The Gospel for this Sunday begins with the disciples’ fishing on the Sea of Tiberias, also called the Sea of Galilee. Knowing that the best time to fish on the Sea of Galilee is at night so that the fresh fish can be sold at the market in the morning, the disciples fish all night. But they catch nothing. Then, “just after daybreak” (21:4), the disciples encounter Jesus on the shore; however, they do not recognize him. Jesus asks the disciples whether they have any fish and they tell him no. Jesus then tells the men to “cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some” (21:6). John is the first to recognize that the person on the beach is Jesus. But Peter is the one who hastens to the Lord by jumping into the sea and making his way through the water to Jesus.
Once on shore, the disciples see that Jesus has prepared fish over a charcoal fire to serve them a meal. This image of Jesus as servant and leader is strengthened throughout the story. Jesus instructs Peter to bring more fish to place on the fire so they can share a meal together. The Gospel tells us that the disciples catch 153 fish in the net. Since the time of Saint Jerome, who said 153 represented the number of species of fish that existed in the world and therefore symbolized the universality of Jesus’s message, scholars have speculated what this number symbolizes. The true meaning has been lost to history, but we do know that Jesus shares the bread and fish in a manner similar to the Last Supper when he shared the bread and wine of Passover with the disciples.
After they eat breakfast, Jesus says to Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” (21:15). Jesus is creating an opportunity for Peter to profess his love for Jesus in contrast to Peter’s denial of Jesus after Jesus’s arrest. Three times Jesus asks Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” (21:16). Three times Peter responds, “Yes Lord; you know that I love you” (21:15). Each time Jesus tells Peter what to do with that love: “Feed my lambs” (21:15) . . . “Tend my sheep” (21:16) . . . “Feed my sheep” (21:17). Peter, when given the chance, chooses to affirm his love for Jesus and seeks reconciliation for his denial of Jesus. Peter desires atonement for his actions so he can again be one with Jesus. Atone contains the words at and one. When we experience true atonement, we are once again in a right relationship—one with God and with others.
In Jesus’s lifetime, the disciples come to believe in Jesus as the Son of God. The Easter experience of the resurrected Jesus and the ongoing post-Resurrection encounters with Jesus deepen their conversion and result in the deepening of their faith. This call to conversion by Jesus is ongoing (see CCC, number 1427).
Baptism sacramentally marks the first conversion, but as life unfolds its mysteries, there is a continuous call to conversion. We mark these moments sacramentally with Penance and Reconciliation. Peter is a witness to this second kind of conversion that sometimes is called a conversion by tears. In Baptism, we are washed clean of sin and sanctified. Then we are robed in a white garment—literally “putting on Christ.” “Conversion to Christ, the new birth of Baptism” (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], number 1426) is an ongoing process of conversion throughout one’s lifetime.
In the ordinariness of daily life, Jesus takes the opportunity to feed the disciples a meal, to serve them. Jesus continues to model for the disciples the importance of being a servant leader. This week’s passage is about the tender and moving discourse between Jesus and Simon Peter. Jesus gives Peter the opportunity to publicly affirm his love for Jesus to counter Peter’s public denial of Jesus. In the early Christian community that John addresses in his Gospel, Jesus’s followers have already experienced persecution. Peter’s tears upon encountering the merciful eyes of Jesus demonstrate his conversion. Jesus’s merciful love helps Peter recognize what he did when he denied Jesus. Peter has a contrite heart. John wants his readers to understand that forgiveness is possible for those who have a genuinely contrite heart. And just as Peter is directed to care for Jesus’s “sheep,” those who seek God’s forgiveness must demonstrate God’s gracious act through their charitable actions.
Text: Youth Reflections – Liturgia – 3 Easter Year C