Lectio notes on John 21: 1-11


Spoleto Cathedral

The final chapter of St John's Gospel deals with Jesus' appearances after the Resurrection.  Today, the miraculous catch of fish.

Text

The New Advent page can be found here.

1 Postea manifestavit se iterum Jesus discipulis ad mare Tiberiadis. Manifestavit autem sic: 2 erant simul Simon Petrus, et Thomas, qui dicitur Didymus, et Nathanaël, qui erat a Cana Galilææ, et filii Zebedæi, et alii ex discipulis ejus duo. 3 Dicit eis Simon Petrus: Vado piscari. Dicunt ei: Venimus et nos tecum. Et exierunt, et ascenderunt in navim: et illa nocte nihil prendiderunt. 4 Mane autem facto stetit Jesus in littore: non tamen cognoverunt discipuli quia Jesus est. 5 Dixit ergo eis Jesus: Pueri, numquid pulmentarium habetis? Responderunt ei: Non. 6 Dicit eis: Mittite in dexteram navigii rete, et invenietis. Miserunt ergo: et jam non valebant illud trahere præ multitudine piscium. 7 Dixit ergo discipulus ille, quem diligebat Jesus, Petro: Dominus est. Simon Petrus cum audisset quia Dominus est, tunica succinxit se (erat enim nudus) et misit se in mare. 8 Alii autem discipuli navigio venerunt (non enim longe erant a terra, sed quasi cubitis ducentis), trahentes rete piscium. 9 Ut ergo descenderunt in terram, viderunt prunas positas, et piscem superpositum, et panem. 10 Dicit eis Jesus: Afferte de piscibus, quos prendidistis nunc. 11 Ascendit Simon Petrus et traxit rete in terram, plenum magnis piscibus centum quinquaginta tribus. Et cum tanti essent, non est scissum rete.

From the Douay-Rheims:

After this, Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias. And he shewed himself after this manner. [2] There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas, who is called Didymus, and Nathanael, who was of Cana of Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. [3] Simon Peter saith to them: I go a fishing. They say to him: We also come with thee. And they went forth, and entered into the ship: and that night they caught nothing. [4] But when the morning was come, Jesus stood on the shore: yet the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. [5] Jesus therefore said to them: Children, have you any meat? They answered him: No. [6] He saith to them: Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and you shall find. They cast therefore; and now they were not able to draw it, for the multitude of fishes. [7] That disciple therefore whom Jesus loved, said to Peter: It is the Lord. Simon Peter, when he heard that it was the Lord, girt his coat about him, (for he was naked,) and cast himself into the sea. [8] But the other disciples came in the ship, (for they were not far from the land, but as it were two hundred cubits,) dragging the net with fishes. [9] As soon then as they came to land, they saw hot coals lying, and a fish laid thereon, and bread. [10] Jesus saith to them: Bring hither of the fishes which you have now caught. [11] Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land, full of great fishes, one hundred and fifty-three. And although there were so many, the net was not broken.

Commentary

The Catena Aurea anthology draws out the reasons for Christ's appearances:

AUG. The preceding words of the Evangelist seem to indicate the end of the book, but He goes on farther to give an account of our Lord's appearance by the sea of Tiberias: After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the sea of Tiberias.

CHRYS. He says, Afterwards, because He did not go continually with His disciples as before; and, manifested Himself, because His body being incorruptible, it was a condescension to allow Himself to be seen. He mentions the place, to show that our Lord had taken away a good deal of their fear, and that they no longer kept within doors, though they had gone to Galilee to avoid the persecution of the Jews.

BEDE. The Evangelist, after his wont, first states the thing itself, and then says how it took place: And on this wise showed He Himself.

CHRYS. As our Lord was not with them regularly, and the Spirit was as not given them, and they had received no commission, and had nothing to do, they followed the trade of fishermen: And on this wise showed He Himself. There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathaniel of Cana in Galilee he who was called by Philip and the sons of Zebedee, i.e. James and John, and two other of His disciples.

Why did the apostles go back to fishing?

GREG. It may be asked, why Peter, who was a fisherman before his conversion, returned to fishing, when it is said, No man putting his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

AUG. If the disciples had done this after the death of Jesus, and before His resurrection, we should have imagined that they did it in despair. But now after that He has risen from the grave, after seeing the marks of His wounds, after receiving, by means of His breathing, the Holy Ghost, all at once they become what they were before, fishers, not of men, but of fishes. We must remember then that they were not forbidden by their Apostleship from earning their livelihood by a lawful craft, provided they had no other means of living. For if the blessed Paul used not that power which he had with the rest of the preachers of the Gospel, as they did, but went a warfare upon his own resources, lest the Gentiles, who were aliens from the name of Christ, might be offended at a doctrine apparently venal; if, educated in another way, he learnt a craft he never knew before, that, while the teacher worked with his own hands, the hearer might not be burdened much more might Peter, who had been a fisherman, work at what he knew, if he had nothing else to live upon at the time. But how had he not, some one will ask, when our Lord promises, Seek you first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you? Our Lord, we answer, fulfilled this promise, by bringing them the fishes to catch: for who else brought them? He did not bring upon them that poverty which obliged them to go fishing, except in order to exhibit a miracle.

GREG. The craft which was exercised without sin before conversion, was no sin after it. Wherefore after his conversion Peter returned to fishing; but Matthew sat not down again for the receipt? of custom. For there are some businesses which cannot or it can hardly be carried on without sin; and these cannot be returned to after conversion.

CHRYS. The other disciples followed Peter: They say to him, We also go with you; for from this time they were all bound together; and they wished too to see the fishing: They went forth and entered into a ship immediately. And that night they caught nothing. They fished in the night, from fear.

GREG. The fishing was made to be very unlucky, in order to raise their astonishment at the miracle after: And that night they caught nothing

Jesus' intervention:

CHRYS. In the midst of their labor and distress, Jesus presented Himself to them: But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus.

He did not make Himself known to them immediately, but entered into conversation; and first He speak after human fashion: Then Jesus says to them, Children, have you any meat? as if He wished to beg some of them. They answered, No.

He then gives them a sign to know Him by: And He said to them, Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and you shall find. They cast therefore, and now they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes. The recognition of Him brings out Peter and John in their different tempers of mind; the one fervid, the other sublime; the one ready, the other penetrating.

John is the first to recognize our Lord: Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved says to Peter, It is the Lord; Peter is the first to come to Him... 

The meaning of the catch:

AUG. Mystically, in the draught of fishes He signified the mystery of the Church, a such as it will be at the final resurrection of the dead. And to make this clearer, it is put near the end of the book. The number seven, which is the number of the disciples who were fishing, signifies the end of time; for time is counted by periods of seven days.

THEOPHYL. In the night time before the presence of the sun, Christ, the Prophets took nothing; for though they endeavored to correct the people, yet these often fell into idolatry.

GREG. It may be asked, why after His resurrection He stood on the shore to receive the disciples, whereas before He walked on the sea? The sea signifies the world, which is tossed about with various causes of tumults, and the waves of this corruptible life; the shore by its solidity figures the rest eternal. The disciples then, inasmuch as they were still upon the waves of this mortal life, were laboring on the sea; but the Redeemer having by His resurrection thrown off the corruption of the flesh, stood upon the shore.

AUG. The shore is the end of the sea, and therefore signifies the end of the world. The Church is here typified as she will be at the end of the world, just as other draughts of fishes typified her as she is now. Jesus before did not stand on the shore, but went into a ship which was Simon's, and asked him to put out a little from the land.

In a former draught the nets are not thrown to the right, or to the left, so that the good or the bad should be typified alone, but indifferently: Let down your nets for a draught, meaning that the good and bad were mixed together. But here it is, Cast the net on the right side of the ship; to signify those who should stand on the right hand, the good. The one our Lord did at the beginning of His ministry, the other after His resurrection, strewing therein that the former draught of fishes signified the mixture of bad and good, which composes the Church at present; the latter the good alone, which it will contain in eternity, when the world is ended, and the resurrection of the dead completed.

But they who belong to the resurrection of life, i.e. to the right hand, and are caught within the net of the Christian name, shall only appear on the shore, i.e. at the end of the world, after the resurrection: wherefore they were not able to draw the net into the ship, and unload the fishes, as they were before. The Church keeps these of the right hand, after death, in the sleep of peace, as it were in the deep, till the net come to shore. That the first draught was taken in two little ships, the last two hundred cubits from land, a hundred and a hundred, typifies, I think, the two classes of elect, circumcised and uncircumcised.

BEDE. By the two hundred cubits is signified the twofold grace of love; the love of God and the love of our neighbor; for by them we approach to Christ. The fish broiled is Christ who suffered. He deigned to be hid in the waters of human nature, and to be taken in the net of our night; and having become a fish by the taking of humanity, became bread to refresh us by His divinity.

GREG. To Peter was the holy Church committed; to him is it specially said, Feed My sheep. That then which is afterwards declared by word, is now signified by act. He it is who draws the fishes to the firm shore, because he it was who pointed out the stability of the eternal country to the faithful. This he did by word of mouth, by epistles; this he does daily by signs and miracles. After saying that the net was full of great fishes, the number follows: Full of great fishes, one hundred and fifty and three.

AUG. In the draught before, the number of the fishes is not mentioned, as if in fulfillment of the prophecy in the Psalm, If I should declare them, and speak of them, they should be more than l am able to express, but here there is a certain number mentioned, which we must explain.

The number which signifies the law is ten, from the ten Commandments. But when to the law is joined grace, to the letter spirit, the number seven is brought in, that being the number which represents the Holy Spirit, to Whom sanctification properly belongs. For sanctification was first heard of in the law, with respect to the seventh day; and Isaiah praises the Holy Spirit for His sevenfold work and office. The seven of the Spirit added to the ten of the law make seventeen, and the numbers from one up to seventeen when added together, make a hundred and fifty-three.

GREG. Seven and ten multiplied by three make fifty-one. The fiftieth year was a year of rest to the whole people from all their work. In unity is true rest; for where division is, true rest cannot be.


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