Vugt: The appearances of Jesus by the Lake of Tiberias

Arnold Van Vugt

THIS delightful story is filled with divine presence as Christ stands on the lonely lakeshore in the light of dawn. The apostles are a stranger but John, the prophet, recognizes Christ.

The apostles pulled in a net full of 153 big fish. This number had a symbolic value; it expressed plentitude and universality. Such will be the apostolic work: all nations of the earth will be brought to Christ.

The triple questioning of Peter may be thought of as the undoing of the triple denial during Jesus’ passion. Peter, too, being the shepherd of the shepherds, is a forgiven sinner. Jesus entrusts the whole Church to him: the same as in Matthew 16:18. “Do you love me”? This is the first condition to be fulfilled by the shepherd in the Church.

This dialogue between Jesus and Peter expresses what being a Christian is all about. Jesus asks us every day if we love him in a special and exclusive way: “Do you love me more than them”? We answer, “Yes”, despite our miseries, as Peter did; Jesus then invites us to follow him anew, out of love (v.22), and to show with him the responsibility of caring for the people of God. There is no better way of following Jesus than by giving up our lives for his mission.

Jesus orders Peter to care for the Church and, with this, orders us to obey. We obey freely and conscientiously, not because the shepherds are always capable and infallible, but rather because they perform a necessary function of authority. We believe that historically they are the successors of the apostles, and for that reason have received their mission from God.

The Gospel ends with a prediction of the different fates that will be Peter’s and John’s. Peter died a martyr’s death in Rome in the year 66 or 67; John was still living in the year 90. He was the last of the witnesses of Christ and many thought he would not die until the Lord would come again: hence, the Gospel insists that Jesus had not made such a promise.

The last paragraph was placed there by those associated with John at the time of his death.

This is the story of the appearances of Jesus at the lake of Tiberias.

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