The Sea of Tiberias was another name for the Sea of Galilee. After Jesus' resurrection, his disciples had returned there from Jerusalem; Peter wanted to keep occupied, so he decided to go fishing. His friends, including other fishermen (James and John), decided to go with him. They caught nothing - echoes of Luke 5:5. As in that incident, Jesus told them to let down the nets again - this time in a specific direction - and again they caught a large haul of fish. Without Jesus they can do nothing; with him all things are possible. The 'beloved disciple' (unnamed in John's gospel, but usually thought to be John himself) recognised who it was, and Peter immediately put on his outer robe (for decency) and jumped into the water to get to Jesus as soon as possible while the others pull the catch ashore. There they find breakfast prepared, to which they add some of the fish they had caught.
John emphasises the size of the catch, and the fact that the nets were not torn. The exact number of fish is given. Lots of people have theories about the significance of the number 153; it is probably best just to take it as showing beyond doubt that the catch was remarkable. (I, who am no fisherman, can remember the size of a Nile Perch I caught on Lake Victoria nearly twenty years ago!) The main point is that despite the size of the catch, the net was not broken; the Church needs to be confident that the kingdom of God always has room for more, and won't be damaged by the addition of this one or that one.
After breakfast Jesus takes Peter for a walk. Much has been made of the play on words in this section: Jesus uses two words for love, two words for feed/care for, two words for sheep, while Peter uses two words for know, and two words for love. Interpreters come to opposite conclusions about the significance of the word play - was Peter expressing a greater or a lesser degree of love than Jesus was asking about? Elsewhere John uses both words interchangeably, and it is probable that he is doing the same here. The main point is that Jesus cancels out Peter's threefold denial (John 18:15-18,25-27) by extracting a threefold affirmation from him - note that Peter refuses to compare himself to the other disciples (unlike in Matthew 26:33) - and by giving him a threefold commission to pastor his flock. Peter is hurt by the three-fold repetition; but in cutting so deeply Jesus is ensuring true healing takes place, while at the same time ensuring that Peter's future ministry will not be compromised by pride. All our service of God needs to be marked by the cross. Peter's end was to be by literal crucifixion; he who had boasted that he would die for Jesus would indeed do so.
ISSUES AND QUESTIONS
1) If the 'net' of the kingdom of God is strong enough to hold huge numbers, why does the church have so many divisions?
2) Are there any types of people who cannot be included within the kingdom?
3) If Jesus asked us the same questions he asked Peter, how would we answer? What would we feel?
IDEAS FOR MEETINGS
Can you remember a conversation with someone which was particularly significant for you?
1) Read through the story, giving time for members to imagine that they are one of the disciples in the boat. But after breakfast, instead of speaking to Peter, ask them to imagine that Jesus speaks to them as individuals. What does he say? How do they respond?
2) Prepare some pieces of paper shaped like fish. Ask the group members to divide the fishes between them, and to write on them the names of individuals or groups of people they would like to see brought into the kingdom of God. Put the fish together, then each member picks a fish at random. Ask them to write a prayer for that person or group on the other side of the paper. If there is time, pray those prayers. At the end of the meeting divide the rest of the fishes among the group, and ask them to pray during the week for the people written on the fishes.