Wed, April 27, 202210 mins readFather Hans Buob

3rd Sunday after Easter

Biblical Homilies on the Sunday Gospels in Reading Year C

Meal of Our Lord and the Apostles, by James Tissot (between 1886 and 1894).

Bible passages


John 21:1-19

After this, Jesus appeared to his disciples again. It was by the Sea of Galilee. Here is what happened. Simon Peter and Thomas, who was also called Didymus, were there together. Nathanael from Cana in Galilee and the sons of Zebedee were with them. So were two other disciples. ‘I’m going out to fish,’ Simon Peter told them. They said, ‘We’ll go with you.’ So they went out and got into the boat. That night they didn’t catch anything. Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore. But the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus. He called out to them, ‘Friends, don’t you have any fish?’ ‘No’, they answered. He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat. There you will find some fish.’ When they did, they could not pull the net into the boat. There were too many fish in it. Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Simon Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ As soon as Peter heard that, he put his coat on. He had taken it off earlier. Then he jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat. They were towing the net full of fish. The shore was only about 100 metres away. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals. There were fish on it. There was also some bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat. He dragged the net to shore. It was full of large fish. There were 153 of them. But even with that many fish the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them. He did the same thing with the fish. This was the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead. When Jesus and the disciples had finished eating, Jesus spoke to Simon Peter. He asked, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these others do?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered. ‘You know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’ Again Jesus asked, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He answered, ‘Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’ Jesus spoke to him a third time. He asked, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He answered, ‘Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep. What I’m about to tell you is true. When you were younger, you dressed yourself. You went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands. Someone else will dress you. Someone else will lead you where you do not want to go.’

Biblical Homilies


”After this, Jesus appeared to his disciples again. It was by the Sea of Galilee. Here is what happened. Simon Peter and Thomas, who was also called Didymus, were there together. Nathanael from Cana in Galilee and the sons of Zebedee were with them. So were two other disciples. ‘I’m going out to fish,’ Simon Peter told them. They said, ‘We’ll go with you.’ So they went out and got into the boat. That night they didn’t catch anything.“ (cf. verse 1-3)

In today's Gospel we read this wonderful account of the appearance of the Risen Lord by the Sea of Tiberias. Various disciples are mentioned: Simon Peter, Thomas, etc., who went back to Galilee. Jesus is dead. They cannot really believe it and therefore go back to their homeland.

"Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore. But the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus. He called out to them, ‘Friends, don’t you have any fish?’ ‘No’, they answered. He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat. There you will find some fish.’ When they did, they could not pull the net into the boat. There were too many fish in it.“ (cf. verse 4-6)

When they return in the morning, Jesus is standing on the shore, but they do not recognise him. He asks them for something to eat, but they have nothing. Then he gives them a very specific order where to cast the net: "Cast the net on the right side of the boat and you will catch something." The disciples follow his instruction and the net is full of fish.

At this point something wonderful becomes visible: Jesus does not reproach them for running away and going back to their old business, because they thought he was dead and that was the end of everything. He shows them that their old business is no longer their business. It brings them nothing, because they have caught nothing. And he calls on them to cast their nets again - as they did at the beginning of their calling by him - at his command, and to do so where he tells them. They are now to become fishers of men. So Jesus does not reproach them, but simply reveals himself to them. The full net is, as it were, the call to stay with him.

"Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Simon Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ As soon as Peter heard that, he put his coat on. He had taken it off earlier. Then he jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat. They were towing the net full of fish. The shore was only about 100 metres away.“ (cf. verse 7-8)

This is also a reality, that only "the disciple whom Jesus loved" - namely John - recognises Jesus. Only the one who loves recognises! Some people want to recognise God and then perhaps love him. But that is not possible. We cannot recognise God with our little minds. We can only love him and when we do that, he reveals himself to us. Only love recognises. It is the organ with which I recognise a you. If I do not love someone, I will never know him. If I only observe him, then I can make a judgement about him; but this judgement will not be correct, because in the end I do not recognise him, because he does not reveal himself to me as he really thinks and is. He only does that to another person who loves him.

So John loves and he recognises the Lord in love: "It is the Lord!" - and gives way to Peter. This is a very important passage for the primacy of Peter. He has denied Jesus and therefore has a great need to meet him again. He girds himself and jumps into the lake. And only then do the other disciples come after him and pull the boats with the fish ashore.

"When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals. There were fish on it. There was also some bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat. He dragged the net to shore. It was full of large fish. There were 153 of them. But even with that many fish the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ None of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them. He did the same thing with the fish. This was the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.“ (cf. verse 9-14)

The charcoal fire on the shore perhaps reminds Peter of the charcoal fire at the high council in the courtyard of the high priest, where he had denied Jesus. It is wonderful how Jesus reminds him of this by a sign.

And when Jesus asks them: "Bring of the fish...", Peter pulls the net ashore all by himself! The other disciples can only pull the boats with the net and the fish towards land with their combined strength. And suddenly Peter manages to pull the bulging net ashore all by himself! Here it becomes clear that it is about something else: it is now about the commission to all of them to work together with Jesus, that they should all catch these fish, i.e. precisely in the Kingdom of God, to win people for God. But Peter is the one who brings them all ashore, who puts them all on the ground, namely on the rock, which is Christ. That is his mission.

"When Jesus and the disciples had finished eating, Jesus spoke to Simon Peter. He asked, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these others do?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he answered. ‘You know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my lambs.’ Again Jesus asked, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ He answered, ‘Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Take care of my sheep.’ Jesus spoke to him a third time. He asked, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ He answered, ‘Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.’ Jesus said, ‘Feed my sheep.“ (cf. verse 15-17)

So Jesus gives them these fish to eat and after they have eaten, something very decisive happens: Jesus' conversation with Simon Peter. The charcoal fire already reminds Peter of his betrayal. Now Jesus asks him three times, because Peter had also denied him three times: "Do you love me more than these?" And the third time, Peter becomes sad because he remembers very well this threefold betrayal that Jesus had foretold him when he so confidently offered his life to Jesus in the Upper Room.

Significantly, Jesus calls Peter here by the name of his weakness, namely not Peter (the rock), but "Simon son of John". This is the human name, the name of his weakness, not of his calling. So the Risen One not only rehabilitates Peter, but also makes him a different person. For without pride and obstinacy, Peter now responds quite humbly, "You know that I love you." And only now does Jesus place him fully back into the ministry and personal discipleship, for he gives him back his whole commission: "Feed my lambs!" and: "Follow me!"

But it is interesting to look at the whole thing from the Greek text. When Jesus asks Peter three times, "Do you love me?", there is a great difference in Greek that cannot be expressed in German. There is the word "agapein" (αγαπειν) for love. This is divine love, the way God loves: "I give you a new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also are to love one another." (Jn 13:34) And there is the word "philein" (φιλειν), the human, friendly, thus humanly possible love. This is, for example, Jesus' love for Lazarus: "See how he loved him!" (Jn 11:36), his friend. He loved him as a friend. And Jesus asks Peter the first and second time: "agapas me" (αγαπασμε) - do you really love me with this divine love? -To which Peter humbly replies: "philo se" (φιλωσε), that is: "Lord, you know I love you as much as I can. I love you as a friend." So Peter answers quite humbly and honestly, for he is totally destroyed in his self-confidence by his betrayal. The third time, however, Jesus puts himself on Peter's level: "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" - "phileis me" (φιλεισμε), "Do you love me as a friend?" And Peter answers, "Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest also that I love thee as a friend." Isn't that wonderful? Jesus goes down to Peter's level and asks him with the same word with which Peter has already answered him twice.

And while Peter answers twice with: "You know that I love you.", something new comes into his third answer, as a reaction, so to speak, to Jesus' loving attention: "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." This is no longer the same as the previous: "You know my heart. You know my inmost being." - "su ginoskeis" (συγινοσκεισ) - "You know that I love you honestly, as best I can." Peter has given up all self-assurance and appeals to Jesus' knowledge of his heart.

To Peter's confession, Jesus answers twice: "Feed my lambs!" And the third time: "Feed my sheep!" While in German it is always "weiden" ("to feed"), in Greek again there are two different words: On the one hand "boskein" (βοσκειν) in the sense of feeding, caring, i.e. Peter is to nourish and care for the Church and the people in it. He is to communicate the necessary graces to them in the sacraments, in preaching, etc. On the other hand, "poimainein" (ποιμαινειν) in the sense of caringly shepherding and guiding, in order to keep them in the pasture of life and to shepherd them caringly. Peter is to protect the Church and the people from the enemies, to guard against the wild beasts, figuratively speaking, against Satan. And only Peter has received the commission from Jesus to shepherd in this sense. He is to share in Jesus' task, which the Father has given to Jesus. For Jesus goes to the Father and he entrusts to him his sheep, the people the Father has given him. Here Peter's ministry is called office. So says Prof. Schnackenburg.

"What I’m about to tell you is true. When you were younger, you dressed yourself. You went wherever you wanted to go. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands. Someone else will dress you. Someone else will lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to point out how Peter would die. His death would bring glory to God. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me!’“ (cf. verse 18-19)

Just as Peter now shares in the care of Jesus' flock, he also shares in his fate of death. Now Jesus accepts Peter's willingness to die for him, for "there is no greater love than for one to lay down his life for his friends." (Jn 15:13). Had Jesus still rejected Peter's affirmation in the Upper Room that he would follow him wherever he went, "Where I am going, you cannot follow me now. But you will follow me later." (Jn 13:36), he invites him to follow him now, after Jesus' resurrection, since redemption has been accomplished: "But when you have grown old, you will stretch out your hands and another will gird you and lead you where you do not want to go", namely to the same fate of death that Jesus suffered.

And only now does Jesus say what he had refused Peter in the Upper Room: "Follow me! Follow me all the way to the cross. Peter was also crucified, with his head down.