Any Success?

Now dawn already having come, Jesus stood in the shore, nevertheless the disciples had not perceived that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Little ones, have you all any meat?”

They answered him, “Definitely not.”

So he said to them, “Cast the net into the right side of the boat, and you all will find.”

So they cast, and no longer were they strong [enough] to draw it from the multitude of fish.

Jesus to the seven disciples, John 21:4-6

The Lord’s question had gone straight to the heart of the matter: They were hungry and weary, and they were empty-handed. 

When Jesus had first called the disciples, he had used the well-known symbol of fishing as a metaphor for catching people with the truth of the Gospel. Fishing without the Lord, even though these skilled and seasoned fishermen worked hard and did everything right, their nets remained empty. It was an important reminder, bringing them back to their beginning with Jesus. Jesus now showed them that when he is involved, their nets would be full.

Ordinary fishing is subject to the vagaries of life.

But supernatural fishing is subject to the power of Jesus.

It Is the Lord!

So that disciple who was being loved by Jesus said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” So Simon Peter, hearing that it is the Lord, wrapped the outer tunic around him, for he was naked, and threw himself into the lake.

But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from land, but rather it was three hundred feet [away], dragging the net of fish.

John and Peter, John 21:7-8
The Brooklyn Museum, James Tissot, Public Domain

John’s thoughts must have flashed like a deja vu back to the first time a miracle like this had happened, recorded in Luke. He realized only one man had that kind of power, “Hey, Peter, it’s Jesus! he’s here!”  Once again, John was quicker to understand, and Peter was quicker to act.

It seems counterintuitive that Peter would grab for his outer garment before jumping in the water. Did he imagine he would walk on water again? He had spent three years, day and night, with Jesus, so being seen in his undergarment should not have been concerning.

But perhaps he felt somehow exposed, vulnerable, as the first man and first woman had felt, after they had eaten of the forbidden fruit. Perhaps Peter still felt shame, though Jesus had spent time alone with him. Perhaps it was an emotional instinct, to put on something to hide himself in.

Or, more simply, maybe he was close enough to shore, and the shore’s slope so long and gentle, that he could run through the shallows to Jesus.

Feast at My Table

So after they disembarked onto land, they saw a bed of burning coals outstretched and fish resting upon it, and bread.

Jesus said to them, “Bring from the fish that you caught now.”

So Simon Peter got up and drew the net onto the land, full of big fish, a hundred and fifty-three [of them], a great many but the net was not torn.

Jesus to the seven, John 21:9-11

Seventy years later this was still a vivid memory in John’s mind, the size of the fish, how many there were, such a huge haul the nets should have broken, like they had in Luke’s account. None of them had tried to hoist that big haul out of the water, but Peter had gone back to the boat and begun to drag the whole pile in.

In my mind’s eye, I see the others looking at that beautiful coal fire, their mouths instantly watering as the rich warm scent reached them of fresh hot bread, the tangy, salty smell of broiling fish wafting with it. Already, I think, they could taste that fish and feel the tingle in their chilled limbs, anticipating the warmth of those coals.

John’s eyes are glistening. He is a quiet person, but right now he is beaming with pure joy. Their loose ends, their restlessness, their not knowing what to do next is at an end. Jesus is here, and he has just shown them the time of abundance is at hand. Whatever happens next is going to be big.

The others are eyeing the net. Already, with a practiced eye, they have counted the fish and noted their unusually large size. But how will they get these to market? How long will it take to repair the nets, which surely must be torn where they had dragged along the slope of shore in the shallows? Sometimes focusing on the daily mundane things of life helps to temper the much larger issue no one dares speak of. For they knew this was Jesus, yet there was something that made them wonder.

Jesus had prepared a feast for them. He had been there a while, it seems, long enough to build a hot fire then tend it into the bed of coals it had become. He had prepared fish, baked bread, and timed it all perfectly to be ready for them at precisely the time they disembarked with a huge haul of their own. A haul Jesus had also prepared for them to find, yet kept aside until just the right time.

Karl Marx’s chief criticism of the economic systems of his day was how the worker so often lost the benefit of their own work. The factory worker would spend long, arduous, and often dangerous hours piecing together components, running machines, keeping the factory humming, and would go home with a small pittance, while the factory owner would reap enormous reward.

Marx contended there was an inherent injustice embedded in this hierarchy, where a person’s creativity was crushed by grinding labor, the rightful reward of the worker robbed from them, the person’s sense of self, of joy in the work of their hands, siphoned away by such a system. For no factory worker, nor ordinary day laborer was ever able to enjoy the finished product. They could not afford the things they made.

But in the Lord’s economy, as with the manna of old, as with the fields that must have their corners left unreaped, with the years of Jubilee, with a great catch of fish drawn in by cooperation with the Lord’s command . . .

The Lord and God’s people enjoy together.

Ancient Privilege

Feasting at God’s table was an ancient privilege set forth by God at the beginning of Israel’s history. Year to year, God said,

Set apart a tithe of all the yield of your seed that is brought in yearly from the field.

In the presence of the Lord your God, in the place that he will choose as a dwelling for his name, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, your wine, and your oil, as well as the firstlings of your herd and flock, so that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always.

But if, when the Lord your God has blessed you, the distance is so great that you are unable to transport it, because the place where the Lord your God will choose to set his name is too far away from you, then you may turn it into money. With the money secure in hand, go to the place that the Lord your God will choose; spend the money for whatever you wish—oxen, sheep, wine, strong drink, or whatever you desire.

And you shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God, you and your household rejoicing together.

The Lord’s command to God’s people, Deuteronomy 14:22-26

Come and Eat

Now Jesus said to them, “Come and eat,” and they all came. They all knew it was Jesus, though there must have been something about the resurrected Jesus that left people feeling unsettled, unsure of their eyes, unsure of their knowledge it was him. John wrote that none of them dared to ask Jesus if it was really him. They knew.

Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and the fish likewise.

John 21:13

Maybe they remembered, as Jesus broke the bread and fish, blessed it, and gave it to them, the time he fed the five thousand on this very same shore.

The difference between failure and success is Jesus himself

You never know how close you are to a breakthrough. The disciples had only to throw their nets on the other side of the boat, just this one last time, when Jesus gave them the word. And their nets were more full than if they had been catching fish the whole night.

When you and I are willing to persevere, trust God’s leading and rely on God’s power, then we can also trust God with the results of our labor.

[The great haul of fish | The Brooklyn Museum, James Tissot, Public Domain]

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