Sunday, August 13, 2023

They inclosed a great multitude of fishes (John 21)

So, as promised, a post on John chapter 21, even though like the first part of John eight, it's probably not part of the original. However, once again, there's a lot of interesting stuff to unpack here.

So the story tells us up front that this is another post-resurrection appearance of Jesus, this time by the sea of Tiberias/Galilee. Peter decides he's going fishing; apparently after everything that's happened, he's not sure what to do next, so he figures he's going back to his old job, I guess. A bunch of the other Apostles go with him. They go fishing at night, but catch nothing. A man appears on the shore and asks them if they have anything to eat; it's Jesus, but they don't recognize him.

I have a personal theory about this repeated business of Jesus not being initially recognized by people in post-resurrection appearances. I don't remember if I came up with this myself or if I heard it from someone else. One of the things we hear about Jesus post-resurrection, is that he still has the scars of his torture on his body. I already talked briefly about what that might imply in John 19, but there's another detail not mentioned there, or even in the New Testament in general. It's a bit of a reach, admittedly, but some people see Isaiah 50:6 as a prophecy of Jesus's torture before his crucifixion, and it reads, "I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting." If, in addition to the trauma actually described in the gospels, Jesus's beard was plucked out, he would have a scarred and hairless face on top of everything else. This would certainly make him hard to recognize for anyone used to seeing him with a beard. It's hard to say, though; one of the interesting things about Jesus in the Bible is there is absolutely no physical description of him anywhere at all (unless you count Revelation chapter one, which is probably not what Jesus usually looked like).

Anyway, when they tell Jesus they have no fish, he tells them to cast the net on the right side of the boat, which they do, and subsequently catch so many fish they can't lift the net back in the boat, a call back to the story from Luke chapter five. I've sometimes wondered if this story was meant to be an allegory to the idea of the Gospel going from the Jews to the gentiles, but that's pure speculation. John realizes that the man is Jesus, and says so. Peter, who for some reason was fishing at night naked, puts on his clothes and jumps in the water to swim to shore. The others drag the net to the shore where Jesus is apparently making breakfast for them. The story specifies that they caught 153 fish, which is interesting because it's not a number that has significance, nor is it rounded. It seems that whoever wrote this wanted to show that there was a lot of fish, and that they weren't being hyperbolic about it.

Verses 15-17 are very interesting, but something is lost in translation. As the SAB notes, it sounds like Jesus is asking the same question three times, but it's a shortcoming of the English language, that doesn't have as many words for "love" as Greek. It's been said by many that since Peter denied Jesus three times, Jesus asks Peter three times to restore him, which may be true. But the real significance is in the specific words used in the Greek. It's sort of like this:
Jesus: Do you love me more than anyone?

Peter: You know I like you.

J: Do you love me?

P: You know I like you.

J: Do you like me?

P: [grieved to notice the change of verbs] You know all things; you know I like you.
Note once again that just because Jesus is asking a question, it doesn't mean he didn't know the answer; he's trying to draw something out of Peter here, and perhaps teach Peter something.

Jesus says some cryptic things to Peter that apparently are prophetic of the way Peter would die. History says that Peter was crucified, however he requested to be crucified upside down because he wasn't worthy of dying the same death as Jesus. Because of this, an upside-down cross is sometimes considered a symbol of the Apostle Peter. Peter asks about John, and Jesus says, "If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?" Which some people, including apparently the SAB, take to mean that John would live until the second coming, but I think Jesus is just saying, "that's none of your business." (Verse 23 seems to be confirming this.) Nonetheless, John did see the second coming in a vision in writing the book of Revelation.

The chapter and the book end with the claim that all the things that Jesus did probably couldn't be contained in all the books of the world. If we're talking about what Jesus did in his thirty-odd years on earth alone, this is clearly hyperbole. As for the SAB's question of Does the gospel of Luke contain everything that Jesus did? I think the SAB is taking the word "all" in Acts 1:1 too literally. I'm pretty sure Luke just meant "all the things that I thought were important enough to include..."

No comments: