9 April 2010

John 21:1-14

"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 ... 'It is the Lord!'" (v.3, 7)


This is a resurrection story unique to John, though of course the miraculous catch of fish is found in the other Gospels (eg Luke 5:1-11). This story stands alone in the sense that the events recorded in the previous chapter where Jesus appears to the disciples, breathes the Holy Spirit into them and sends them out into the world in his name, appear to be forgotten, or have clearly not worked!

Note where the disciples are. Back at Lake Galilee (here called Tiberias) where Jesus first called them. These fishermen recruited by Jesus to "fish for people" (Mark 1:17) have gone back to catching fish! The signal is clear. This group of disciples have gone back to how it used to be! They are 'undoing' discipleship. They can't make sense of the present so they are retreating into the past.

But things are not the same as before. Tones of spiritual deadness and disobedience ooze out of the narrative. Expert fishermen have caught nothing until they obey the unknown voice of Jesus giving what amounts to pretty daft instructions. The wonder is that they obeyed at all! But they do, and the huge haul of fish serves as a sign of Jesus' identity, the very success of the catch signalling to Peter that he needs to put down his nets again and follow Jesus - again.

At the revelation "It is the Lord" Peter dives in the lake and heads for the shore. That movement towards Jesus is moving. Remember, Peter has denied Jesus and has no right - or possibly expectation - to be well received, but somehow he knows that heading towards Jesus is the right direction. And Jesus doesn't send him away, but around a fire, with fish caught by both of them (as it were) creates the setting whereby Peter's three denials will be wiped out by three declarations of love. And Peter will take up obedient discipleship again.

To Ponder

Is it a bad thing to 'go back to how it used to be' in terms of faith? Why? Or why not?

When you become aware that 'it is the Lord' in your own life, which direction do you travel?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Martyn Atkins

Martyn Atkins is a Methodist minister and currently serves as general secretary/secretary of the Conference. He was president of Conference in 2007-8.