John 21:1-19 (NRSV)
Read John 21:1-19 on biblegateway.com
Chapter 21After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Verse 2Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Verse 3Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. Verse 4Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Verse 5Jesus said to them, "Children, you have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No." Verse 6He said to them, "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. Verse 7That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. Verse 8But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. Verse 9When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Verse 10Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." Verse 11So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Verse 12Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord. Verse 13Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. Verse 14This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
Verse 15When 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." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." Verse 16A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." Verse 17He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the 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. Verse 18Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." Verse 19(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me."
Who stopped to count the fish, I wonder? Judas was no longer around. He who had been the keeper of the purse, concerned about the cost of the fragrant nard, and negotiated the price of betrayal, had a real head for figures, but it was not him. You can go down a veritable “rabbit-hole” in speculation if you search the internet as to the significance of the number of 153 fish. I counted at least fifteen speculations, from Pythagorean math equations, to numerology and creative apocalyptic literature references.
All of which is simply a way of saying that we are too easily distracted from Jesus’ central command here and far too easily drawn to figuring out the minutia. Just so, I suppose this is another reason why Jesus has to repeat the command to care for the sheep three times to Peter, and by extension to us. We are so easily distracted from the command to love, care, and feed.
Gracious God, you call us to care for one another and have the shepherd’s concern for all the flock. Grant us eyes of compassion, hands willing to work, and hearts so inclined toward you that we are not distracted by the cares and curiosities of this world. Amen.