Year C: Third Sunday of Easter

The Appearance to the Seven Disciples

John 21: 1-19

 After this, 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?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he 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”.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Like the disciples, we can fail to recognize the resurrected and unexpected Jesus.  Where have you encountered the unexpected one?  What person or event might have conveyed an experience of the resurrected Jesus to you?  Tell the story.
  2. When Jesus appears He is doing ordinary things, cooking, and serving the disciples. In what ordinary moments has God served you in an unanticipated and generous ways this Easter season?  What might block your recognition of such moments?
  3. The question Jesus asked Peter three times has been referred to as Peter’s rehabilitation. Where in your journey have you experienced “rehabilitation” with God’s loving presence?
  4. When Jesus says, “Follow me,” the Gospel writer intends his invitation to extend to us as well. In following Him, what do you sense Jesus inviting you to do, or to be in this year of Easter?  How are you responding?

Biblical Context

John 21: 1-19
Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD

 The end of our Gospel reading from last Sunday sounded like the conclusion to John’s Gospel: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that through this belief you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31). Today’s reading follows immediately after this conclusion. Scripture scholars think that chapter 21 of John’s Gospel was added to the original Gospel in order to address some problems that the Johannine community was facing, but that it became part of John’s Gospel before the original Gospel was published.  As we will see, it is closely tied to what precedes it.

Today’s reading begins with Jesus’ appearance to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. John’s Gospel had earlier pictured Jesus and his disciples together at the Sea of Tiberias. On that occasion the people were hungry, and Jesus fed all of them with five barley loves and two fish. After this great sign Jesus told his followers that he is “the bread of life” (John 6). Today’s story has not only the same setting, but the same food—bread and fish. We are obviously invited to make a connection between the two accounts.

The disciples are fishing all through the night, but they catch nothing. In John’s Gospel activities that take place in the night are activities that take place before people have seen the light, have recognized Christ. It is after dawn when the apostles find Jesus standing on the shore, but they do not recognize him. Jesus asks them if they have caught anything to eat. On hearing that they have not, Jesus tells them to cast their net once more. “So, they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish.” Based on this mighty sign, the beloved disciple recognizes Jesus. “So, the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.'” As we noted last week with John’s empty tomb story, the beloved disciple is always the first to believe. Love is the best soil for faith.

On hearing this great good news Peter cannot wait for the boat to reach the shore. He leaps into the water. The others soon arrive and find Jesus with “a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread.” Jesus invites the disciples to eat. John makes a point of telling us that the disciples recognize Jesus as they eat. “And none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they realized it was the Lord.” The recognition of Jesus’ presence as they are being fed, along with the setting at the Sea of Tiberias, is an invitation to recall Jesus’ “bread of-the life” discourse right after the multiplication of the loaves. John’s end-of-the-century audience, looking for the risen Christ, is being invited to recognize that the risen Christ feeds and is present to them too, in Eucharist.

Next Jesus turns to Simon Peter and asks, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” Remember, we have already been told that this conversation is taking place around a charcoal fire. Earlier in the Gospel when John told us the story of Peter’s threefold denial of Christ there was also a charcoal fire. “Now the slaves and the guard were standing around a charcoal fire that they had made Peter was also standing there keeping warm” (John 18:18a, c). As we read the story of Peter’s profession of love, we are invited to remember this earlier scene.

Three times Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” Each time Peter responds that he does love Jesus. After each profession of love Jesus instructs Peter to take care of Jesus’ flock. Peter is to feed and tend the sheep. However, Jesus never says, “tend your sheep.” The sheep continue to belong to Jesus, but Peter is to become the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. This passage reminds us of Jesus’ earlier talk about himself as the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:1-18).

Our passage ends with a warning about the kind of death that Peter will die. Remember, when this Gospel was written Peter had already died a martyr’s death during Nero’s persecution. Peter is told that someone will “lead you where you do not want to go.” Like Jesus, Peter does not want to die, but his fidelity to the mission that Christ has entrusted to him will end in martyrdom. To die a martyr’s death is to glorify God. “He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.”

Finally, Jesus says to Peter, “Follow me.” Peter did follow the risen Christ by becoming the shepherd of Christ’s disciples. Jesus made it clear to Peter that service to his disciples must be rooted in love of Jesus. Love is the basis for the beloved disciple’s faith. Love is the basis for Peter’s ministry of leadership. John is teaching his end-of-the-century audience, and us, that love must be the basis for all that we do in the name of Jesus Christ.

Dark Night Fishing or Resurrection?

Fr. Michael K. Marsh

 When life gets difficult, when we become lost, confused, and afraid, when the changes of life are not what we wanted or think we deserve we tend to run away. We try to go back to the way it was before – to something safe, something familiar. Often, we revert to old patterns of behavior and thinking. Even when we know better and do not want to go backwards it seems easier than moving forward.

Peter and six others have returned to the sea. They have left Jerusalem. They have come home to the Sea of Tiberias, the place where it all began. Discipleship, the upper room, the cross, the empty tomb, the house with its locked doors are some 80 miles to the South. Peter decides to go fishing. He knows how to do that. It is familiar and comfortable. Perhaps it takes him back to life before Jesus. The others are quick to join him.

My hunch, however, is that Peter is not really trying to catch fish as much as he is fishing for answers. We can leave the places and even the people of our life, but we can never escape ourselves or our life. Wherever you go, there you are. Peter may have left Jerusalem, but he cannot get away from three years of discipleship, the last supper, the arrest, a charcoal fire, denials, a crowing rooster. He cannot leave behind the cross, the empty tomb, the house with his doors locked tight, the echoes of “Peace be with you.” So, he fishes.

Peter fishes for answers. What have I done? What were those three years about? Who was Jesus? Where is he? Who am I? What will I do now? Where will I go? What will happen to me? Peter is searching for meaning, a way forward, a place in life. Peter is dark night fishing.

We have all spent time dark night fishing, asking the same questions as Peter, looking for our place in life, seeking peace, and some sense of understanding and meaning. More often than not dark night fishing happens in the context of the failures, losses, and sorrows of our lives. It happens when we come face to face with the things we have done and left undone. We have all been there, fishing for answers in the darkness.

“Children, you have no fish, have you,” Jesus says. This is more a statement of fact than a question. Jesus is not asking for a fishing report. He is commenting on the reality and emptiness of Peter’s and the other disciples’ lives. Peter is living in the pain and the past of Good Friday. He is fishing on the Good Friday side of the boat and the net is empty. There are no fish, no answers, no way forward. The nets of dark night fishing contain nothing to feed or nourish life.


Wonder if we have been fishing on the wrong side of the boat? Jesus seems to think so. “Cast your net to the right side of the boat,” Jesus says, the resurrection side of the boat. This movement of the net from one side of the boat to the other symbolizes the disciples’ resurrection. It is the great Passover. Jesus calls us to move out of error into truth, out of sin into righteousness, out of death into life. In so doing we see and proclaim, “It is the Lord,” and;

  • Emptiness gives way to the abundance of a net full of fish, large ones, a hundred fifty-three of them;
  • Darkness dawns a new day with new light;
  • A new charcoal fire kindles hospitality in place of the cold ashes of rejection;
  • The last supper has become the first breakfast;
  • Confessions of love overcome denials of fear.

“It is the Lord.” Dark night fishing is over. This is Easter. Good Friday is real. Pain, death, sin, are a reality of life. But the greater and final reality is Easter resurrection. “Follow me,” Jesus says, “and live as resurrected people. Follow me and fish in a different place. Follow me.” “Follow me” is the invitation to examine where we have been fishing. On which side of the boat do we fish? On which side of the cross do we live? Good Friday or Easter resurrection.


Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle C, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2006 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc.


Reflection Excerpt from Interrupting the Silence: Fr. Michael K. Marsh. Used with permission