Jesus said to them: “Come and have breakfast.”
I have two uncles who are fishermen, one on each side of the family. One lives in Anchorage and goes salmon fishing on the Kenai River a few times each year. Whenever he goes, he comes back and fills his freezer. The annual Christmas letter, back when he sent one, always featured a photo of him with a huge fish. At 91 he still travels all over the world, and wherever he goes, he brings gifts of salmon he caught. Our family often gathers on the east coast in the summer and every time, there is Uncle Vic pulling Alaskan salmon out of his suitcase, package after package. I know nothing about catching salmon or how he always manages to have so much, let alone how he keeps it frozen on long summer flights. It’s a miracle.
My other uncle is a fly fisherman. He lives in Northern California but regularly travels to Ashland, Oregon, to fish for steelhead on the Rogue River. He takes fly-tying classes, carefully researches all the best gear, hires guides who pick him up in the middle of the night, and spends all day fly-fishing. I visited him at the end of one of those long days on the Rogue and made the mistake of asking: “Did you catch anything?” That’s when I learned about that kind of fishing. For my uncle, at least, it’s not about catching. It’s about being fully present, fully engaged in his surroundings, paying attention, being one with the rod, the fly, and the created world out there on the river. That huge untethered investment in mere possibility is miraculous to me.
I’m no authority on fishing, but I like to think I’m an authority on extravagance. I know my husband sometimes wishes this were not the case. Perhaps the parish treasurer wishes it as well.
The gospel describes an extravagant catch beyond all expectations.
There’s plenty of biblical precedent for extravagance. The Gospel of John itself is bookended by two stories of extravagance beginning with the miracle of water turned into the best wine at the wedding at Cana, and ending with today’s enormous catch.
At Cana, the disciples don’t really know what is going on. When they encounter Jesus on the beach, their lives have changed. They have recently been commissioned: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” the Risen Jesus says to them when he appears the first time. Today on the beach they begin to act as commissioned disciples. They get back to work. Fishing is not a spiritual experience for most of them, it is their livelihood. Their task, like ours on the other side of Easter, is to figure out what all this means in our day-to-day lives.
The Risen Jesus shows himself through a whole lot of fish. He connects their vocation as fishermen to their vocation as apostles. Although Peter appears to be the protagonist in the story, it is not Peter but the beloved disciple who initially does the recognizing. He is the contemplative one. His relationship to Jesus throughout the Gospel of John has been one of presence. If he had a car, it might have a bumper sticker on it that reads: “I’d rather be fly-fishing.” Sometimes the ministry to which we are commissioned as disciples is a ministry of presence, of contemplation.
As we know from so many stories about Peter, he is a man of action. It is Peter who quickly responds to Jesus’ commands, and Peter who does the hauling of fish. One hundred and fifty-three big ones, to be precise. Like two different kinds of fishermen, Peter and the beloved disciple are two different kinds of disciples. We might think of them as male counterparts to Martha and Mary.
It is to Peter, this man of action, that Jesus says: If you love me, feed my sheep. Jesus asks Peter—as, I believe, he asks all of us—just how extravagant are you willing to be? If you love me, do as I have done. If you love me, give your all, your life, even, as I have done.
Jesus has this conversation with Peter knowing that Peter would die a martyr’s death. Does this mean we must give our whole lives in order to follow and to feed as Jesus would have us do? Yes, and no. Giving our whole lives, yes. Living for Christ, yes. Dying for Christ, probably not, at least not most of us. Peter is not the only one who casts the net and catches the fish. He’s not the only one having breakfast with Jesus on the beach. The others will go on to follow and feed in different ways. Imagine that you were there on the beach eating fresh caught, fresh-blessed fish with Jesus. Imagine overhearing all the conversations, not just the one with Peter. Perhaps you hear him say to Nathanael: Do you love me? Will you glorify me by trying something you would rather not try, in the name of love? Will you proclaim resurrection by fighting for justice? Perhaps he said to the sons of Zebedee: you two, will you glorify me by casting your nets on the other side, every time? Will you teach others to fish? Maybe he says to Thomas, will you love me by traveling to a far country? Will you find a way to preach Good News there?
We read this story on this day because, like most of the gospels in the Sundays after Easter, it tells the story of one of the resurrection appearances. But more than a resurrection story it is a discipleship story: a story of life on the other side of the cross, for all of us. The story is like our own discipleship story. Few of us get called like Paul. But we are all commissioned by the Risen Christ, apostles for salvation. Some are sent to show up in a strange place, in order to make others feel at home. Some are sent to teach, or to study, or to share small kindnesses. Others are commissioned by the extravagance of Easter to a whole life of generosity. Over breakfast on the beach, what would Jesus say to you?