Jesus showed himself again to the disciples. It was by the Sea of Tiberias, and it happened like this: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee and two more of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said, ‘I’m going fishing.’ They replied, ‘We’ll come with you.’ They went out and got into the boat but caught nothing that night.
It was light by now and there stood Jesus on the shore, though the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus. Jesus called out, ‘Have you caught anything, friends?’ And when they answered, ‘No’, he said, ‘Throw the net out to starboard and you’ll find something.’ So they dropped the net, and there were so many fish that they could not haul it in. The disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord.’ At these words ‘It is the Lord’, Simon Peter, who had practically nothing on, wrapped his cloak round him and jumped into the water. The other disciples came on in the boat, towing the net and the fish; they were only about a hundred yards from land.
As soon as they came ashore they saw that there was some bread there, and a charcoal fire with fish cooking on it. Jesus said, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’ Simon Peter went aboard and dragged the net to the shore, full of big fish, one hundred and fifty-three of them; and in spite of there being so many the net was not broken. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples was bold enough to ask, ‘Who are you?’; they knew quite well it was the Lord. Jesus then stepped forward, took the bread and gave it to them, and the same with the fish. This was the third time that Jesus showed himself to the disciples after rising from the dead.
After the meal Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?’ He answered, ‘Yes Lord, you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He replied, ‘Yes, Lord, you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Look after my sheep.’ Then he said to him a third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was upset that he asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and said, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.
‘I tell you most solemnly,
when you were young
you put on your own belt
and walked where you liked;
but when you grow old
you will stretch out your hands,
and somebody else will put a belt round you
and take you where you would rather not go.’
In these words he indicated the kind of death by which Peter would give glory to God. After this he said, ‘Follow me.’
Given the Judaic practice of using mystical numbers to underpin story I have spent time in other years trying to work out what was so meaningful about one hundred and fifty three fish. This year I think I may have it - there is nothing meaningful about them - the meaningful part is the need to count them.
I don't know why but I had always assumed that Peter jumped into the water to get to Jesus first but this is not suggested at all. In fact Simon Peter is acting very much as I do when I am experiencing a feeling that he may well be feeling.
In John there are ways of 'seeing' from the superficial to the deep insights; grace-filled or transitory. The beloved disciple, being innocent and loyal sees ' knows' the Lord even at this distance. Simon Peter, feels Jesus' eyes on him and feels ashamed; he knows he is forever guilty of denying Jesus at the trial; he is not reconciled to what he has done.
This big, strong man was Jesus' best friend yet look at what he did, couldn't save him; wasn't even at the foot of the cross. What must Jesus think of him? So, like Adam in the garden, he grabs his clothes and hides away; going into the water; into his element, so as not to deal with the excitement of the others; knowing that his joy is tempered by another emotion - shame.
When the rest of the disciples finally come ashore, Simon Peter goes back onto his boat; the one place where he is still in charge, lets the other disciples disembark and takes over all responsibility for the catch -this is what he is good at; this where he can prove himself.
Eventually, however, he must come onto dry land nearer and nearer to his friend and Lord, but there is still an opportunity to procrastinate - 'let's count the fish'. Like tidying the cutlery drawer, putting all the books on the bookshelves into alphabetical order or sorting out the recycling - anything; anything other than look his friend in the eye and deal with what has gone before; however long it takes to count to one hundred and fifty three.
And at the end how foolish he must have felt? As doubtful as Thomas he needed to hear the words, to see the look in Jesus' eye.
What was it that he had been avoiding? A warm and ready welcome; generous hospitality; an invitation to be fed. A friendship to be re-named. No accusation; no exclusion; no judgment - but too hard to believe?
He who takes away the sins of the world begins as he means to go on - it is us who find it hard to believe.