If we piece together what happened to the Apostles after the death of Jesus, we find yet another significance in the Resurrection, for it seems plain enough from St John’s account that they initially went back to their old work. Jesus – whom we note is still not recognisable on sight to his followers – is on the shore in the early morning light when Peter, John, Thomas and Nathaniel come back from a fruitless night’s fishing. It sounds as if, at this stage, the Apostles were far from being in full-time ministry. Once more we note that it was the voice of Jesus which was recognised first, and that it was John who noticed it first. How typical was Peter’s response – to rush into the water to get to Jesus as fast as possible after the fish had been caught where Jesus said they would be. Once more we note, too, that it was in the communion of food that the disciples knew him.
The parallel with the first calling of Peter and Andrew strikes the attentive reader, as does that with our own reaction. How often are we like the Apostles – with him close to us and yet we do not see him? For all the criticism which we might make of Peter on the night the Lord was taken, it is he who, through his love, plunges into the water to get to Jesus first; can we say as much? It is the prelude to the restoration of Peter we see in verses 15 to 19. Great love has a great reward – but with that, as Jesus warns, comes great responsibilities. Peter’s life henceforth will not be that of the hardy fisherman on the sea of Tiberias, and that life will be lived not as his will wanted, but as God’s will dictates; are we ready for that?
The memories were fond ones for St John, who evokes so well the atmosphere of that early morning. In the distribution of the bread and fish, we are reminded of the feeding of the five thousand. Though we, like the Apostles, might have but small faith, it is the Lord who will provide. Guided by themselves alone, their night’s fishing was fruitless – guided by the Lord, their nets bulged. In the night, lit only by the lights of our small understanding, few come into the nets, but, as St Gregory Palamas noted, when the morning comes, with the Light of the World, then in his teaching we triumph. That requires of us a faith which tells us not to listen to the siren voices of the world, and still less to the devices and desires of our own hearts. It reminds us too that however hard we labour, if it is not in the Lord’s name, it will be in vain.
So it was that the Apostles were made fishers of men. They dod not yet know how they would be supported in this, but they had faith that they would be. That morning meeting marked the point at which the Apostles would turn aside from their old work and truly become fishers of men.