I grew up on the coast, and now I live on the Tennessee River. In both places, people like to fish…a lot. And in both places people use the excuse, “I feel closest to God when I’m out fishing,” to explain why they don’t come to church more often. Usually, I’d say “Bullshit,” but this week (John 21:1-19) it seems they may be right.
The resurrected Jesus shows up in a net full of fish. After a long night of casting and dragging and hauling and coming up empty, a stranger calls out to the boat as it approaches the shore and invites them to try one more time. Bingo. That there’s a metaphor, and it’s one we almost have to go back down to the water’s edge to understand.
I know that fishing isn’t completely luck. Some people are better at it than others. Trust me: I went fishing with my father dozens of times and never caught a thing. Though I understand that, for some professional fisherpersons, the catch is a matter of putting food on the table for a family, I still don’t grasp why fishing is a professional sport. But it is, and that means that knowledge, skill, and ability are all involved. And, for these disciples, many of whom made a living on the sea, fishing, though relaxing and therapeutic, wasn’t just a hobby. So these guys weren’t in the boat for the first time. They knew what they were doing, yet still they had a bad night.
Bad nights happen. Even the guys who fish in shiny boats and are shown on ESPN occasionally come back with nothing. No matter how good you are at fishing you can’t force a fish to jump into your boat. You have to coax it. You have to fool it. You have to convince it to take a bite (or surprise it in a net). And sometimes, no matter how good you are, you come back empty handed. And that’s when Jesus shows up.
For John, this is a resurrection story. This is about Jesus showing up and proving to his disciples that he had risen from the dead—that God can and has and will win the ultimate victory over death. And how does he show up? By inviting the exhausted and frustrated disciples to cast their nets one more time. Bingo. Resurrection.