Fish for breakfast

5 May 2019
Third Sunday of Easter
Easter 3C (RCL)

Acts 9:1-20
Psalm 30
Revelation 5:11-14
John 21:1-19

The Gospel reading this week feels like an appendix to John’s Gospel. The reading last week ended with a statement about all the things Jesus did not written in the book, and that these are written so that we may come to believe, and believing may have eternal life. A good place to end the book. And then we get this, oh, yeah, by the way story.

Peter announces that he is going fishing. Given the similarity of this story to the story in Luke 5, one wonders whether that means Peter is going back to his old trade, or if he means ‘fishing for people.’ In any event, the attempt is unsuccessful. After fishing all night, a stranger appears on the shore (they don’t recognize this person as Jesus), and tells them to try something else. This attempt is successful beyond expectation.

With the successful catch of fish, the disciple whom Jesus loves says to Peter, “It is the Lord.” He does not say, “It is Jesus,” but uses a title of Jesus’ relationship to the community. Many of the resurrection stories use the motif of failure of recognition. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke’s Gospel don’t recognize Jesus until he breaks the bread. Perhaps the early Christian community recognized the risen Jesus in the stranger who helped them understand things in a new way. The revelation might come from anywhere.

Some puzzling elements of this story: When the disciples catch fish, the catch ichtus. The fish Jesus has on the fire are opsarion. Opsarion is a word for preserved fish. It is also the word used in John Chapter 6, at the feeding of the 5000 (only John uses the word — all other accounts use icthus). Is this a resurrection eucharist?

Also, when Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, the first two time Jesus uses the word agapein the first two times, and Peter answers that he love (philein) him. The third time, Jesus asks, “Do you love (phileis) me?” Peter is grieved that Jesus uses this word the third time. When Jesus gives the command to love one another as he has loved the disciples, and speaks of no greater love than entrusting one’s life to one’s friends, he uses agapein. I wonder if the Johannine community is implicitly criticizing the Petrine community for not rising to the level of intimacy they share.

All this makes me think that this story of the rehabilitation of Peter, and the catch of 153 fish is a story of the grafting of the Johannine community onto the Petrine community. As the Johannine community disintegrated with infighting (see I, II, and III John), they turned to the Petrine community, and all 153 of them were drawn in, and the net was not torn.

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