She had been in St. Luke’s hospital for almost a week. They were treating her for pneumonia and trying to get her blood pressure under control. As June gained strength, she also gained perspective.
If you walked into the room, she would tell you she appreciated the hospital staff. “They have done everything they can,” she would say, “to make me comfortable.” But what she wanted more than anything else was to go home. She wanted to sleep in her own bed. She wanted to sit in her favorite chair. She wanted to put this all behind her. There’s nothing like a hospital stay to help you appreciate the comforts of home.
Perhaps it was something like that for the disciples and Peter, out on the Sea of Galilee, late at night, fishing. It really did not matter that their nets were coming up empty. What they were doing was familiar. They were fishing. The strain at the oars. The splash of water. The sweat on your back. The roughness of rope as you handle the nets. It was all good. The comforts of home.
Life had been strange for three years. Things had gotten out of balance. At first, Jesus stood on the edge of the seashore as they fished. Then, somehow, He ended up the center of their lives. Wandering with Him from village to village, watching Him preach and heal the sick, going out themselves (“fishing” He called it) and coming into towns where they cast out demons and healed the sick. Their world had changed. It opened up to reveal the nearness and the power of God. What could you do but follow? Without a guide, how could you navigate such a world?
But then, just as quickly as it began, it ended. Their teacher, Jesus, died on a cross. In three days, Jesus, risen from the dead, appeared to them like a ghost. Except, He was not a ghost. He was alive. He was with them... but not in the same way as before. Once again, they were faced with a question. How do you live in a world like that? Where Jesus has power over life and death?
Perhaps this is why they were out on the water in the middle of the night. They did not know the answer to that question. How do you live with Jesus who has risen from the dead? So, as they were searching for an answer, they returned to something familiar. The splash of water. The roughness of rope. Fishing. The comforts of home.
This is all speculation, of course. John does not tell us why they decided to go fishing. But what John does tell us is Jesus had decided to reveal Himself to them. “After this, Jesus revealed Himself again,” John writes.
How do you live in a world like that? Where Jesus has power over life and death?
How strange it must have been for Jesus to see these men, men He had chosen and taught and fought and died for... fishing. It was like He was returning to the beginning, where He first found them on the seashore. So, He chooses to come to them again, through the comforts of home.
“Children, you don’t have any fish, do you?” He asks. The question itself is revealing. Jesus uses a term for a small side dish, not necessarily fish. But in this context, talking to fishermen, one could assume it was fish. Not a large catch of fish, however. No, this is a reference to a small side dish of fish. They do not even have that. Jesus knows their need.
Not only does Jesus reveal their need, but He also reveals His claim upon their lives. He calls them children. This is the only time in the gospel Jesus addresses them this way. With a word, He captures not their childishness but His deep affection.
Finally, Jesus speaks as one who has already seen and provided for their need. When they ultimately get to the shore, they find a charcoal fire is already ready, with a fish on the fire, and some bread, enough for a small side dish of fish.
Even though Jesus already knows and has answered their need, a small side dish of fish is awaiting them on the shore, He invites them to experience the mystery of His presence once again. As when He first called His disciples, Jesus tells them to cast their net on the right side of the boat and they discover a haul of fish they cannot pull in.
At the end of the night, at the edge of their emptiness, at the limits of their strength, Jesus reveals His presence. He enters into the comforts of home and there awakens them to an even more comforting experience. The Lord of all creation lives and has come to care for them.
No, they will not remain in their homes. They will go out in mission to the ends of the earth. But they will be loved, and they will be led... by Jesus. He knows how to navigate this strange world. The One who died for them, now lives, and cares for them as He awakens them to His call.
The days after Easter are strange. We are slowly returning to our patterns of Church life and family life after the festivities of Easter. Yet, we need to be careful we do not become too comfortable with the comforts of home.
For what Easter has taught us is how this world is changed. Jesus has risen from the dead and rules over all things. He not only saves us from sin but leads us in life from the comforts of home to the call of His Kingdom. There, at the end of our strength, is the beginning of His grace. Jesus has risen to bring you, His child, into His mission in His Kingdom.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 21:1-19.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 21:1-19.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Peter Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through John 21:1-19.