After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin) Nathanael of Cana in Galileee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them,”I am going fishing”. They said to him, “we will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on 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 of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat,dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out 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, 153 of them. And Although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them,”Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
John 21: 1 – 14 (ESV)
Fishing on the rocks along the enormous West Coast of Australia is awe-inspiring. The rocks are huge boulders, craggy coral, piled one on top of another like the skulls of giants. The sea – the mighty Indian Ocean – has been unobstructed for miles and miles, so the wind that races across it to billow in your face is strong…it can drive you physically backwards if it so chooses. But on the dead calm nights after a sweltering summer day you can trace the slightest ripple, and you can feel the slightest nibble of a fish. There is an extraordinary connection between you and the fish in this moment: it is a moment of life or death. At the other end of this thin piece of filament is a living creature that may be yanked out of the black sea, at an unknown depth, and yet the clarity of the tug is the clarity of sight – you can almost picture the angle at which the fish is nibbling. A swift jerk to the left or right snags the fish, and suddenly the line is all a-flurry.
The fish is a flashing thing when it skims the surface, and the moment of high anxiety occurs now, because you’ve seen it, and it is still not yours. In the air it is a flapping, furious thing, and suddenly it is on land, and subdued. It is a strange thing, but if you gently hold a fish’s belly just where it joins the head, cupping it with your palm, it doesn’t struggle, but instead lies quietly, as though convinced it is still in water. But the moment you tilt it, it thrashes violently, and its gills can cut you, its fins spike you. This is the mysterious sixth sense that fish have at work – the ability to tell whether or not it is upright.
The fish I caught made little noises out of the water – a little orh-orh-orh sound of the Trumpeter when I pursed its lips open to get the hook out, a sort of pulse from the garfish when I unhooked its beak. I would listen to these, and jiggle at the hook furiously, hoping to catch the right angle and relieve the fish as quickly as possible of its sting. It is the most unglamorous thing, fishing – you go out in a great windbreakers, in funny sandals, a miner’s head light stuck on your head, your fingers covered in slime from the bait, stinking of crumbs from the berley. Fish guts smell, well, fishy, and clambering awkwardly over sharp rocks is never good for the knees. But at the end of the night, you reek of triumph. It is a kind of knowledge, too, knowing intimately which gaps in the rocks are good for days with bad wind, which sinker to use for a day with mild wind, which angle to hold the rod at when angling for which fish. I think the unglamorous aspect is the reason why fishing is marked out as a man’s activity. Which is a pity – I wish more women were more willing to let go of daintiness for an evening and plunge their arms into this bracing sport.
There is nothing more calming than the relationship between fishing buddy and fishing buddy. You could spend every night of the week together, 3 hours a night, and not know a thing about his job, his wife, his kids, his hopes, his dreams, his fears, but know everything about his catch, his gear, his skill, his technique. You do not talk while fishing, except to report your catch. This, too, is friendship. So it is with a kind of knowing grin that I read that John, Peter and co. caught 153 large fish. Yes! This is the kind of detail that is absolutely pertinent! But I also love the way that Jesus casually orchestrates this miracle so they can have a little breakfast. There is nothing more disheartening than spending an entire night out and catching nothing. Ask any fisherman. Especially when Peter and Co had done it as a lame attempt at self-therapy – this is just a little over a week after the Crucifixion, and for these men, this fishing trip was a form of resignation, not recreation: they had given up fishing for 3 years in order to follow Jesus, now they were going back to fishing. The whole Messiah thing was over, a sad joke. What have I been doing these three years of my life? Chasing some stupid ideal, some silly moonshine… I should have known! He, like everyone else I have ever believed in, was just a man…
But Jesus appears, and Peter, impulsive, impulsive man, throws on a robe and dives in so he can be with his fishing buddy for just 3 minutes more than all the other disciples, who are probably rolling their eyes (“Peter!”) as they haul the net without his help. As a bit of a Peter myself, I know what it’s like to absolutely have to see this man right now – not ten minutes from now, not five minutes from now, but now – even if it means leaving your friends with 153 large fish to haul up without your help. And yet, extraordinary thing! They are all terrified to ask Jesus who he is – even jump-into-the-sea Peter. This is a ghost – a solid ghost who sits with them. Fortunately, there is so much grace in the relationship between fishing buddies that this is unnecessary – all that is necessary is that they eat, and be fed. That they eat together, that they fish together. No need to have a heart to heart (“So…. what was death like? And hell, is it all it was cracked up to be?”) – what is needed is a hearty meal, to just enjoy one another’s company, that solid, solid comfort.