Fish for Breakfast

It took the apostles some time to come to terms with the reality of Jesus raised from the dead; but once they accepted it, they had to face the challenges of day-to-day life in the context of their newly aroused faith. It was this tension between the mundane reality of ordinary life and the glorious reality of a Lord who now reigns with God that had to be resolved in the lives of the apostles. This tension was especially manifested in the apostles’ personal encounters with the risen Lord, who challenged them to transform themselves in imitation of him.

The Gospel of John presents a scene at the Sea of Tiberias, where a number of Jesus’ disciples had gathered. Jesus had already appeared to them twice, but Peter’s mind that day is on fishing. Whether that is on his mind because he needs to earn some money, to relax and pray for a while or just to catch some food to eat, Peter’s announcement is matter of fact: “I am going fishing.” Just as matter of fact is the response of the disciples, who say, “We will go with you.”

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One can imagine the disciples on the boat and what they might be discussing together; or perhaps they are silent, trying to process the events of Easter and what their next tasks might be. The revelation of Easter puts them between two worlds. Their discipleship with Jesus has not come to an end, but how will they begin again?

They fish all night without a catch and Jesus appears to them a third time at dawn. While they do not recognize him initially, they cast their net to the right side of the boat when he instructs them to do so. Only when they struggle to pull in their miraculous catch of fish do they recognize Jesus. What Jesus does next is ordinary; he feeds them breakfast, cooking some of the fish over a charcoal fire and giving them bread. He cares for them in the most ordinary of ways, helping with their work and giving them food to eat.

But after breakfast Jesus gives to Peter an extraordinary task; as Jesus has fed his disciples, so Peter is now to feed his sheep. Jesus challenges Peter three times whether he loves him, and three times Peter answers yes, though he is “distressed that Jesus had said to him a third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.’” Jesus has challenged Peter three times to profess his love in light of Peter’s threefold denial, but also to impress upon Peter his new vocation.

As simply as Peter said, “I am going fishing,” Jesus now instructs him, “Feed my sheep.” The Greek in this conversation is interesting, as Jesus asks Peter twice whether he loves him, using the verb agapao, love that pours itself out for others, and Peter responds with phileo, the word for deep love between friends. On the third occasion, however, it is not Peter who alters the verb, but Jesus. Jesus aligns himself with Peter, using phileo, not agapao, and Peter again responds with phileo, asserting that he loves Jesus deeply as a friend.

It is a subtle recognition by Jesus that the spiritual transformations necessary to follow him lie latent in our own gifts and abilities. Peter was called by Jesus to serve in a new way in order to feed his sheep, and his responses to Jesus indicated that he did not yet understand the full implication of this call even as he accepted it. Yet Jesus knew that these gifts lay dormant in Peter and he would be able to feed his sheep and follow him to death.

These gifts are made manifest soon after the ascension in Peter’s behavior in Jerusalem, when he is told to stop preaching in Jesus’ name and he responds, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” Not only will Peter pour himself out for the name of Jesus, but he will do so filled with joy. Just as Jesus knew, Peter’s love for Jesus had grown so that now it fed not just his own needs but the needs of all of the disciples.

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Bruce Snowden
5 years 6 months ago
Fish for breakfast isn’t appetizing to me. Come to think of it however, until Pope Pius XII modified the Eucharistic fasting rules in 1950 allowing food one hour before receiving Communion, I always had Ichthus “for breakfast” at Mass. So I guess “fish for breakfast” is something the Church has been serving up for a long time, ever since Jesus’ invitation at the beach, “Come have breakfast!” Since the Fish (Ichthus) speaks of Jesus in the Blessed Eucharist, it links together that The Real Presence of Jesus on the beach of the Sea of Tiberias did include a call for a breakfast of fisn, bringing to mind for me in yet another ways Paul’s mystery words, connecting “that which is and that which is to come” as apparently one and the same thing! Respectfully, now let me answer your three questions. (1) “What gifts am I called to let grow?” I am called to be able to care for people in ordinary ways like feeding people in any number of ways, through friendship, through guidance, including financially and materially in food as Jesus did in all four ways, (remember Jesus sending Peter to catch a fish and in its mouth was enough money to pay the Temple Tax for him and Peter?) whenever and wherever that opportunity of Grace presents itself. (2) “How do I let the extraordinary suffuse my daily life?” By realizing that whatever I do in the name of Jesus I do to and for him, which makes tangible the Light of Glory ordinary to the Land of the Living, here-and-now. (3) “How do I love on behalf of others?” By placing myself at their disposal in the Name of Jesus, attempting to seriously take to heart Jesus’ teaching that the measure of love is to love without measure." .It’s not easy being Christian a point made decades ago by the French Cardinal Danieliux, “With great ease I am pagan and with great difficulty Christian!” In the Name of Jesus we press forward in this “vale of tears” where life seems gnarled, but not always. Sometimes life can be as smooth as silk and as soft as velvet. But mostly, life is like a fine grain sandpaper, offering enough “rub” to let you know all is not well, but with enough gentleness assuring that life is O.K.! The holy Capuchin Franciscan Brother Saint Conrad of Parzham said it best – “The Cross is my book. One look at the Cross and I know what I have to do." Here’s two stanzas of a related poem I call “ICHTHUS” “ In the Tiberian Sea beneath its crest, A Mother Fish with pride confessed, to many of her sons and daughters, Who swan with joy within the waters That one day not too far away, The Resurrected Lord would say, “Have you ant fish to eat?” Then Mother Fish continued saying, In tones akin to solemn praying, One of you my dear will be, The meal your Maker makes of thee. To Him they’ll give a piece of fish, Baked and eaten at His wish, The purpose of YOUR life complete!”

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