5 April 2013

John 21:1-14

“Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord.” (v. 12)


This story is unique to John's Gospel and, coming after the declaration that Jesus did many other things not recorded and that what has been written is by way of testimony to Jesus' life (20:30-31), it seems something of an addendum.

Here is a gathering of seven Galilee-based disciples, come back home to do the only thing they can - fishing. Simon Peter is named first, so we immediately surmise that he is going be in the lead role. Nathanael was there, a sceptic called and commended by Jesus (cf John 1:45-51); so was Thomas the Twin, the brave but doubting one (cf John 20:24-29); here also are the sons of Zebedee (not named here or anywhere else in John's Gospel), along with two unidentified disciples (cf John 1:37). John the Evangelist appears to be 'rounding off' his Gospel with much the same cast as that with which he began it.

Many other elements in this account resonate with things which had gone before: the miraculous catch of fish, a reminder of another miraculous catch (Luke 5:6); the charcoal fire, reminiscent of another charcoal fire (cf John 18:18); once again, bread was broken (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19) and fish eaten (Luke 24:42-43).

These disciples were back to the geographical place from which they had come, but they were also at a place of new beginning. Recognising their Lord through an act of unquestioning obedience, they are ready to make a fresh start. The 'runaways' had come back; the sceptical, the doubting and the denying were affirmed.

Much has been made of the possible significance of the precise number of the fish caught - 153. Is it symbolic or did the writer actually have it on good authority that this was the tally of the catch - had he perhaps counted them himself? This seems as likely as some of the theories! Perhaps the real significance lies in the fact that the net was not torn - the Christian community includes all who will come; the love of God encompasses all.

To Ponder

  • When something dreadful happens, how helpful is it to go back to the familiar and known?
  • Reflect on a time when you have been offered a fresh start. How has it been since?

Bible notes author

Gillian Kingston

Gillian Kingston is a local preacher on the North Tipperary Circuit of the Methodist Church in Ireland and a part-time university chaplain. She is interim Vice-President of the World Methodist Council.