Friday of Easter III – John 21:1-19

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 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 as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on 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 of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15 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.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved 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. 18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, “Follow me.”

Have you noticed that John sometimes includes strange little details in his stories? He is the one who tells us that Peter was warming himself by a charcoal fire or that he had to be let into the courtyard when he denied Christ. John also tells us that it was a little boy who gave up his lunch for the feeding of the five thousand. In this passage we read the oddly exact number of fish that they caught: 153. I am imagining that poor Thomas or maybe Nathanael was tasked with arriving at that sum. Maybe it was John since he remembers it over 50 years later to write this down.

The number 153 has been the cause of tremendous speculation by Christians. Is there a hidden meaning in that number? Did you know that 153 is the 17th triangular number? Triangular numbers are the sequence of numbers you get if you keep adding the next natural number (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.) to sum in the sequence. This is easier if you can see it:  1 + 2 = 3, add 3 to 3 and you get 6. Add 4 to 6 and you get 10, add 5 to 10 and you get 15, etc. Each time you add the next natural number to the sum. The triangular numbers are 3, 6, 10, 15, 21, etc. When you finally add 17 to this sequence, you will reach 153. Is that important? I have no idea.

But what is important is the other two little strange facts in this account. Peter jumping into the lake and swimming to Jesus and then Jesus’ three questions to Peter. Peter has seen the resurrected Jesus before this, but always in the company of his fellow disciples. I think that Peter leaps out of the boat to get a few minutes alone with Jesus. He wants to say he is sorry about his failure in the courtyard when he denied Christ on the night of his trial. We don’t know all the details of that conversation, but when the rest of the disciples come ashore and they have eaten, Jesus asks Peter’ three times if Peter loves Him. One for each instance of the denial. Three times Peter had said publicly that he did know Jesus. Now, three times, he publicly says he loves Jesus. After each one, Jesus restores Peter to his office, “Feed my sheep.” At the end, Jesus speaks again the words that he has spoken to Peter at the beginning of the Gospels, “follow me.” Peter has been restored.

Jesus has risen from the dead. He rose to forgive you too.

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