Today’s gospel is taken from John 21 describing the third appearance of Jesus to his disciples after the resurrection, this time at the Sea of Tiberias at Galilee. The chapter is divided in two parts: the miraculous catch of fish (John 21: 1-14), and the dialogue between Jesus and Peter (John 21:15-19).
The Miraculous Catch of Fish
Day has dawned and Jesus stands on the shore watching seven of his disciples pull their boat toward shore. Jesus asks them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” The disciples who do not recognize Jesus respond that they have caught nothing, to which Jesus says, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something."
The surface of the sea heats up quickly after sunrise, and the fish tend to swim toward deeper water until nightfall, so it would be odd for the disciples to continue to fish after dawn. Yet they respond to the stranger on the shore by casting their nets as suggested. Moments later their net was so full they “were not able to pull it in.” It was then that “the disciple whom Jesus loved” recognized this stranger saying, “It is the Lord.” Impetuous Peter responds by jumping into the sea and swimming to shore.
The disciples dragged the net filled with one hundred fifty-three large fish about a hundred yards to shore, and “even though there were so many, the net was not torn.” Many have wondered about the mystical meaning of this episode and why St. John specifies exactly how many fish were caught.
St. Jerome wrote that [at the time it was thought] that there were only 153 species of fish in all the world. Hence the disciple’s catch of 153 fish signified that men of every class and time would be saved through the Gospel, that the disciple’s catch would be universal. The Fathers and Doctors of the Church wrote that the boat signifies the Church, whose unity is symbolized by the net which does not tear, the sea is the world and the great catch of fish signifies the number of the elect, that salvation is open to all and will encompass people from every nation, place, class, and time period.
The first part of this gospel ends with Jesus calling the disciples to “come, have breakfast,” to break the fast. Jesus then “took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish.” Similar to the words Jesus used at the Last Supper, this meal may have had Eucharistic significance for the early Christians.
The Dialogue between Jesus and Peter
After breakfast cooked over a charcoal fire, Jesus, in his mercy, will give Peter a threefold chance to undo his threefold denial that took place before the crucifixion while Peter was warming himself around a charcoal fire. (John 18:17-18, 25-27)
The Greek language has three words for love: agape, phileo, and eros. In the second portion of today’s gospel, two of the Greek words for love are used, agape which expresses the self sacrificial, highest and purest kind of love, and phileo which is more of a brotherly love. Such as the name of the city of Philadelphia, which means “the city of brotherly love.”
Our gospel continues, “When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love [agape] me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love [phileo] you.” He said to him, “Feed [teach] my lambs.” He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love [agape ] me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love [phileo] you. “He said to him, “Tend [govern] my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John do you love [ phileo] me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love [phileo] me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love [phileo]you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
In this conversation Peter is commanded to shepherd God’s sheep by feeding and tending God's flock. Feed means to teach and tend means to govern. Jesus the Good Shepherd appoints Peter the universal shepherd of his whole flock to teach and to govern.…When Jesus commands Peter to govern his sheep, he implicitly commands the sheep [us, or those who recognize and respond] to submit to and obey the universal shepherd.
Recognize and Respond
Lord, help me to recognize your love for me today
so that I can respond in a way that shows my love for you.
Peter Cast Your Net - Duccio
Peter Cast Your Net - Raphael
Peter Crucified - Carvaccio