Weekly Reflection: Fifth Sunday of Resurrection

Reflection on the Gospel from the Fifth Sunday of Easter

John 21:1-14


  After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tibe’ri-as; and he revealed himself in this way.

  Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathan’a-el of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zeb’edee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat; but that night they caught nothing. 

  Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.

  Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his clothes, for he was stripped for work, and sprang into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off.

  When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread.

  Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 

  This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.


* * *

  This Gospel account marks the third time Christ revealed Himself to his disciples after His resurrection.

We read on New Sunday (the Sunday after Easter) the account of the first two apparitions:

  • First, on Easter Sunday when Christ passed through the locked doors of the upper room where all the disciples were hiding.
  • Second, when He appeared again 8 days later (on New Sunday), this time with Thomas in the room.

Then we experienced a jump backward in time, when for two weeks (the third and fourth Sundays of Resurrection) we revisited times which happen chronologically before His death. In both readings, Jesus spoke to His disciples of His future sacrifice and eventual return to the Father.

In assigning the Gospel readings for these specific Sundays, the Church was probably trying to make the faithful go back and see how things now connect differently in light of the resurrection. Or perhaps it meant to better place us in the same state of mind as the disciples were in the Gospel reading today.

It has been liturgically over a month for us since His rising, and His victory over death. Who knows how many days had passed between the Apostles’ second encounter with Him, and this, the third; we only know that it had to have been less than 32 days, since Christ ascended 40 days after His resurrection. Regardless, at this point in the Gospel, the Apostles all knew He had risen. They had all heard multiple eye-witness accounts, and what’s more, had seen Him with their own eyes. But each of the times He appeared, whether to one or more persons, there is indicated the general sense that He did not stay for long. He came and went as unpredictably as the wind He descibed to Nicod’emus.

Ergo, the Gospel opens on 7 of the disciples in a state of limbo, in which they are unable to move on without Him, yet unable to stay still in their eagerness to embark on the mission they knew Christ willed for them, and always unsure as to when He would appear next. A frustrating state to be in, surely. And in that time, all they had to hold on to, was all that He had previously said — rethinking all what was past, turning everything over in their heads, and trying to piece it all together with their new understanding, just as we are doing now.

Unable to sit idle, Peter set himself to work, and the other disciples followed suit. They did what they could do at the moment, given what they had. It wasn’t the fishing for men they had been promised, but fishing for fish was better than nothing, while waiting for Him to fulfill that promise.

Only at this point did Christ finally makes His long-awaited appearance, though His glorified body once again took on an unfamiliar form. Just as He was able to manifest Himself as the gardener to Mary Magdelene outside His tomb, He likewise appeared on the shore that day in such a way where none of those in the boat recognized his voice or his appearance. He is only known by the miracle which takes place, akin to the one He used to originally call Peter into discipleship.

Now we must acknowledge the admirability of the Apostles. They were as vigilant as the 10 wise virgins awaiting the bridegroom, proactive in avoiding idleness, but most noteably they were also obedient. As discouraged as they must have been, fishing all night and catching nothing, they obeyed the command of the stranger on the shore, who, they all knew, had a better view of the fish than they did. And it was only in obeying His command, that they came to recognize Him.

Provider for All

I believe this Gospel account makes the most sense in connection with the other three readings of this Sunday: Isaiah 49:7-13, Acts 9:-19, and Hebrews 10:19-36.

In the first reading, all the good that the Lord has done for his people is remembered:

“In a time of favor I have answered you,

in a day of salvation I have helped you…”

(Isaiah 49:8)

In the second, we see the conversion of Saul:

“Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared

to you on the road by which you came,

has sent me that you may regain your sight

and be filled with the Holy Spirit”.

(Acts 9:17)

In the Epistle, we are reassured of the fulfillment of Christ’s promises, and reminded of the New Covenant:

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope

without wavering, for he who promised

is faithful…and all the more as you see

the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:23-25)  

All of these are tied together in meaning with today’s Gospel. Christ is guiding the Apostles from the shore, just as God was overseeing the Israelites in the Old Testament, and just as Jesus guided Saul to his conversion. And just as the Epistle encourages the faithful to patiently wait for Christ to fulfill His promise, so the Apostles waited for Christ to come again and provide them with all they needed.

Like the Apostles then, everyone is called to have faith, and trust that through our obedience to God, Christ will provide us with everything we need for our sanctification, even if it’s just some barbequed fish with an old friend. There may be times we feel as the disciples did — that God is not there — but maybe He just isn’t under the appearance we were expecting. We may not recognize Him in our Bishops and priests, fathers or mothers, but He is there, guiding the Church through its members.

God is continuously watching us from the shore, but we must obey Him before we obtain His graces, and before we can ever hope to recognize Him.