Reading the last chapters of the Gospel According to St John we find that morning scene when the disciples return to shore empty-handed after working the whole night. A mysterious figure calls them from the beach, asking them first about the night’s catch and then instructing them to cast the nets to starboard. The response of the disciples is almost as strange as the stranger’s instructions. It is good to read this part of the Gospel of John keeping in mind the scene. The boat is still some distance from shore, the tide is high, the sun is rising behind the mysterious man on the beach, etc. Try to think of this passage as a model of the last great evangelization of the world, taking place right before the end of times when Jesus comes to complete the harvest. The dark age after Calvary ends and a new day is dawning.
Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. (John 21:4-14)
We have talked before about the meaning of the number of fish, 153. It is quite a peculiar number because in Hebrew that is the number of the Passover HaPesach that is composed by the letters chet samekh peh heh, doubling as numbers:
8 + 80 + 60 + 5 = 153
153 is also equal to the sum of the cubes of its components:
and it is also the sum of all the numbers from 1 to 17:
then 17 in Hebrew means tov that is “good” or “goodness,” contrary to the Italian superstition that considers that number la disgrazia (misfortune) and a very unlucky number because it is associated even from Roman times with death and the completion of life. Even that superstition carries a grain of truth in it because the end of life must come before the resurrection. Curiously enough Our Lord was resurrected on the eve of Nisan 17.
The scene on the beach of lake Genesareth may be God’s way to represent the end of the age of the Gospel when the final harvest of souls comes and God starts to prepare the world for the removal of sin. The old world must be extinguished like the night so the sun of the new world can rise. That is why the scene happens at sunrise. We can almost picture Christ standing on the beach with the sun majestically rising behind Him, quite a symbol for the senses of the disciples who come from a night of hard work.
If it is true that we do not know the day and the hour of Jesus’ arrival to this troubled world, it is also true that He comes unannounced “like a thief” to inspect what the disciples have been doing. Such inspections of our souls can be discerned since they happen all the time. The stranger appears from nowhere and asks them if they have any fish. Of course they don’t have any, they have been laboring in vain all night! But now the Master is back from the darkness of death. With His help, the disciples can finally achieve something. John surely must have remembered His words:
“The one who remains in Me and I in him produces much fruit, because you can do nothing without Me.”
That is the moment when the stranger asks them to cast the net while assuring them a good catch:
“So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’”
Yes, when we obey that voice and something good is actually achieved … that is a good sign that the Lord is with us. John, the beloved disciple recognizes Jesus first.
Peter hears that, he puts on some clothes “for he was naked” and then jumps off the boat to swim ashore. Something has happened to Peter. He knows he is at fault since he abandoned the Lord and denied Him three times. Peter remembers that very well. He doesn’t do like Adam who heard the voice of God in the garden and, moved by guilt, hid from God’s presence. Peter is sure of his Master’s mercy because he experienced it when he caught Jesus’ glance right after the third denial. That was not a condemning look but a silent sign of forgiveness showing him how far he was from the perfection of love. That night Peter run away into the darkness outside but now he hurries up on to the light. He swims to encounter that forgiveness standing at a short distance, Peter won’t delay. When I see that, I often think of the Pope of the last days and I wonder if that last Holy Father will rush to meet Jesus dressed in the clothing of martyrdom. All the elements are there: Peter leaves the boat behind, he dives into the sea (often used in Scripture to symbolize the abode of God’s enemies) and finally emerges from the water to meet his Lord.
Now the men have to drag the net filled with the abundant catch. Did Peter remember when he was Simon the son of Jonah, the fisherman, and Jesus approached him as he and his brother were fixing his nets by the sea? Did he ever noticed that his father’s name evokes that far resurrection of another prophet who was also three days in the depths of darkness? We do notice those connections. The Church trusted to the care of Simon bar Jonah is also a daughter of the Resurrection. Just like the prophet Jonah had to face a great count of souls saved from certain destruction in Nineveh (Jonah 3:1-10,) may be the Church of Peter will finally have a great catch after working hard during a centuries long night. Is this a prophetic figure? I for one hope so. Remember Zechariah 13:8-9 …
“It will come about in all the land,” declares the Lord, “That two parts in it will be cut off and perish; but the third will be left in it. And I will bring the third part through the fire, refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people,’ and they will say, ‘the Lord is my God.’”
It is remarkable that the Hebrew word HaPesach (the Passover, another form of resurrection) is represented by the characters of the number 153, isn’t it?
Jesus waits for them with bread and fish for breakfast. If the feeding of the five-thousand was a figure of the Eucharist then this scene also points in the same direction, perhaps in a more intimate way. The bread could represent Christ’s Passion, and the fish the passion of the Church in the last days. With that gesture the Lord seems to say “My flesh, and your flesh” together as a figure of a first Eucharist on the other side, after the last passage of the Church through the trials of this dying world, arriving on the shore to meet Jesus at the gates of a new morning.
This is post #100!