Gospel Story: They Saw Jesus On The Shore

This Resurrection appearance of Jesus is intriguing for a number of reasons.

Firstly, it appears in what is known as the ‘supplement’ to John’s Gospel, which ends with chapter 20.

So the events narrated here in chapter 21 form a kind of juxtaposition to what has already been written, and do not form a logical sequence.

Secondly, the episode is set in Galilee where the disciples – there are seven of them – seem to have returned, to take up their earlier occupation of fishing. Why so ? No answers are forthcoming. Then again, the disciples fail to recognize Jesus standing on the shore.

This seems puzzling to us, until we realize that this failure ‘to recognize immediately’ is a literary device employed in all the resurrection apparition stories. The Risen Jesus is both familiar and not-so-familiar. His ‘spiritual body’ is somehow different from our ordinary perceptions.

The important detail in the story is the miraculous haul of fish. Like the first miracle at the start of their vocation, it is unexpected and abundant. Many of the miracles recounted by John have this sense of abundance – the wine at Cana, the multiplication of the loaves, the living water to the Samaritan woman. Jesus promised life in all its abundance to his disciples, and here is the proof.

What is the significance of the number 153, the number of fish caught ? It is obvious that it is a symbol, but scholars cannot agree as to what it really means. However, fishing in the Gospels becomes a metaphor for the apostolic mission, like the farmer sowing the seed, in another context. The story would then point to the abundance of those brought into the Church community, not through human effort – after all, the disciples caught nothing all night – but through God’s gracious gift.

There is also the allusion to the Eucharist in the meal which the Lord prepares for his disciples. It is a meal of bread and fish, as earlier in the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves. He shares this meal with his disciples, but he himself does not partake of it.

In early Christian iconography, bread and fish were common symbols of the Eucharist, and the word for ‘fish’ in Greek was an acronym for ‘Jesus, Son of God, Saviour.’

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