Some very reliable bible theologians have concluded that the portion of St. John’s gospel that we just heard did not belong to the original but was added a long time later. They explain that it was written much earlier than the rest of the gospel and was added later on. It tells about the believers, especially the apostles, as they were shortly after Jesus’ death, when they were not yet convinced of his resurrection.
In other words, almost the entire gospel of St. John was written a long time after Jesus’ death, when belief in his resurrection had taken firm hold; whereas, the portion we just heard, the account of the miraculous catch of fish, was written much earlier, much sooner after Jesus’ death. It was subsequently added, telling us about Jesus’ followers while they were still struggling with the terrible disappointment of his shameful death after all their hopes about who he was and what he was going to do for them.
Father Roger Karban pictures it this way: “We see seven followers of Jesus who return to Galilee after their disastrous Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem, sitting around, mourning the loss of their mentor, too depressed to do anything except rehash the events of his death. Finally, Peter announces, ‘I’m going back to fishing.’ Since these guys fish for a living, Peter is actually deciding to go back to doing what he did before this itinerant preacher disturbed his life, admitting his friend is dead. He can never bring back the good old days.”
How and where does anyone – we or those apostles – find this Jesus that we say has been raised from death and is among us more alive than we ourselves are? It’s the alleged miraculous catch of fish that answers the question: we find Jesus wherever we are, whatever we are doing, with whomever we are with. Who knows whether it was actually by a magical miracle that Peter and his friends learned this or by simply being there in the everyday ordinariness of work and family, social activity, quiet contemplation and noisy discussion, eating and drinking, recreation and sport, politics and government, and so on?
Churches and tabernacles and shrines can easily deceive us by leading us to think that it is there, only or primarily, that the Risen Jesus is to be found. It’s a challenge for some of us to understand that that is not so. It must have been a greater challenge for Peter and his friends: they wanted the presence of Jesus to be spectacular and convincing (which would certainly have made their job of converting others much easier!); instead, it was so ordinary, so commonplace, even invisible. They had to be thinking, “If this man is really the messiah, certainly God can make him appear to be the celebrity that he is.” But God did no such thing, and Jesus never sought that before or after his death.
In the Old Testament, the prophet found God, not in earthquakes and fire and raging storms, but in the gentlest wisp of a breeze at the mouth of a cave. How slow we can be to learn, how little we remember! We mustn’t look for signs or spectacle; it is enough to experience Jesus in the most ordinary circumstances of our lives, experiences that are self-authenticating. That’s the meaning of Easter: not dazzling demonstrations of awesome divine power, but the abiding presence of God’s love in the mysterious presence of the Risen Jesus.
Be convinced that you are never not in his company.