Lenten Reflections

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John 21:1-14

April 5, 2024
John 21:1-14

1 After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. 3 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.

4 Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” 6 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. 7 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. 8 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.

9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 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. 12 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. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.


The gospels record several different appearances of Jesus to his disciples following his resurrection. After their initial meeting, Jesus told the disciples to leave Jerusalem and return to Galilee where they would see him again. As this chapter opens, Peter and six others are together beside the Sea of Galilee, also known as the Sea of Tiberias. 

Peter announces that he is going fishing and the others decide to join him. This is a little surprising given that Jesus has already been raised from the dead, exhorted the disciples to receive the Holy Spirit, and charged them to carry the gospel to the world. The context of Peter’s suggestion has led some to wonder if this is yet another one of Peter’s dumb ideas. Is he turning his back on his call to be an apostle and returning to his old profession as a fisherman? Is he dragging others down with him? On the other hand, Peter is doing what he was told to do. He is back in Galilee awaiting further instructions. In the meantime, he has to make some money and put food on the table, so he goes back to what he knows.

Either way, Peter’s plan backfires. Remember, these are skilled fishermen. They knew what they were doing. They knew this lake. They knew all the best spots. But as in Luke 5, so here again, some of the very same disciples toil all night but catch nothing. That seems to be the point. The emphasis is on nothing! Apparently, the disciples are still learning that apart from Jesus they can do nothing.

One might think that Jesus would choose to make himself known to his disciples when they were succeeding at some important task. But Jesus reveals his presence not at a prayer meeting or a soup kitchen, but a failed fishing trip. What can we learn from this? Jesus not only meets us during our spiritual high moments, but also in rather ordinary times and places. Jesus makes himself known even in, or perhaps especially in, moments of disappointment and dejection.

As day is breaking, a mysterious stranger from the shore encourages the disciples to try the right side of the boat. They do not recognize him which is not surprising given that it was half dark and they are a hundred yards from shore. But once they start hauling in the fish, the beloved disciple, presumably John, puts it all together. “It’s the Lord!” Peter is stripped for work but puts on his outer cloak and impulsively dives into the water and swims to the shore. It is here over breakfast that Jesus deliberately chooses to address Peter. Jesus does not confront Peter in Jerusalem, the scene of his failure, but in Galilee, where Peter would have had fonder memories of when Jesus had first enlisted him.

Jesus seems to silently signal through this encounter that he is not cutting Peter off but graciously recommissioning him. That speaks volumes about how thoughtful and gracious Jesus will be with all of us. We likely have all denied Jesus in some way, by our words, our actions, or our silence. We too may be guilty of a secret sin that no one else knows. 

How might we need to retrace our steps and go back to where we first went off track?