Image: ‘Fresco of the miraculous catch of fish, and Peter swimming to shore’, in the Greek Orthodox Church in Capernaum, Galilee.

‘The story reverberates’

Andrew Collis
Easter 3, Year C
John 21:1-19

John the evangelist is at his most “human” when describing the risen life of Christ.

I cherish this gospel, which offers good news for awkward and confused disciples, good news for impetuous and penitent disciples, good news for the hard-working and hungry, for any who dare go deep into mystery, for all in need of protection, nurture and community. 

We hear the story this morning, while not far from here, at the top of a sand dune, spotters look out across Yarra Bay and detect ripples in the water moving against the direction of the wind. The mullet run is on! Traditional fishing practice involves teamwork – spotters, fishers, stick-collectors, fire-tenders and cooks, helpers to haul in the net.

The story reverberates … many families in the area can trace their lineage to before the arrival of French explorer Lapèrouse …

“Without any reference to Jesus, [seven] disciples have gone out on the lake by themselves in the darkness” (Brendan Byrne SJ). Despondent, perhaps afraid or ashamed, they work all night and catch nothing. 

At dawn, Christ (the Light) appears, suggesting they cast their net to starboard. Perhaps, from his vantage point, he discerns the deeper water there.

By faith, the Beloved Disciple recognises Jesus – begins to understand – with Christ there is abundance. The “other side” – perhaps it means concern for others, work for others?

If we have faith, we too will see him.

Peter tucks his garment in at the waist, dives into the water and swims ashore – action, devotion, penance, reconnection – then hauls the catch up onto the beach.

The net, unbroken, is full of fish – Augustine notes that 153 represents the sum of the numbers one to 17, which itself is the sum of the numbers seven and 10, both of which indicate perfection and completeness. Rich diversity, cross-cultural community. As it happens, we have seven leaders to recommission today – and a total of 10 elders on our new church council! 

Jesus invites his disciples to share – to add some of their catch to the fish he has roasted for them. He wants their involvement, their cooperation.

“He was doing it as an example, feeding them, because that’s the way they must share the work so that everybody can eat” (Julio, Gospel in Solentiname). “He becomes known to them through that communion of humble but necessary things.”

If we have faith, we too will join him.

The breakfast signals new life for Peter, who, by a charcoal fire days earlier, denied three times even knowing Jesus. He now draws back from any claim to love “more”; on that score he has learnt his lesson. 

“He does not say he loves Jesus more than the others … he declines … to pass a judgement on the others, and only affirms that he does love Jesus” (Rudolf Bultmann).

The risen Christ, as co-worker (spotter, fisher, cook and good shepherd), recommissions Peter in his leading pastoral role. “Follow me” is a call to renewed discipleship, further practice in wisdom, founded on mature love.

How apt today that we recommission elders and office bearers for leading pastoral roles. Apt, indeed, on International Workers’ Day, a celebration of the labour union movement, the eight-hour day movement … The promise of work as meaningful contribution to life in community. Work – as Karl Marx imagined – in terms of doing what we love, alongside those we love. 

The story reverberates … we contribute what we have (in gratitude for what is given), we gather by the fire, for communion … we join with Jesus and Peter – with fellow spotters and fishers, net makers and menders, cooks and good shepherds – that our liturgies and meetings, working and formation groups might embody love. May it be so. Amen.