Jesus showed himself again to his 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 that 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 around 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.’
On the third Sunday of Easter we hear the account of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples at the shore of Lake Tiberias, or Sea of Galilee as it was popularly referred. Like other post-resurrection accounts the disciples again initially fail to recognise the Risen Lord. It is just after daybreak that the disciples, tired and despondent, encounter Jesus, who implores them to cast their nets to the starboard side. Jesus’ advice netted an immediate reward, a haul so big that it almost splits the fishing nets.
Jesus had promised “I will reveal myself to the one who loves me” (John 14.21) and it is the beloved disciple John who immediately proclaims ‘It is the Lord’.’ With this Peter jumps from the boat to hasten his way to Jesus.
John highlights Peter’s role as the leader of the disciples. It is Peter who hauls the net to the shore in tact. The miraculous haul of 153 fish symbolises the multitude of people whom the risen Lord will draw to himself through the mission of the disciples. The disciples – just like us – can only carry out the mission given by Jesus to the extent that they are united with him and deeply committed to him. Without him, we can fish all night and catch nothing! (John 21.3)
The risen Lord immediately invites the group to share breakfast with him – in a manner similar to his Passover meal with the disciples. This image applies to our own relationship with the Risen Lord as Jesus wishes to be with us even in the most ordinary situations of life.
Jesus, the good shepherd, has lain down his life for his sheep (John 10.11-15). As the risen Lord, he now calls Peter to be shepherd of the flock.
‘Do you love me?’ Jesus asks three times to which Peter responds ‘Yes, Lord, you know I love you.’ Peter not only seeks not to assert his love for Jesus but he seeks atonement for his previous denial of him. Having experienced the healing forgiveness of the risen Lord, Peter will submit himself completely to the Lord, even to go ‘where you do not wish to go’ (John 21.18). Peter can be shepherd to the flock only to the extent he is united with Jesus and deeply committed to him.
The later First Letter of St Peter will exhort elders of the early Christian Church:
As an elder myself and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as one who shares in the glory to be revealed, I exhort the elders among you to tend the flock of God that is entrusted to you, watch over it, not simply as a duty but gladly, as God would have you do it – not for sordid gain but because you are eager to do it. (1 Peter 5.1-4)
We too are like the disciples who encountered the Risen Lord by the shore of Lake Tiberias. Seeing and recognising the Lord requires more than simple physical sight. Rather it comes only through truly knowing and embracing the Lord and proudly saying to him ‘Yes, Lord, you know I love you.