Sunday’s Gospel: Joy Comes in the Morning

By Chaplain Mike

Each Sunday, we present devotional thoughts based upon the Gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary.

Today is the third Sunday in Easter.
Today’s Gospel is John 21:1-19.

Gospel Text

After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5Jesus said to them, ‘Children, you have no fish, have you?’ They answered him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.’ So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the lake. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the 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. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’

Today’s Good News

As a hospice chaplain, I speak at many funeral services. Here in Indiana where I live, many of these services are for people who loved to go fishing. Inevitably, I come back to this passage as a source of comfort in those situations.

Usually, I just tell the story.

Peter and his friends were downcast after their friend and Lord Jesus died. Unclear about what to do next, Peter chose what came natural to him—“I’m going fishing,” he said. Makes sense. Few things offer a bit of peace to an outdoorsman like time out on the water, listening to the waves beat against the side of the boat, deeply inhaling the fresh air and feeling the breeze in your face. Having some simple task upon which to focus like hauling in a few fish can be good medicine for the hurting, troubled soul.

How many times do we likewise seek comfort in such simple pleasures when life is hard to endure or understand?

However, this activity, designed for some respite from grief, ultimately turned to frustration for Peter and the disciples. These seasoned fishermen caught nothing! All night long! It must have been maddening.

Early in the morning, a dim figure could be seen standing in the mists on the shore. The men in the boat didn’t recognize him, but it was Jesus. He called out to them, advising them to let their nets down on the other side of the boat. At first they grumbled (what does this stranger know?), but then they gave it a try. Surprise! A net full of fish! So heavy they couldn’t pull it into the boat.

Peter had seen this before—Jesus had worked a similar miracle earlier in his career. So the apostle knew immediately that it was his Savior, risen from the dead, who had worked this wonder too. Impetuous Peter slapped on a shirt, jumped into the water, and splashed his way to shore to see the Lord.

The others followed in the boat, with a haul of 153 fish. (That’s how you can tell a fish story, by the way. Who else but fishermen would remember exactly how many they caught, such an odd number!)

Jesus invited them to have breakfast with him, there on the beach, another pleasant activity campers and fisherman enjoy. There, in the cool of the morning, with the smell of the campfire and sizzle of frying fish in the pan, the risen Christ spoke to them. He comforted them. He is risen! He is with us!

Jesus talked especially to Peter, who at that point in his life, after some notable failures, needed a whole lot of comfort, forgiveness, restoration, rejuvenation. On that morning, Jesus tended his broken heart, gave him a bit of hope, a path to walk in the future, direction and consolation for his life.

And here we may find ourselves as well, toiling in darkness, awaiting the dawn of a new day. Can you put yourself in that boat, on that shore, with this Jesus?

Hope stands, though it may be but dimly-viewed on the shore. Hear his voice. Come to his simple feast of hope and comfort.

Today’s Prayer

I will exalt you, Lord, for you rescued me.
You refused to let my enemies triumph over me.
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you restored my health.
You brought me up from the grave, O Lord.
You kept me from falling into the pit of death.

Sing to the Lord, all you godly ones!
Praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime!
Weeping may last through the night,
but joy comes with the morning.

(from Psalm 30, NLT)

27 thoughts on “Sunday’s Gospel: Joy Comes in the Morning

  1. As I preached on John 20 last Sunday, I too became prayerful. I noticed the disciples were still locked in fear , and returned to old habits and professions. I then realized Jesus was “preparing them for Pentacost. Before Pentacost, the Holy Spirit came temporarily ‘on loan” (as with Saul) but after Pentacost the Holy Spirit came to be a permanent indweller in believers. When he came as Jesus promised (“But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you” (Jn. 16:7)) after Jesus’ ascention He changed the disciples into bold persons. He promised to never leave us alone. The Holy Spirit made them fishers of men.


  2. I agree with him 100% about the Bible. I’m an ex-agnostic myself, and probably still would be, but I got in an unwanted argument with a fundamentalist (or so I thought) who said, “Does it really matter if Genesis is literally true or not? Is that really what Christ is all about?” The answer, I realized, was “No. Christ is not about Genesis.” I realize now that the opposite is true: Genesis is about Christ, and so is all the other unbelievable stuff in that much-copied, much-redacted palimpsest of a book. If it’s all a myth, then it joins the streaming throng of other myths that all sweep us toward Christ and the Unknown God.

    I’m not trying to give you advice about your husband or what to tell him. I’m just saying, “I get him. I was him.” And I’m no better than him. But I’ve come to terms with the one I didn’t want to acknowledge, and if I can do it then I reckon any other cynical post-modernist can.


  3. Don’t go getting a big head, but that was an awesome comment.

    Why does he trust us? I will resist the temptation to spend all night trying to answer that. But I acknowledge it as a worthy challenge.


  4. Amenn, Johnn. 🙂

    I can’t tell y’all how much the Lectionary and Liturgy of the BCP has affected me over the last few months. It’s really, really helped my spiritual walk. And y’know, I don’t think I’d have started on this road if it hadn’t been for stuff that iMonk wrote a couple years ago.


  5. Something about this passage started bothering me on Sunday, only because the previous Friday I had preached on the end of John 20. I never would have noticed this if I hadn’t preached last week. Hadn’t the disciples already seen Jesus and gotten the firstfruits pre-Pentacost gift of the Holy Spirit? How come they were out fishin’ and being depressed? What happened to Thomas’ “My Lord and my God!”?


  6. Today, many pastors don’t feed and care those entrusted to their care. They may not be properly equipped or they don’t see it as their primary responsibility. They want those in their care to be “self-feeders”.


  7. I think the “lowering of the standard” so to speak in Jesus changing the word from agape to phileo in the last question indicates that the Lord will meet us where we’re at. He sets the ideal before us and pushes us there, but is willing to come down to our level if that’s all we can give at the moment. Just a thought.


  8. A few verses later, Jesus is very firm about not letting Peter compare himself with John – what matters in the passage is Peter, and his relationship to Christ; his restoration to that friendship. No competition with others pernitted.

    Without subtracting any of the wonder from this Gospel passage, it’s one that never fails to crack me up – when you start filling in the background to the scene, you get some pretty funny stuff. Jesus pulling Peter aside for a quiet chat and oh, by the way, you’re going to be crucified too; John sneaking after them to eavesdrop and getting caught at it; Peter trying to throw the spotlight on John and getting rebuked yet again; John having to use his Gospelto quash the rumors about him that started thanks to that. It’s such a completely human scene – nothing’s changed with the Apostles, nor will until Pentecost. I wrote a reflection on it, and the threefold question, some time back; it’s here if anyone is curious:


  9. I love the lectionary — being able to hear this passage read this morning in church, hear it as the topic of the sermon, read it again here this evening and then read the discussion. One of the beauties of the lectionary is that it forces one to move through the scriptures… how often would you hear this passage preached if it weren’t presented to the pastor as the assigned topic?


  10. Yes, Gordon, he knows about “doubting Thomas.” I also told him that it was Thomas that said something to the effect of “let’s die with Jesus” when Jesus said that he was going up to Jerusalem and would be killed. I also pointed out how many of the disciples were fishermen. (Tom like to fish.) Tom admires Jesus as a great teacher, but that’s it. He doesn’t think we can really rely on anything in the Bible because of so many copies having been made down through the years and all the chances for errors to be made.


  11. Jesus being both God and Peter’s brother (in the Mark 3:31 sense), I think it a profound and subliminal test for Jesus to ask him first “Do you love me to the point of self-sacrifice?” then asks him to feed his lambs – to be to the world what Jesus was to the Apostles. He asks him again, “Do you love me like a brother?” And charges him with the same thing. And all the time, Peter keeps insisting that he loves Jesus in the strongest terms he feels comfortable saying (and is hurt because he feels like Jesus is rejecting those terms), and Jesus is pressing him always to enlarge his love and to take Jesus’ place as shepherd.

    I see them arguing over the adequacy of merely-human love for one another in the Kingdom of God in the post-Resurrection context, and Peter’s commitment to Jesus is revealed to be (like it was before the resurrection) insufficient to the calling he is EVEN AT THAT MOMENT receiving, and yet he’s given charge of the sheep anyways, because Jesus doesn’t care about what we think our terms are with Him – he’ll always pull us after Him and back towards the sheep, our silly hurt feelings notwithstanding.

    And considering that even years later, Peter is being surpassed in virtue and commitment to the Gospel by the other disciples, even to the point of being publicly admonished for going soft on the Gospel and hard on the Gentiles by Paul, we may conclude that for the rest of his life Peter struggled and was humiliated by that quintessential struggle: talking big and failing to follow through, always prone to being lost in his own private and useless distinctions.

    Peter really didn’t know what love was, and Jesus knew that before the Cross (Matthew 7:4, John 18:11, Mark 14), and after it. Even the angels knew it.

    “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples —and Peter—, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ” Mark 16:6

    When he met his martyrdom after such a life, I wonder if he had that agape that Jesus asked him for.

    What a crazy thing it is, to be talking with the Son of God come back from the dead and to be trying to tell him how you love him like a brother, and to be told (and to find out in a million ways over the rest of your life) that it’s not enough and that it’s somehow okay at the same time.

    God trusts us. Why is that?


  12. I am convinced he was referring to other disciples. Jesus loved to tease his disciples. Once you start to look for it, you see it over and over in the gospels. I mean, what a thing to say in front of the other disciples, especially when they all probably knew about Peter’s denial (after all, Jesus predicted it in front of all of them). God have mercy on me, another jackass.


  13. I like the way your husband thinks. Have you ever pointed out to him that he is named after the skeptical disciple?


  14. I’m with Jesse. The author had a choice about which words to use, and I like to think he chose them for a reason. I doubt that these nine Jews were chatting around the fire in Greek, so they weren’t using these exact words, but whatever they actually did say gave the author reason to express things with a different synonym. I think Christ was asking Peter if he loved him personally, and Peter was replying that he was devoted to him dutifully. Maybe Jesse is right, and Jesus finally shrugs and says, “Ok, are you devoted to me dutifully, then?” Peter is hurt because he knows full well that each question is in reference to each denial.

    The great thing about this whole episode, though, is that Jesus makes an appearance especially for Peter. In this gospel he appeared especially to Mary first; then to the eleven; then he makes a special visit just for Thomas (there’s a good sermon in there somewhere); and now he makes one last visit in this account for Peter. I’m starting to think that the gospel of John is mainly about Jesus and his relationship with his disciples and close followers: how time and again he tries to explain what he is; how he does things in their presence specifically to educate and train them; how in the end he has a bond with them that may have surprised even him (notwithstanding the whole question of omniscience).


  15. Thanks, MWPeak. I did give Tom that passage as well as one from Mark, two from Matthew, one from 2 Peter 3, and one from Revelation. I will share the one I gave him from 2 Peter 3. (I took various verses from that chapter and put them together:) “First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’ But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation.” (NIV)

    I love the part about the Lord being patient. It is such a good thing he is. He was patient with Peter, wasn’t he. I guess Peter remembered Jesus’ patience with him and reminds his fellow followers of the patience of Jesus.


  16. Thank you for this beautiful passage and meditation. It’s just what I needed after some darkish days the past few weeks. Whatever the darkness, we know that there is for us the light of our risen Lord. Indeed, it is in our dark times, by his marvelous grace, he comes to us, though we may not always recognize him at first. The prayer accompanying this in the lectionary link is also beautiful.


  17. Jesse, I tend to think the significance it not so much in the words used (they may be read as synonyms) but in the fact that Jesus asked the question three times, mirroring Peter’s three denials.


  18. I’ve often wondered what the “more than these” referred to. The fish which can symbolize sucess, prosperity and possessions? The other disciples which may represent people we may seek to please or place above our relationship with Christ? The boat and tackle which represents our career and position in this life? The sea which can represent our love of natural things, their pleasure and value to us? All these things?


  19. May the Good Shepherd of Psalm 23 be with you as you walk thru the valley of this dark night. May you know his peace and have no fear, for he is with you and and will comfort and guide you.


  20. When I read that Peter was hurt and that he seems to be lecturing Jesus about the matter (Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you), I have to grin. To me, Peter is still the same pushy and reactive man he was during Jesus’ ministry and yet, Jesus was not at all threatened by it.

    It is God’s grace through Jesus’ resurrection that calls Peter into service and not some newfound piety on Peter’s part. I find it fascinating that God chose arrogant, wild men like Peter and Paul to be His voice. There is no storm that He cannot hold in His hands, Amen.

    Sometimes shouting from the rooftops is the way to go.

    “He is risen indeed!”


  21. This is the account of the disciples watching Jesus ascending into heaven when two men in white robes appear and say, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11 ESV).

    Hope this helps.


  22. I so needed this. I am going through the darkest of dark nights right now and am longing for the morning.


  23. Chaplain Mike, this is one of my favorite sections of the Gospels because I love the image of Jesus cooking up fish for his disciples. I also love that they counted the fish they caught. It is interesting that Peter was fishing in the nude but threw on clothes to jump into the water to go meet Jesus. I guess it just wouldn’t do to greet Jesus in his birthday suit! I also find it interesting that even after they get to the beach and see Jesus close up, the Gospel says: “Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, ‘Who are you?’ because they knew it was the Lord.” Somehow, his body changed so much that he didn’t look the way he looked prior to the cross, I guess. I wonder if he still had the marks in his hands and feet and side that Thomas needed to see originally? So many things are a mystery to me.

    This may be a bit off-topic, but my husband asked me yesterday where in the Bible Jesus says that he is coming back to earth. I don’t know that he will even listen to anything from the Book of Revelation, but I guess I am going to have to scour the Gospels for anything Jesus says about his return. I don’t think Tom will want to hear it from parables either. It’s not really even like he wants to be convinced of anything; he just wants to prove to me that nothing like that is going to happen. He thinks it’s silly and he thinks Christians just believe what they are told to believe and don’t think for themselves. He says IF Jesus did resurrect and then ascend, no one has seen him since (even though I point out the Apostle Paul) and no one will see him here again. He says other gods from other religions do the same thing and Jesus and Christianity are no different, but tries to make itself different.


  24. I researched this passage some years ago in the original Greek, only to find that the passage uses two different words for love. The first two times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, Jesus uses the verb form of “agape”. Peter replies both times with the verb form of “fileo”. The third time, Jesus uses the verb Peter used before, “fileo”, and Peter replies–grieved, sad, offended even–with the same verb.

    I mention this because I’ve heard it said that agape is the highest form of love, and yet in this passage, at the very end of the gospel of John, Jesus starts with agape and ends with fileo. Peter never changes, and even gets upset that Jesus would challenge him with a different form of love. So, did Peter, by using fileo, commit to a higher kind of love than Jesus initially asked of him? Or did Jesus just resign himself to what he could get out of Peter, either because Peter was stubborn or didn’t understand what Jesus was asking of him? Either way, a very interesting exchange, and kind of a strange way to end the gospel.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: