There are two miraculous catches of fish in the Gospels with Peter having a starring role in each of them. In both events, the disciples return from a night of fishing having caught nothing; in the daylight, Jesus asks them to put back out, the resulting catch of fish is overwhelming.
St. Augustine commenting on these miracles, tells us that in the first miracle the overwhelming catch needs the assistance of John and Jame’s boat to bring it in– so great was the weight of the catch the nets were tearing. But in today’s miraculous catch John Gospel makes the point that the net, when Peter drags it ashore, did not break. Augustine says that the first miracle–with the breaking net–is the story of the Church in its history of struggle against sin, evil, and heresies through the centuries; the second miracle–with the unbroken net–is the story of the Church in eternity with no dissension, no evil, no sin and with only peace and joy.
The other lesson from these two miraculous catches comes from Jesus Himself: in both events, the apostles fish at night and are unsuccessful; in both , they go back out, in the day, at Jesus’ request and bring in huge catches of fish. The lesson, in Jesus’ own words, “I am the vine; you are the branches…apart from me you can do nothing .” If we go out the door in the morning without prayer our day is lost, unfruitful, no peace. If we stop. If we pray before leaving the house. If we ask God to bless our day, our plans, protect us from evil, direct our thoughts then the day becomes one of peace, becomes fruitful.
The Biblical scholar, Scott Hahn, tells us there is a curiosity in St John’s Gospel. In today’s account of Jesus’ resurrection appearance, there is a charcoal fire on the beach lit by the Lord Himself; there is only one other place in the Gospel where there is a charcoal fire, and that is in the court-yard of the high priest on the night of Jesus’ arrest where the servants were warming themselves and where Peter three times betrayed Jesus. At the charcoal fire in today’s Gospel, Peter three times repents of his betrayal. It was no accident this little curious detail of charcoal fires–the Lord Himself used this detail to bring Peter to the realization of his repentance.
At the same time as he repents, Peter received his commission as the chief shepherd of the body of Christ–Peter is to be the leader, the guardian of the Faith, the guide leading us to the Lord: “feed my lambs, tend my sheep”. There is a special requirement of love involved in this call of Peter and is successors, the Popes; Jesus says to him, “Peter, do you love me more than these others?” That love, as Jesus prophecies, would extend to martyrdom for the sake of the “name”.
In our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we see that already Peter was beginning to face this persecution. The Apostles rejoice to face dishonour for the sake of the “name”: the religious leaders had had them flogged (whipped) for disobeying them by preaching in the name of Jesus. We ask, “How is it they could rejoice in being so terribly treated? Being whipped as a punishment was not easy thing to endure. The second reading from the book of Revelation gives us the answer: the vision of John is of heaven with Jesus being worshipped by the heavenly host. The Apostles knew that eternal life, through the resurrection of Christ, was theirs at the end of their lives–the gift of the Holy Spirit at their Baptism at Pentecost assured them of this hope.
You and I are unlikely to face this persecution for the sake of the “name”: Jesus, But we will face our deaths all the same. And for man of us, our deaths will be something we see approaching. We ill loose our strength to the point where we no longer are able to care for ourselves, someone else will have to care for us by washing us, feeding us, cleaning us–our independence will have been taken from us. Looking forward to this event can frighten us. Turning to the Lord with this fear brings joy when we realize that the Lord will be with us through it all. This time of our lives is the most precious because we will finally loose our sense of invincibility, we will become vulnerable–our ego finally being defeated and wide open to God’s grace. God, seeing our openness, our helplessness will fill us with all the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit–we will have joy in the very moments of our suffering as we look to the doors of death to open into eternal light.
But what if we do not possess this hope? What if we do not know eternal life is ours for the asking? What if we are dreadfully afraid of this event? What we will do is encourage the Government of Canada to legislate doctor assisted suicide: euthanasia. And when we die by poison given us by a doctor we will call it dying with dignity. This has already happened. I cannot see any dignity in a frightened little ego afraid of suffering, afraid of becoming vulnerable and weak, afraid of allowing someone to love oneself by caring for one in one’s helplessness. This act of suicide is the act of one living fruitlessly in the dark of night, not will to await the dawn’s light, and the visit of the Lord.
This is the third Sunday of Easter and Jesus is promising us joy in the face of death, the death of death through His resurrection. Let us rejoice and be glad.
Gospel of the Third Sunday of Easter: Cycle C
Jesus Appears to Seven Disciples
21 After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tibe’ri-as; and he revealed himself in this way. 2 Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathan’a-el of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zeb’edee, 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 go into the boat; but that night they caught nothing.
4 Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, “Children, have you 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, for the quantity of fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on this clothes, for he was stripped for work, and sprang into the sea. 8 But 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 [a] off.
9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying 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 shore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three 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 Jesus and Peter.
15 When they had finished, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him. “Feed my lambs.” 16 A second time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17 He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. 18 Truly , truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” 19 (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, “Follow me.”