Some sports are basically functional and used primarily for exercise, such as golf or tennis. Other “sports,” such as fishing and hunting, ultimately have as their primary purpose, food to eat. During the New Testament period, fishing was above all a source of food and not a sport.
We notice that in the Gospel reading for the third Sunday of Easter (John 21:1-14) “fish” becomes the dominant image to proclaim, what seems to me, an important theme in the Gospel, namely, Jesus reveals himself to his disciples in this post-resurrection appearance.
As background we must first understand what “revelation” means. The word comes from the Latin which indicates “pulling back the veil.” An example of this would come from The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy, the cowardly lion, the frightened scarecrow, and the tin man were in the wizard’s house. A loud, threatening, and dominating voice from behind a veil frightened the group. When the veil was pulled back, the loud and threatening voice was that of a gentle person. Pulling back the veil provided the revelation.
It appears that in the above Gospel there are two sub-themes as to how the revelation took place: Fishing and the Eating experience. Many of the disciples were fishermen, so when Jesus was choosing some of his disciples he told them, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.” (Mark 1:17. Cf. also Matthew 4:19 and Luke 5:10) Undoubtedly, in this post-resurrection period, some disciples recalled that phrase more strongly.
What emphasized the past-present relationship was that the disciples were unable to catch fish. And when the voice from the shore told them to cast their nets on the other side of the boat they did so. The catch was great. Quite likely this miraculous multiplication of fish reminded the disciples of the multiplication of fish and bread in the feeding of the five thousand (Matthew 14: 13-21) The disciples recognized the voice on the shore to be that of the post-resurrection Jesus, who had earlier brought about the miraculous multiplication of fish.
The second sub-theme is the eating experience. When the disciples landed, they saw a charcoal fire with fish and bread on it. Jesus invited them to breakfast. They came, and the text tells us that “Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.” (John 21:13) This comment of Jesus was most likely reminiscent of the Last Supper where Jesus took the food and passed it on to the others. That is to say that Jesus himself was providing nourishment to his disciples with nourishing food.
What can we make of this? First of all, it was the miraculous multiplication of fish reminding the disciples of the miraculous multiplication of fish and bread that fed the five thousand that gave the clue that the voice on the shore belonged to the pre-resurrection Jesus. Secondly, when Jesus invited the disciple to breakfast and personally gave them the food, most likely it reminded them of the Last Supper when Jesus fed the disciples by giving them nourishing food to eat.
For us, this Gospel reading could remind us of both of the Eucharist (where Jesus continues to feed us thus nourishing us) and of the significance of our Baptism (where we have all received the obligation to give good example to others.) Both the Eucharist and Baptism will help us take into account what Jesus told Peter and Andrew: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of people.” (Matthew 4:19) Now we remind ourselves that it is time to “go fishing.”