I have heard many sermons over the years based on this passage almost invariably they condemn Peter for going back to fishing as a spiritually backward step. But where in these verses does Jesus condemn Peter for fishing? Well, if you are a theologian living in an ivory tower then it might seem more spiritual to sit on one’s backside and just wait for something to happen. Peter and the other disciples had to put food on the table. True, that the Gospels mention that several women supplied Jesus’ needs, but it is likely that this had tailed off after the crucifixion and before Pentecost, If the lack of fish during the night was a sign of Jesus’ disapproval then why did He then perform a miracle? Why did he not just tell them they were disobedient and foolish for trying in the first place. Instead He rewarded them with a large catch of fish and even asked them to bring some over to the fire so that they could be cooked. There is a saying that a moving vessel is easier to steer. We can be so frightened of moving in the wrong direction that we end up going nowhere. One used to hear of the “Protestant work ethic” though these days mere mention of it might be deemed as raising Sectarian issues. But it comes as much as from Jewish traditions as the Reformation. Indolence is not something that the Jews are noted for so it might not even have been the first they had fished after the disciples had returned to the Galilee. After all, the nets which they had no use for the the previous three years or so were in sufficiently good repair to withstand the 153 large fish. Does this imply that there were also smaller fish that they did not bother to count as well? Did Jesus in all the parables and other teachings commend those who sat around doing nothing? Did he who worked as a carpenter or builder despise those did honest toil?
It could be argued that the previous day had been the Jewish Sabbath as Peter and the other disciples seemed to be doing nothing prior to Peter’s suggestion to go fishing. Paul refers to another occasion when 500 people saw Jesus after the resurrection. It would have impossible for that number to gather together on the Sabbath as that most would have to travel more than the Jewish Sabbath laws would allow. Maybe believers had detected a pattern to Jesus’ appearances to the disciples, and Peter in particular, and were determined to be in Peter’s vicinity the next time Jesus showed up on the first day of the week.
Anyway, I digress. There has been discussion over the years over the significance of the number 153 without any definitive answer. The number 153 does not appear elsewhere in Scripture though I have heard suggestions otherwise. Maybe the real reason for the miraculous catch was that Jesus knew that the disciples would need to sell them to provide funds to stay in Jerusalem until after Pentecost. After all none of them owned property in Jerusalem and there would be relatively few friends with which they could stay. Today we hear a lot of messages to the effect that all we have to do is sit back and let God bless us. The fact the Peter wanted to go out and do some honest work goes against the grain for these people. When Paul wrote to Timothy saying all Scripture was God breathed and was useful for teaching etc., he included all the verses in Proverbs condemning sluggards for their laziness. If Peter had stayed at home and had a good night’s sleep instead could have the disciples have been sleeping on the streets of Jerusalem waiting for Pentecost rather than in the upper room? That is, of course, pure speculation.
David Rose, 2014.