It would seem that not even the resurrection and the first appearances of Jesus in Jerusalem had made the apostles overcome their disappointment after his death. In today’s gospel they are no more in Jerusalem; they have come back to their place of origin, Galilee. Peter says to his friends: “I am going fishing,” as if to say: “I am resuming my job; I am reverting to my old habits. By now our wonderful experience with Jesus is over.” The other disciples agree with him: “We also will come with you.” They have not yet understood what “resurrection” really means; maybe they think that it is just something concerning Jesus, but without any repercussion for them. They have not yet realized that Jesus is still with them; he keeps following his Church from the shore, that is from heaven, while the boat, that is the Church, continues the passage to its destination. They have not yet grasped that, still now, they depend totally on him; without him they can do nothing: “That night they caught nothing.” Their good will, their enterprise, their efforts are fruitless without his guidance. From the shore Jesus sees better than them; he knows where to fish; it is enough for them to follow his instructions to have a good catch.
It is Peter to take the initiative in going fishing. It means that he continues to play a leading role among the apostles. But it is not him the first to recognize Jesus; it is rather the disciple whom Jesus loved. It is John the first to say: “It is the Lord,” even though it is Peter the first to jump into the sea and to swim ashore. That means that in the Church there are different roles, all equally important. Beside the hierarchical authority, there are the simple faithful, who often enjoy a spiritual insight deeper than the leaders’.
The net is full of one hundred fifty-three large fish and yet it is not torn. Even in this detail we can find a spiritual meaning. Why exactly one hundred fifty-three fish? According to Saint Jerome, that was the number of the species of fish, as if to say that the Church can comprise all peoples without being torn.
On the shore, Jesus prepares breakfast for his disciples: there is a fire with fish on it and bread. Jesus takes the bread and gives it to them, as he did during the last supper. After the resurrection the same thing had already happened with the disciples in Emmaus. Why this insistence on sharing bread with the disciples? Because it is the way Jesus has chosen to remain with them. It is exactly what Jesus is doing even now: he takes bread and says to us: “Come and eat.” It is during the Eucharist that we have to perceive the presence of Jesus, who from heaven follows our journey; it is here that we have to recognize him and say: “It is the Lord”; it is here that we have to listen to his instructions to know how to fish; it is here that we receive him through the sign of bread.
After breakfast, Jesus entrusts Peter with the task of shepherding his flock. But he first asks him: “Do you love me?” It seems that, to feed the sheep, there is need first to love Jesus: only loving him it is possible to tend the sheep. And Jesus repeats the same question three times: he wants the confession of Peter to be threefold as threefold had been his denial. Jesus says to Peter: “Feed my lambs; tend my sheep.” The sheep Peter has to shepherd belong to Jesus: he is just a servant. Peter cannot consider himself as the owner of the Church; the Shepherd of the flock is only one, Jesus himself. Peter has just to continue to do what he has always done: “Follow me.” That is what all of us, without distinction, have to do, follow Jesus.