John 21:1-19

Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine

The story of Jesus' appearance by the sea in the Gospel of John is one of the great stories in the whole Gospel tradition. The description of the disciples who were gathered there in Galilee is a list of most of the twelve. There are seven of them who are listed: Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathaniel, James, John, and two others of the disciples. Counting Judas,that were five who were not there. The missing disciples include Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, and Philip—who were the ones to whom the Greeks went to question about Jesus and John.

Thus most of the disciples have gone back to Galilee and are sitting around doing nothing by the sea of Tiberius. They are "sitting by the dock of the bay…wasting time." The implication of this is that the disciples had gone back to life as usual as fishermen. The tone to use in naming the disciples is therefore one of discouragement. Convey in the way that you tell this that after Jesus' death, his disciples returned to their life as fishermen in Galilee and were discouraged. This is the implication of the story.

Simon Peter's decision to go fishing is as if he is trying to generate some energy: to paraphrase, "Well, I'm going fishing. I'm not going to just sit around here and be depressed." The others then say, in effect, "All right, we'll go with you." So they go out and they fish all night and catch nothing. The atmosphere of discouragement is only heightened by their inability to catch any fish.

Jesus' appearance is told as a surprise: "Jesus appeared on the shore." His appearance is not to be taken for granted. It is a very unusual thing that someone who had died would appear on the shore of a lake. So it is not something to be stated as a matter of fact, but rather with a tone and/or gesture of surprise. Of course, the dynamic of the story is that the storyteller is telling this to the audience so that we as listeners know what is going on,but the disciples do not. Part of the fascination of this episode of the story is that we know what's going on, but the disciples don't know.

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