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The Fish That You Caught

May 05, 2019

Passage: John 21:1-19

Preacher: The Reverend Andrew Van Kirk


The resurrected Jesus was clearly a morning person. He’s always going around appearing to people in the morning. On Easter Sunday, it’s early in morning. In the reading we just heard, he’s at the Sea of Tiberias (the same thing as the Sea of Galilee) appearing at dawn.

Now, I am not a morning person. I know, I know. Questionable career choice I have, huh? But I love this story; this scene is so beautiful. It’s one of my favorite in the Bible. The traditional site of this breakfast with Jesus is on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, on a rocky beach. There’s a charcoal fire — maybe you’ve had the experience of waking up when camping at the lake: that feeling of getting up at dawn, working out the soreness, and getting the fire going. The world comes to life in the morning light, but it’s quiet still. The birds sing. And you look down to see what time it is and have the shock of joy at just how much day is left. How much there is to do and to see in this day that has been given you. The whole promise of a new day lies ahead of you.

This scene, and we’re going to walk through it in a second, is the dawn of the Christian mission. Peter’s going to get his “Do you love me questions;” he’s going to get the Lord’s command to “feed” and “tend” his sheep. But first, first, he’s going to get breakfast.

Did you know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? That people who eat breakfast are less likely to gain weight or have strokes or heart disease? Breakfast is good for you. Jesus knows where to start.

For breakfast, Jesus serves fish and bread…which, I think, so long as you add orange juice and a glass of milk and a smiling cartoon character, is a part of a complete breakfast.

Today I want to help you see what this passage has to say about Jesus’ complete breakfast, about the way Jesus feeds his people: the Lord’s breakfast — it takes a little bit of the fish that you caught; and a little bit of what Jesus has.

Now there’s a lot going on here that we can’t get cover in depth. Verse 1 tells us what this story is about (a time Jesus appearing to his disciples after his resurrection); verse 2 names five of the seven disciples: Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James and John (the sons of Zebedee). We learn later that one of the other two is John the Beloved (the author of the gospel) and one remains unnamed. Just given the crowd, it was probably either Andrew or Philip, but we don’t know. In verse 3, Peter decides he’s going fishing and everyone else decides to come along. Why are they going fishing in the nighttime? Why don’t they go home since apparently the fishing is terrible? I don’t know.

But then in verse 4: “Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.” Later in the story we hear the boat is about 100 yards away from shore, so in the early morning light it’s hard to see who it is. Verse 5, “Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.”” Honest enough. They aren’t telling any fish tales. Then verse 6, “He said to them, “Cast the net to 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 because there were so many fish.”

Now, if you remember your gospel stories well, you may recall that there’s a very similar story right at the beginning, when Jesus first calls the disciples. He’s in the boat with Peter, he’s been teaching, and he says “Let down your nets for a catch.” Peter has been fishing all night long, hasn’t caught anything, but he does what Jesus says, and hauls in this miraculous catch of fish. James and John come to help, and they all begin to follow Jesus.

That’s when Jesus tells them, “from now on you will be fishers of men.”

And here this story is right the end; this is when Jesus last calls the disciples. It’s the same story because part of what the risen Jesus is doing is showing that he’s the same Jesus. But also, those disciples have gone back to being fishers of fish, not fishers of men. That’s not the call Jesus gave them. Peter and the disciples are fishing for the wrong thing. Jesus has the fish thing taken care of; he needs the disciples to follow him out into the world of men and women and broken homes and broken hearts and cast their nets there. So he reenacts the calling miracle.

And after the disciples suddenly find their nets full, they know who it is. There’s a flurry of activity. Peter puts his clothes back on and swims to shore. The other disciples come with the boats, and the net full of fish. And they find Jesus on the shore with a charcoal fire, and bread and fish — the aforementioned complete breakfast. And then, verse 10: this is the one I want you to underline if you’re following along: “Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’”

The fish that you caught!?

Is that an accurate way to describe those fish? I mean, the disciples handled the nets, but the fish themselves were caught by God’s miraculous gift. Those disciples had been trying to catch fish all night and caught none, and then all the sudden Jesus shows up and they catch too many. He stocked the Sea of Galilee!

There’s no way that it’s that Jesus is a really good fishing guide; he didn’t get lucky. We know fish were miracle because they didn’t tear the net — that’s what John is trying to tell us in verse 11 when he says the net was not torn.

“The fish that you caught” — sheesh. I mean, he should have said, “Bring some of the fish I miraculously put in your net.”

But he doesn’t.

Jesus never says this. I’m the one bringing up the objection here; I’m the one pointing out the logical issues with calling these the fish the disciples caught. Jesus never does that to them. Or to us.

The Lord allows us to live in a world in which we believe we did it. The Lord lets us live in a world where the catch is ours.

It’s not ever, really ours. But God allows a world in which his gifts appear to be ours; the reward for our labor, the catch that we caught.

All Jesus asks that the disciples bring some of the fish back to him, and that the disciples come and gather around the table — or charcoal fire — with him and take sustenance for the journey. Verse 12, “And Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’”

Jesus feeds them, in part, with the fruit of their own labor, and in part with what he provides.

The Lord still, to this day, feeds us breakfast. This Eucharist, this may — no, may this — be your breakfast for the week. (I know that for some of you it may actually be your breakfast for the day — that used to be true for me, before I worked in a church often the first thing that I’d eat on Sunday morning was the wafer, and man, that is not satisfying meal by itself. Don’t worry, we got donuts after this!)

But I don’t mean your literal breakfast, I mean this meal is the thing that you get first on this, the first day of the week. It’s the thing that gives you strength and courage to go out and face the world this week, the grace to get through it all.

And it works the same way as breakfast on that lakeshore: Jesus feeds us with something that he provides — the grace of his body and blood present in the sacrament, and something that we bring, the literal bread and wine, which are themselves representative of all the gifts — the money, the talent, the prayers all that we offer to God in the Offertory.

Just as he did with those disciples, Jesus feeds us — in part with the fruit of our own labor, and in part with what he provides.

Why is this? Why can’t Jesus’ disciples keep all their fish?Why does Jesus need some of the fish that we catch?

Jesus doesn’t need it. There’s one final detail in the story I want you to see. Jesus already has fish before the disciples bring them! In verse 9. “When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.” There are already fish. Jesus has a source! Clearly he doesn’t *need* their fish; so it must be that they need to bring their fish. So Jesus invites them to bring them, to take part.

Jesus invites them to do so because taking part in the work of the Lord is different when our work is a part of it. Because the Lord doesn’t work apart from us, but through us. Because, to put it bluntly, the Lord has made us the laborers of salvation.

Someday soon someone is going to have a reception after the funeral of their spouse in that big room in the building expansion, and that room is only there because someone who caught some fish in advertising brought some back to the Lord. And Roy is going to counsel some couple whose marriage is in crisis — but he’ll only be on staff because someone who caught some fish in building supply business brought some back to Jesus. And we’re going to serve a taco and say a prayer with a family from Burks who comes to the BlessMobile, because someone who caught some fish in finance brought some back to the Lord.

It’s easy for us disciples to get caught up on how many fish we catch. After all, as verse 11 notes, one of those guys counted to 153. But that’s to miss the point. What “we catch” in this world is given to us to go and make a difference for the kingdom of God.

When the Lord says to you, “bring some of the fish you have caught,” it’s not because you the Lord is running low on fish. It’s because the Lord needs you to know that you matter to this whole work he’s up to in the world. The invitation to share the blessings the Lord has given you is God’s way of saying you’re a part of this too.

So bring some fish, and come and have breakfast.