One Hundred Fifty-Three Big Fish
Shortly after that suspenseful and joyful first day of the week, we left Jerusalem and began our journey to the north. There were hardly any more pilgrims in the capital during that time. We took every precaution not to call the attention of the soldiers guarding the gates of the city after the holidays. The rulers of Israel whom we had left behind in their palaces thought that Jesus was no more than a memory soon to be buried into oblivion. We, who knew that God had raised him from the dead, walked hurriedly toward the direction of the Galilee of the gentiles, to bring the good news to our countrymen…
Peter: In Capernaum, they’re probably thinking that we’ve been swallowed by the earth or that Pilate has ordered us beheaded!
Philip: It’s been a month since we left the lake and… so many things have happened since!
James: The moment they find out what happened to Jesus, they’ll all be scared to death…!
Peter: Well, they’ll be greatly relieved the moment we tell them how God put an end to all this. I’m dying to see the expression in their faces when they know what we know!
After three days of journey on the road, we set foot in Galilee. We talked for three hours with our neighbors in Capernaum, who swarmed around like flies gorging themselves with honey, giving them a detailed account of everything that had taken place during those days in Jerusalem. We all wanted to speak at the same time... My father’s house seemed so small, taking in the whole barrio who came in anticipation of our news…
John: Weep no more, grandma Rufa, you’ll get to see the Moreno again, and very much more alive than all of us here!
Rufa: I understand, son, I understand… I see how you’ve all been on the rack of great sorrow…
James: No, old woman, no! We’ve witnessed it ourselves! First the women, and then, the men… Go, speak with Jesus’ mother… let her tell you what happened!
Zebedee: What a great misfortune! My wife, Salome has gone mad, and my two sons are even worse…! And Jesus is dead! This is Satan at work!
Philip: But this is no devil’s work nor anything of that sort…! God cast the dice and he won the game over all the demons taken together! They killed Jesus, but God defeated death and raised Jesus from the dead! He’s alive, Zebedee, the Moreno is alive!
Zebedee: Shut up, Philip, and stop that nonsense!… Holy God, what fever has got into them?
Our throats ran dry narrating to them over and over again the same thing. But they did not believe us. For the poor like us who were always losers, and had become callous over the centuries, that event was too good to be true…
It had been three days since we had returned to Galilee. It was noontime and we had gathered everyone by the lakeside… We had to give them an account of what had happened to us that very morning… Old Rufa, Rufina and Peter’s sons, Jonas, my father Zebedee, my brother James’ wife and some neighbors were all seated, squatting on the earthen floor of Peter’s house. They were looking at us, anticipating what we had to say.
Peter: Didn’t we tell you? Well, he’s here! He’s been here! We’ve seen him here in Capernaum, just as we’ve seen him in Jerusalem!
Rufa: Peter, son, don’t you think it was just a dream?… You always have vivid dreams, remember?
Peter: What dream are you talking about, grandma Rufa?! How can that be? You mean all of us dreamed of the same thing at the same time? We were aboard your boat, Zebedee, and the seven of us saw him! We saw him!
Zebedee: Okay, okay, fine… It wasn’t a dream nor a nightmare… So, what happened?… Tell us exactly what happened, step by step, Peter…
Little Simon: Clearly and step by step…. Tell them, Papa…
Rufa: Shut up, little man…!
Peter: You better listen to this well, Little Simon! One day you will tell the same to your children…! And so he started….
Peter: Hey, buddies, with these clouds and wind, I smell a good catch!
John: D’ya think so, troublemaker?
Peter: I’m sure, John. My sense of smell never fails me… C’mon, let’s try our luck!… We’ll be lucky, you’ll see!
Peter: Andrew, the skinny one, John, the red-head, Philip, Nat and Thomas, who always got seasick, went up to the boat with me. It was about dawn. The stars shining above seemed to be falling out of the sky to land right over our heads...
Peter: Hey, Andrew, why don’t we cast our nets over there! I have this gut feeling we can find a school of fish right there... Hell, we’ll get them fast and easy! I’m sure!… Go on rowing, James, c’mon!
James: Pff… There’s nothing here, Peter, nothing at all!… nowhere!… I guess you read it all wrong…!
Thomas: So we won’t have a…a…anything for b..b..breakfast!
Peter: Don’t lose hope, Thomas… C’mon, let’s go up a little, toward Bethsaida. We might catch some good dorados over there!… This time, I’m sure of it!
John: Are you sure, Peter…?
Peter: I swear! And I mean it. Trust me, buddies. Let’s go!
Peter: What the…. We’ve spent the whole night casting our nets again and again and… nothing yet… Such bad luck, I was telling myself. But I kept on trying, as I was already desperate… All in vain. We caught nothing the whole night…
John: Ahmm! Blazes! I’m very sleepy!
James: Philip and Nathanael have been snoring for sometime….
John: But it’s almost dawn…! Ahmm! This will be the last time we’ll ever be doing this for you, big nose…!
Peter: Fine, it’s okay… Let’s go home… and take something to warm our bellies…
Peter: We started rowing toward Capernaum, and when we were almost there, about two hundred cubits from the wharf, that of the Seven Fountains, we saw a man from afar by the shore making signs at us… At first, we couldn’t figure out what he was saying…. He wanted to know if we had caught anything… Bah, that was funny, no?… Furiously, I shouted at him: “Nothing, man, nothing at all! And there is no need after all!”…. But then, he told us to cast our nets on the right side, for there we would find what we needed… He got me pissed off here, but then… I couldn’t understand why… well, we cast our nets… in an instant, they were full of fish!
John: Well, I guess you know who that guy was…
Rufa: Oh son, couldn’t he be Serafin? He’s an early bird, you know…
John: Of course not! He was the Moreno! Yeah, it was Jesus in person!… when I told Peter about it, he put on his robe, as he was half-naked, and jumped into the water…
Peter: The truth is, I swam faster than an eel and got to the shore first. The rest followed on the boat filled with fish…. In the wharf, Jesus had prepared a bonfire over which he was broiling a dorado… He had obtained some bread too, from I dunno where… He told us to bring over some fish for breakfast…
Philip: Hey, buddies, look at our catch…! One hundred fifty-three big fish!
Peter: It was Jesus! We were with him this morning while all of you were snoring…
Zebedee: Who’s going to believe your story, liar?
Peter: What d’ya mean who’s going to believe me? Let these six liars who were there with me tell you…!
Zebedee: You must be dreaming… After spending one whole sleepless night…
Peter: Why don’t you go to the wharf, Zebedee, and take a look at the nets… in good condition… After such a good catch, there’s not even a hole in them! Go and count the fish yourself, if you want… There you’ll see the one hundred fifty-three of them intact, minus the eight pieces that we ate…
Thomas: What we’re t..t..telling you is t..t..true. Jesus is a..a..alive!
Zebedee: Okay, okay, I’m the king of Babylon! I don’t believe anything of this sort. Either you’re all out of your mind or you intend to pull our legs!
Rufa: Hey, old man, don’t talk like that…. Who knows… These boys say things with such aplomb, it gives me the creeps…. Look, Zebedee… God can perform that miracle and a thousand more which are greater than this. He’s not God for nothing, I tell you!… Peter, son, what else happened? Tell us more... So you had breakfast with Jesus… then what?… What did he tell you?
Peter: He told us… Well, or better, what he told “me.” Ehem… After breakfast… He spoke very clearly and told me that from now on, I was to be the leader and I should take charge…
James: That was not so, Peter!! Don’t change the story to your advantage!
Peter: Oh, yeah? It wasn’t so? And how was it then, red head?
John: I heard it very well: Jesus asked you if he could count on you…
Peter: That was it exactly, John…. And I told him: “How could you ask me such a question. You know fully well you can… until death, Moreno!” And Jesus was so happy, I could see it… because he knows that I….
John: Of course, he knows that you…. That’s why he asked you again, and again, and again. Three times!… He was asked three times, do you know? There must’ve been a reason…
Peter: Okay, fine, he asked me three times, so what?… There’s no need to wash our dirty linen here…. Yeah, he asked me three times and three time I told him he could count on me…
Rufa: Then what, Peter?
Peter: Then, Jesus, who knew me like he had given birth to me, who knew me through and through, said: “Peter, take care of my sheep, lead them in the way, teach them what to do… Ehem…. In other words… now you know…
John: Damn, where the hell did you get all this nonsense, Peter?
Peter: Jesus told me himself! He said he’s giving me the voice of command now.
John: No! He said he was counting on you, that you should follow him, but not for us to follow you….
Peter: That’s practically the same. I go before you and you, after me.
Philip: How can that be? Where have you ever seen such brazenness? What nerve!
Peter: There’s nothing brazen about it. Jesus gave me the staff of command.
Thomas: W..w..what he left you was a t..t..towel for washing feet…
John: Listen to me well, you arrogant big nose: Jesus made it very clear that in the Kingdom of God we all go hand in hand and we shall all be equal!
Peter: Yeah, we all go together but not in disorder!
James: Oh yes, in disorder too, Peter, because here no one is above anyone, men and women, the young and old, married or single, or widows or widowers… everyone is the same. No one is first nor last!
Peter: But someone must lead. Otherwise, who will organize, huh?
Philip: To hell with the troublemaker, he wants to be everywhere…
Peter: Why blame me if Jesus has chosen me for this task? Jesus needs a man he can trust, shall we say, a leader… like me!
James: God is our only leader, Peter. All of us are brothers, and here, the problem is not to command, but for everyone to be pushing altogether! Open up your mind and understand!
Peter: Well, that was not the way I understood him…
John: So, you misunderstood him… You were wrong, Peter.
Peter: No, I wasn’t. I don’t make mistakes!!!
James: Really? So, you don’t make mistakes, huh? To hell with you, Peter! That’s the least that we want to hear!
Rufina: Well, I’m his wife, and I’ve heard worse things than this, you know? Ha! This is what he loves to do, to call the shots and make everyone listen whenever he opens his mouth!
Peter: You should be the first one to shut up, Rufina!!
Rufina: You see? See what I told you? So much talk about justice, yet, he’s worse than King Nebuchadnezzar!
Peter: I said, shut up!
Rufa: Peter, son, go down a little, as there is no God who can put up with you!
Peter: You shut up too, mother-in-law!
Little Simon: You shut up too, Papa! Ha, ha, ha!
Peter: You snotty-nosed little devil…! What’s going on here? Is everyone in cahoots against me?… What do you want me to do? To get down from my chair so that you may sit on it, right?!
John: No, Peter, no…. We don’t want any chair, nor throne, nor any post. We want to sit on the floor, with everyone, as Jesus has taught us, so that we can talk, with no one to silence anyone, do you understand?
The troublemaker remained sulking for quite sometime. Later, since he had a good heart, he made peace with Rufina, his wife, with her mother-in-law and with us. It was difficult for Peter and for all of us who knew Jesus, to understand what he repeatedly told us: that he who is sent is not worth more than he who sent him, that the greatest among us had to make himself the least, and that the first should be the last. This had been very difficult for us, but we learned from Jesus himself… For, who is greater, the master who is at the table or the servant that serves him? He who is seated at the table, is that right? Well, Jesus, who was the Master and the Lord, was in our midst, serving us.
This text, which concludes the gospel of John, is a “lesson” on the egalitarian spirit that should reign in the Christian community in order to remain faithful to Jesus, who insistently proclaimed radical equality of all people before God, the only authority, and the only Father (Mt 20:25-28; 23:8-12). In John’s account, this is the last time that Jesus appears before his friends and he appears to highlight this aspect of equality and service, which is fundamental among Christians.
Along the banks of the lake of Galilee, within the zone of Tabgha, is a church made of bricks of black basalt. Inside is a large stone which tradition refers to as “the Master’s table.” The church is a reminder of the encounter of Jesus with his friends, the food they had partaken of at this natural “table,” and his conversation with Peter. Beside the church, there still remain a few stairs of stone which were part of the wharf that existed in Jesus’ time.
All evangelical texts describe Peter as a man passionate in his love for Jesus, vain and boastful at the same time, so sure of himself, with a certain degree of self-sufficiency. Peter did not understand that Jesus wanted to be “equal” to all of them. That is why he protested when they talked of failure (Mk 8:32-33) during their journey to Jerusalem. When Jesus washed the feet of his disciples like he was a servant.... He understood the leadership of Jesus in the style of the rulers and leaders who wanted to rule this world.
If in Israel the shepherd symbolized the king, the Messiah, God himself, the verb “to shepherd” was also used to mean “to govern” (Ps 78:70-72, in reference to King David). But Jesus changed the meaning of shepherding with his attitude as well as with his words, just as he changed the meaning of lordship and royalty. To be a shepherd, to be king, to be Lord means only one thing: to serve God and the people until death. Jesus rid these titles of all traces that would imply being superior, to dominate, command, impose, annul, condemn... Our relationship of faith with Jesus is that of a friend, of an equal (Jn 15:14-15).
All details of this text tell us this is a lesson for the community. Jesus and his friends ate bread and fish, which are the symbols of the Eucharist. On the other hand, there are 153 fish. One hundred fifty-three is a figure taken from three groups of 50, to which three are added. Fifty in the mentality of Israel is synonymous to maturity, from the term Pentecost (= 50 days after the Passover). Three is the number of divinity (God is three times holy, he appeared to Abraham in the form of three travellers, etc.). The fruit of the work of the apostles (their fishing), represented by 153, indicates communities (each group of 50), multiplied by God’s presence in Jesus (the number 3). And this is the message of history: The Christian communities will reach their maturity and obtain the true spirit of Jesus only when all become servants of one another. The Church, which is a community of communities, naturally requires an organization and a coordination in order to better fulfill her mission of service. These functions, manifested in the different ministries, should help the charismas in which the essential aspects of the gospel are expressed: prophetic censure, the preferential option for the poor, the proclamation of justice, the fight for life and the rights of the lowly. In the Church, the authorities must be of service to the people and not expect the people to serve them. This is exactly what Jesus did.