Just in time for throwing the line into streams freshly stocked for Trout season, followed by “fish stories” of the one that got away, we hear an after-Easter morning “fish story,” of an amazing catch that didn’t get away.
It followed a night of empty nets and a voice from the shore calling out, “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.
Immediately, they realized it was Jesus, Who invited them to have breakfast with Him, and bring some of their huge catch – no “fish story” but a real catch which Peter hauled ashore: … large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.
153 fish! Ever since that report people have been trying to figure the significance of that number.
This is a sampling:
Cyril of Alexandria who was seated as patriarch from 412 until his death in 444, broke down the numbers and said:
100 represented the Gentiles,
50 represented the Jews,
and 3 represented the Trinity and thus God.
Augustine of Hippo, born in 354 and died in 430, known as bishop, theologian, philosopher, saint, and, to this day, through his two writings, “The City of God” and “Confessions,”
proposed a far more elaborate explanation which works out
as an intriguing mathematical exercise.
He said there are Ten Commandments and seven is the perfect number representing God the gracious Creator. 10+7= 17.
So, write a line of numbers, from 1 through 17 – (1, 2, 3, and on to 17)
Then below that line of numbers, indent by one space and write out1 through 16.
Below that line, indent one space and write out 1 through 15.
Continue adding line after line of numbers, diminishing
by one each time – 1 through 14, one through 13, etc.
until the last number is 1,
and see that the descending lines of numbers have formed a perfect triangle – the Trinity, the Triune God.
Jerome, born in 347 and died in 420, and therefore, a contemporary of Cyril and Augustine, was a devoted priest, scholar of the Scriptures, especially the Gospels, translated the Bible into Latin, called “The Vulgate,” and, as the dominant Christian historian, was given the title Doctor of the Church. Although a probing, thorough researcher, he came up with the simplest explanation:
153 was the count of all the different types of fish in the seas at that time and symbolized the intended count of all the people in the world.
Jerome’s symbolism is worth considering, especially when noticing -both the people and the place of this after Easter Sunday morning story, which the Gospel writer noted as (John 21: 14): “This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.” :
the disciples Jesus had called from their nets and their boats to follow Him and “fish for people,”
the disciples the risen Christ met in the upper room and heard others report sporadic appearances that left them confused…
so back to fishing, with not much success until that Voice called out, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat,
and you will find some.”
It was that breakfast on the beach that called them to remember what Jesus commissioned them to do:
fish for people, save a humanity drowning in the storm-tossed waters of life, pull them on-board the ship of the church, and bring them to sit at the Table of the Lord, the bread Life.
The ongoing Easter charge: Keep fishing until all peoples – the full count of races and nations, genders and ages are on-board – the symbolic count of the 153 fish in the net.
Fish by telling your own “fish story” –how you got “hooked” on coming here to Trinity, how you “got hooked” on Bible reading and prayer, teaching a Church School class, singing and ringing in a choir, going on ASP, volunteering in a soup kitchen, sending cards to and visiting the ill and shut-ins, giving your time to Scouting or serving in some way in the community.
Fish with the gentle “hook” of an invitation to bring someone with you to a Sunday service and a special event at Trinity, someone who has given up after a bad religious experience, someone who needs to trust that
there is a gracious, loving God waiting to embrace that person through the accepting welcome of a caring congregation.
Fish, fish, fish…in the unending season that will go on until that Day promised in the complicated poetic imagery that completes the books of the Bible, “The Revelation to John.”
Like the first book of Genesis with its opening line: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth…” it picks up on God’s creation fully restored, when the dawn of that Easter morning will sweep over the heavens and the earth, and there will be an elaborate celebration.
Today we are privileged to read John’s report on his glimpse of the rehearsal for the performance of “The Angel’s Easter Cantata”:
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing,
“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might
forever and ever!”
A sampling of the celebration awaiting the 153 “fish” who, for Jerome, symbolized all people caught in the unbreakable net of God’s grace made real in Jesus Christ, with John’s vision serving to encourage us when there are empty net days in the life of the church.
Keep fishing, keep fishing. Amen.