Today’s gospel can be looked at from many angles. To begin with, Peter and the others were practical people – they had families to feed, boats to care for and so, even though they were still caught up in the wonder of seeing the risen Lord, when Peter said, “I am going fishing”, in other words I’ve got to get back to work, the others said, ‘so do we’.
Then we see the risen Christ coming to these men in the midst of their work, their unfruitful work. He wants to help them in their work – ‘cast your net to the right side of the boat.’ We too meet the risen Christ in the midst of our work, our careers, and our tasks. We meet Him in our work, we meet Him in the people with whom we work and we can trust that He is willing to help us in our work, see us through our struggles and disappointments – see us through the times when our labor seems to be in vain.
We wonder what is the significance of John telling us that the catch of fish numbered 153. Some sources say that at that time Greek zoology claimed that there were 153 species of fish. The message being, that the apostles – as fishers of people – are to bring all peoples to faith in the risen Christ.
Then we have the three questions of Jesus to Peter – do you love me? Remember Peter, warming himself at a fire, denied, even swore he did not know Jesus. Now warming himself at the charcoal fire Jesus lit, we see Peter’s rehabilitation – his threefold declaration of love – yes Lord I love you, you know all things, you know I love.
The next part of the gospel can apply to a lot of us because we are at a certain time in our lives. Jesus tells Peter, “When you were younger you used to fasten your belt and go where you wanted to go. But when you grow old you will stretch out your hands and someone will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’
I think we can apply this to that time in our lives when we loose our independence. When we have to face retirement, we’re too old for the job – we loose our driver’s license, we need a cane or a walker – we need home care – we have to face the hard realty we can’t live alone, we have to go into a retirement home, a nursing home, or worst of all we have to hang up the golf clubs. And it hurts – in a way it is a form of dying, having to face our limitations, face the fact we can’t do the things we used to do. We have to hand our lives over to others.
John tells us the Jesus spoke these words to Peter to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. In our own life situations we too can glorify God when we stretch out our hands, let go of our treasured independence, our freedom, our self reliance and trust in God’s care for us.
Jesus asked Peter, do you love me. When we are in those situations of having to let go of our independence Jesus can be asking us, not, ‘do you love me’ but ‘do you trust me’, do you trust me to walk with you into your new life situation? Remember the little exercise called a ‘faith walk’? We would close our eyes and someone would take us by the hand and we had no idea where they would lead us, we had to trust them, in a way we handed ourselves over to them.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass we can pray for ourselves and for each other that when that time comes in our lives – and for most of us it will come – when we stretch out our hands and go where we would rather not go – we be graced with the trust we need to hand our lives over to the grace and power of the Risen Christ – and in that surrender come to know new life and new love.