1. Opening prayer
Father, send Your Holy Spirit that the fruitless night of our life may be transformed into the radiant dawn that enables us to know Your Son Jesus present among us. Let Your Spirit breathe on the waters of our sea, as He did at the moment of creation, to open our hearts to the invitation of the Lord’s love and that we may share in the banquet of His Body and His Word. May Your Spirit burn within us, Father, that we may become witnesses of Jesus, like Peter and John and the other disciples, and that we too may go out every day to become fishermen and women for Your kingdom. Amen.
John 21: 1-19
2. The word of the Lord for today
a) A reading of the passage:
At that time, Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. He revealed himself in this way. Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee's sons, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We also will come with you." So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, "Children, have you caught anything to eat?" They answered him, "No." So he said to them, "Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something." So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord." When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish. When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish you just caught." So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, "Come, have breakfast." And none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they realized it was the Lord. Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish. This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead. When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" Simon Peter answered him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." He then said to Simon Peter a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Simon Peter answered him, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." Jesus said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was distressed that Jesus had said to him a third time, "Do you love me?" and he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, "Follow me."
b) The context of the passage:
After this first contact with the passage, I now feel the need to understand its context. I pick up the bible and do not allow superficial first impressions to influence me. I try to search and listen. I open chapter 21 of John’s Gospel, which is practically at the end of the Gospel. The end of anything usually summarizes all that went before it, everything that was built up bit by bit. This catch on the lake of Tiberias reminds me strongly and clearly of the beginning of the Gospel where Jesus calls the first disciples, the same ones who are now present with Him: Peter, James, John and Nathanael. The meal with Jesus, bread and fish, reminds me of chapter 6 where the great multiplication of the loaves took place, the revelation of the Bread of Life. The intimate and personal conversation between Jesus and Peter, His triple question: “Do you love Me?” reminds me again of the Easter vigil when Peter had denied the Lord three times.
Then, if I turn back the pages of the Gospel, I find the wonderful passage concerning the resurrection: the haste by night of Mary Magdalene and the other women to the sepulcher, the discovery of the empty tomb, Peter and John’s race, their looking into the sepulcher, their contemplation, their faith; I still find the eleven behind locked doors in the cenacle and then the risen Jesus comes in, the gift of the Spirit, the absence and unbelief of Thomas, a belief regained with the second coming in of Jesus; I hear that wonderful proclamation of the beatitude, which is for all of us today, called to believe without having seen.
Then I also go to the waters of that sea, on a night with no catch, and empty handed. It is here and now that I am visited, embraced by the manifestation, the revelation of the Lord Jesus. I am here, then, to recognize Him, to throw myself into the sea and go towards Him to share in the banquet, to let Him dig deep into my heart with His questions, His words, so that once more He may repeat to me, “Follow Me!” and I, at last, may say to Him “Here I am!”, fuller, truer and stronger and for ever.
c) A subdivision of the text:
v.1: With the verb ‘revealed’, John immediately draws our attention to a great event about to take place. The power of Jesus’ resurrection has not yet ceased to invade the lives of the disciples and thus of the Church. It is just a matter of being prepared to accept the light, the salvation offered by Christ. As He reveals Himself in this text now, so also will He go on revealing Himself in the lives of believers, as well as in our lives.
vv. 2-3: Peter and the other six disciples go out from the locked cenacle and go to the sea to fish, but after a whole night of labor, they catch nothing. It is the dark, the solitude, the inability of human endeavors.
vv. 4-8: Finally the dawn comes, light returns and Jesus appears standing on the shore of the sea. But the disciples do not recognize Him yet; they need to embark on a very deep interior journey. The initiative comes from the Lord who, by His words, helps them to see their need, their situation: they have nothing to eat. Then He invites them to cast the net again. Obedience to His Word works the miracle and the catch is abundant. John, the disciple of love, recognizes the Lord and shouts his faith to the other disciples. Peter believes and immediately throws himself into the sea to go as quickly as possible to the Lord and Master. The others, however, follow dragging the boat and the net.
vv. 9-14: The scene now changes on land, where Jesus had been waiting for the disciples. Here a banquet takes place: Jesus’ bread is joined to the disciples’ fish, His life and His gift become one with their life and gift. It is the power of the Word made flesh, made existence.
vv. 15-18: Now Jesus addresses Peter directly heart to heart; it is a very powerful moment of love from which I cannot separate myself, because those same words of the Lord are written and repeated also for me today. It is a mutual declaration of love repeated three times, capable of overcoming all infidelities and weaknesses. From now on a new life begins for Peter, and for me if I so desire.
v. 19: This last verse of the text is rather unusual because it is a comment of the Evangelist followed immediately by Jesus’ very powerful and definitive word to Peter, “Follow Me!”, to which there is no other reply than life itself.
3. A moment of prayerful silence
Here I pause a while and gather in my heart the words I have read and heard. I try to do what Mary did, who listened to the words of the Lord and examined them, weighed them and allowed them to speak for themselves without interpreting, changing, diminishing or adding anything to them. In silence I pause on this text and go over it in my heart.
4. Some questions
a) “They went out and got into the boat” (v.3). Am I also ready to embark on this journey of conversion? Will I let myself be reawakened by Jesus’ invitation? Or do I prefer to go on hiding behind my closed doors in fear like the disciples in the cenacle? Do I want to go out, to go out after Jesus, to allow Him to lead me? There is a boat ready for me, there is a vocation of love given to me by the Lord; when will I make up my mind to respond truly?
b) “…But caught nothing that night” (ibid). Do I have the courage to hear the Lord say to me that there is emptiness in me, that it is night, that I am empty handed? Do I have the courage to admit that I need Him, His presence? Do I want to open my heart to Him, my innermost self, that which I constantly try to deny, to hide? He knows everything, He knows my innermost self; He sees that I have nothing to eat, but it is I who have to realize this about myself, that I must eventually come to Him empty handed, even weeping, with a heart full of sadness and anguish. If I do not take this step, the true light, the dawn of my day will never shine.
c) “Throw the net out to starboard” (v.6). The Lord speaks clearly to me too in moments when, thanks to a person or a prayer gathering or a Word spoken, I understand clearly what I have to do. The command is very clear; I only need to listen and obey. “Throw out to starboard” [to the right], the Lord says to me. Do I at last have the courage to trust Him, or do I wish to go on my own way, in my own way? Do I wish to cast my net for Him?
d) “Simon Peter … jumped into the water” (v.7). I am not sure that there is a more beautiful verse than this. Peter jumped in, like the widow at the temple who cast all she had, like the man possessed who was healed (Mk 5:6), like Jairus, like the woman with the hemorrhage, like the leper, all of whom threw themselves at Jesus’ feet, surrendering their lives to Him. Or like Jesus Himself who threw Himself on the ground and prayed to His Father (Mk 14:35). Now is my time. Do I also want to throw myself into the sea of mercy, of the Father’s love, do I wish to surrender to Him my whole life, my whole being, my sufferings, my hopes, my wishes, my sins, my desire to start again? His arms are ready to welcome me, or rather, I am certain that it will be He who will throw His arms around my neck, as it is written … “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him.”.
e) “Bring some of the fish you have just caught” (v.10). The Lord asks me to join my food with His, my life with His. While the Evangelist is speaking of fish, it is as if he were speaking of people, those whom the Lord Himself wishes to save through my efforts at fishing. That is why He sends me. At His table, at His feast, He expects me and expects all those brothers and sisters whom in His love He has placed in my life. I cannot go to Jesus alone. This Word, then, asks whether I am prepared to go to the Lord, to sit at His table, to celebrate Eucharist with Him and whether I am ready to spend my life and my energies to bring with me many of my brothers and sisters to Him. I must look within my heart sincerely and see my resistance, my closure to Him and to others.
f) “Do you love Me?” (v.15). How can I answer this question? How can I proclaim my love for God when all my infidelities and my denials come to the surface? What happened to Peter is also part of my story. But I do not want this fear to prevent me and make me retreat; no! I want to go to Jesus, I want to stay with Him, I want to approach Him and say that I love Him. I borrow Peter’s words and make them mine, I write them on my heart, I repeat them, I give them breath and life in my life and then I gather courage and say to Jesus, “Lord, You know everything; You know I love You”. Just as I am, I love Him. Thank You, Lord, that You ask me to love and that You expect me, You want me; thank You because You rejoice in my poor love.
g) “Feed my sheep… Follow me” (vv.15,19). That is how the text ends. It is an open-ended ending and still goes on speaking to me. This is the Word that the Lord entrusts to me so that I may put it into practice in my life from this day forward. I want to accept the mission that the Lord entrusts to me; I want to answer His call and to follow Him wherever He may lead me, every day and in every small matter.
5. A key to the reading
Peter is the first to take the initiative and proclaim to his brothers his decision to go fishing. Peter goes out to the sea, that is, the world, he goes to his brothers and sisters because he knows that he is a fisher of people (Lk 5:10); just like Jesus, who went out of the Father to come and pitch His tent in our midst. Peter is also the first to react to the words of John who recognizes Jesus on the shore. He ties his garment and throws himself into the sea. These seem to me to be strong allusions to baptism. It is as if Peter wishes to bury completely his past in those waters, just like a catechumen who enters the baptismal font. Peter commits himself to these purifying waters, he allows himself to be healed: he throws himself into the waters, taking with him his self conceits, his faults, the weight of his denial, his tears, so as to rise again a new man to meet his Lord. Before he throws himself into the water, Peter ties his garment, just like Jesus did, before him, when He tied a garment to wash the feet of His disciples at the last supper. It is the garment of a servant, of one who gives him/herself to his/her brothers and sisters, and it is this garment that covers his nakedness. It is the garment of the Lord Himself, who wraps him in His love and His forgiveness. Thanks to this love, Peter will be able to come up again from the sea and start all over again. It is also said of Jesus that He came up out of the water after His baptism; Master and disciple share the same verb, the same experience. Peter is now a new man! That is why he will be able to affirm three times that he loves the Lord. Even though his triple denial remains an open wound, it is not his last word. It is here that Peter experiences the forgiveness of the Lord and realizes the weakness that reveals itself to him as the place of a greater love. Peter receives love, a love that goes well beyond his treachery, his fall, a surfeit of love that enables him to serve his brothers and sisters, to lead them to the green pastures of the Lord Jesus. Not only this, but in this service of love, Peter will become the good shepherd, like Jesus Himself. Indeed, he too will give his life for his sheep, he will stretch his arms in crucifixion, as we know from history. He was crucified head down, he will be turned upside down, but in the mystery of love he will thus be truly straightened up and fulfill that baptism that began at the moment he threw himself into the sea with a garment tied around him. Peter then becomes the lamb who follows his Shepherd to martyrdom.
6. A time of prayer
My soul thirsts for You, Lord.
Yahweh is my shepherd,
I lack nothing.
In grassy meadows He lets me lie.
By tranquil streams He leads me
to restore my spirit.
He guides me in paths of saving justice as befits His name.
Even were I to walk in a ravine as dark as death
I should fear no danger,
for You are at my side.
Your staff and Your crook are there to soothe me.
You prepare a table for me under the eyes of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup brims over.
Kindness and faithful love pursue me every day of my life.
I make my home in the house of Yahweh for all time to come.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank You for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May Your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice what Your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, Your mother, not only listen to but also practice the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.