this story, the sea of Tiberius represents the world. The boat and the apostles represent the Church. The apostles’ fishing expedition represents the work of evangelization. We read that the apostles went fishing but caught nothing all night. But after Jesus tells them to cast the net to the right side of the boat, they caught so many fish that they were not able to haul in the net.
This passage illustrates that by ourselves we are powerless in any work of God, but with Christ supporting us, we have the power to accomplish impossible things (Mark 10:27). Keep this in mind every time you engage in some form of ministry. Never neglect to start your work with a brief prayer, because all the power comes from God.
Jesus cooks breakfast
As the story continues, we read that the apostles eventually make it to shore. “When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.” Have you ever paused to think about this? God Almighty built a fire and cooked some breakfast for his disciples! Even after his resurrection, as he moves about in his glorified body, Jesus doesn’t hesitate to roll up his sleeves and serve. May this serve as an example when we feel apathetic and lazy.
But in his typical fashion, Jesus is eager for us to participate in his work. That’s why he told the apostles: “Brings some of the fish that you have just caught.” This breakfast will be a joint effort between Jesus and his apostles, a pattern that will continue throughout the evangelization of the world until the end of time. In truth, God doesn’t need our help for anything. But in his generosity, he wants to associate us with his work so that we can genuinely earn merit by collaborating with his promptings (see the Catechism #2007-2008). That’s an awesome gift and an awesome responsibility.
One of the more peculiar aspects of this passage is that John makes a point of specifying that the apostles caught 153 fish. What seems like a useless piece of information is in fact deep in symbolic meaning. Aristotle had taught that there existed 153 species of fish, according to the zoology of his time. John’s Gospel is therefore saying that the apostles caught every type of fish. This symbolizes that the Church will be universal and that the work of evangelization will gather people from all nations. Nevertheless, there will be plenty of room for all people within the Church, without “tearing the net.”
In these days when the Church’s sins are being exposed, may we never lose our sense of awe for this great and divine institution. Don’t feel ashamed to be Catholic. Hold your heads up high and keep fishing.