The setting in today’s scripture takes place on the Sea of Tiberias, the Roman name for the Sea of Galilee. The story takes place not long after the resurrection of Jesus, who had twice appeared to the disciples. They have gone to Galilee and returned to what they knew best: fishing. They have to make a living! They spend the entire night out on the lake, but they hadn’t caught a single fish. Early in the morning, they are headed to land, but a voice calls to them from the shore: “Friends, haven’t you any fish?” They answer “No.” The voice calls back: “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” It seems a useless exercise. They’ve been fishing all night and the fish just aren’t biting. What possible difference could it make to put the nets back into the water? They are professional fishermen, and they have no idea who this stranger is. And why the right side of the boat? But for some unknown reason, they unquestioningly throw their nets into the water on that side of their boat. And the Bible says, “When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” They are stunned at what has happened! And it suddenly dawns on them who it is who’s been calling to them. It could be no one else. The Bible says, “Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’”
They recognize Jesus not only because no one else could do this kind of miracle, but because it had happened before. Luke tells the story: “One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret [Sea of Galilee], with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water’s edge two boats left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink,” (Luke 5:1-7).
The disciples must have remembered this other miracle which happened just at the start of Jesus’ ministry, and before the disciples knew him. It is an interesting thought: the first fish miracle happens just before Jesus calls these fishermen to become his disciples, saying, “Come, follow me, I will make you fishers of men,” (Matt. 4: 19). And the second fish miracle happens just at the end of Jesus’ ministry when he soon will ascend into heaven, asking his disciples to: “Go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you,” (Matt. 28: 19,20). Look at these two words in these commandments: “Come” and “Go.” They are words calling to obey. The disciples meet Jesus in the miracle when they obey. And that is the same for us.
Sometimes God puts us in situations where it seems like there is no answer (like COVID-19?). We try everything, we think we know what needs to be done, it worked before, so we think we already know how to do it… and we may hear an answer that drives us up the wall. But perhaps God is asking us to do something beyond our own rationalizing, something that may even seem foolish. It may seem counter-intuitive. We’ve been “fishing” on the left side and now you think fishing on the right side will make a difference! We’ve been working hard and you think one more “cast” is going to change anything? You want me to try that, you ask? But perhaps Jesus is speaking in the midst of our calamities through another person, or scripture reading, or quote, or saying, a devotional reading, or something which draws your attention. Don’t discount the messages you hear from the Spirit, especially when doing the Lord’s work. Jesus will speak through many means when he wants to guide you.
And what is the significance of the 153 fish? That specific number? In Hebrew, each of the Hebrew alphabet letters has a number assigned to the letter. It’s an ancient custom. When you look at the sentence “I am God,” and when you translate that into Hebrew, and then assign the numerical value to each one of those Hebrew letters, it adds up to the number 153! The message Jesus was giving is this: I am God! Jesus is revealing that his presence – God – was with them! That’s the message Jesus was leaving with the disciples – and that’s the message that he gives to us today.
It is a miracle that Jesus God’s Son, our risen Lord, is with us always, today and forever. He loves us and cares for us. He will provide. Let’s look for the miracles we see in our own lives. And let’s obey when we hear that special call. No matter how ridiculous it may seem. If Jesus is working in the midst, good things will happen and blessings will flow.
May it be so! And may we hear the call and obey. Amen.