“Throw the net out to starboard and you’ll find something.”So they dropped the net, and there were so many fish that they could not haul it in. John 21:6
If you remember the concluding verses of the last week’s gospel you may also remember the reading ending abruptly and hinting that that could also have been the end of the book. It read,
‘Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah’ (John 20:30-31).
That was chapter 20, but today as we read together chapter 21 we see that the story continues – at least for a little while longer. The encounter between Jesus and the 11 disciples in the seclusion of the upper room we saw last week was not the end of the story; Jesus has more to offer, more things to do. So, it is as if an alternative conclusion was appended at the end of the previous chapter describing events that occurred later on. Biblical scholars have speculated about the reasons behind this editing choice, but without descending into these theories, we can probably find a spiritual meaning for this continuation of the gospel for ourselves.
At the beginning of the reading we see that Peter has returned to his fishing profession; the disciples are not in Jerusalem anymore, they are back in Galilee, on the shore of the Lake where all had begun a few years before (Cf. Mark 1:16-20). And if we took a careful look at the story we would notice that, although according to John this is the third time that the risen Lord appears to his disciples, there is a clear feeling that this encounter happened quite sometime after the other two meetings, perhaps even weeks later. Overall the story appears under a different, brighter light than when Jesus last met with Peter and the other Apostles. Unlike in those previous encounters it is not evening anymore, and Jesus’ arrival on the scene coincides with the breaking of day.
Reading between the lines we see how the disciples, headed by Peter, have grown tired of waiting around for something to happen, and have taken the matter – in this case their very own livelihood – in their own hands. They go fishing – which is what they did before, and which we already know from the other evangelists as a metaphor for bringing the gospel to the waiting world (Cf. Mark 1:16-20). They go fishing, but they go without waiting for Jesus, and their night on the lake doesn’t yield anything. As a testimony to their physical efforts Peter is naked because garments would impair his labours on-board. And yet it seems that, even though all of them work skilfully and very hard, all their efforts are fruitless. It is in this moment, as the disciples are discouraged and the morale in the boat is inevitably low, that Jesus comes on the scene. But he arrives, not a superhero swooping in to save the day, but as a friend calmly advising the disciples to do things differently; as a friend commanding enough trust from them to cooperate with him.
‘Throw the net out to starboard and you’ll find something’, says Jesus; but casting the nets from a different side of the boat can hardly make any real difference when you have spent all night fishing but you have caught nothing. So, what is it that causes this miraculous catch? I would suggest that it is the trust the disciples place in Jesus’ advice. It is because they cooperate with Jesus, that they finally achieve what they set out to do. [And ultimately it is this trust and cooperation that leads them to fully recognise Jesus as the risen Lord.] Because the disciples cooperates with Jesus, rather than working without him ‘the darkness is overcome by light, the fruitless work becomes an easy and abundant catch of fish, the feeling of tiredness and loneliness is transformed into joy’ (St. John Paul II)
As the church here in Houghton Regis we are about to embark on different projects under the loose heading of Restoration and Renewal. For example, we have this holy building – standing to the glory of God and as a reminder of God’s presence in this area – and it needs to be extensively restored and renovated. We have a vocation to grow in number and in holiness that we must fulfil. And soon we will have new neighbours in our town; more people for us to love and with whom to share the joy of knowing Christ. Like the disciples we can’t do this just through our own efforts, we can’t take the matter simply in our own hands, or our work will not yield fruit, and we would labour on our projects in vain. As today’s gospel shows us we have to start with Jesus by trusting and cooperating with him. More specifically still, we have to start by sharing his food through our frequent encounters with the risen Lord at the Mass.
Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’...Jesus then stepped forward, took the bread and gave it to them. (John21:12-13)