When I was a kid I would hear this passage and think “Fish for breakfast? Gross!” And then I became a young adult, free to choose what I would order at Fanagle the Bagel, our local bagel place, and so I ordered my first bagel with a schmear with lox. I took my first bite of that glorious thing and thought “Fish for breakfast? Gross!”
But to the disciples, fish for breakfast, or anytime for that matter, was commonplace. Almost too commonplace, probably, seeing as they were fishermen and were most likely sick to death of fish. Maybe a fish breakfast with the resurrected Lord might be more interesting. Bring some of those fish you just caught, Jesus said, come and have breakfast. One hundred and fifty three fish the disciples had caught, and the world has since attempted to divine some sort of symbolism around that number. “My favorite… one comes from no less than Augustine. According to Dale Bruner, Augustine thought this was a symbolic number arrived at by the fact that there are 10 commandments and 7 gifts of the Holy Spirit. 10+7=17, and if you add the integers from 1 to 17 (1+2+3+4 . . .) you arrive at precisely 153. So there you have it: 153 fish = a symbol of both Law and Gospel!” When the Rosary had only three sets of mysteries, before the Luminous set was added, if you prayed the whole Rosary you would say 153 Hail Mary’s. All this symbolism, all this effort in discerning the meaning behind what breakfast.
Maybe Augustine and the rest of the early and medieval Church had nothing better to do, or perhaps they couldn’t square the simple fish breakfast with what Blessed John just told us in the reading we heard from Revelation. In the vision of Heaven revealed to John he sees that same Jesus seated on His Throne, surrounded by fantastical creatures and the wise men of old; John saw harps and golden bowls of incense being offered to Jesus, and then he heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, and they sang with full voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” Then John 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!”
How do we square that vision of heavenly splendor, of the continual worship of Jesus by everything ever made, with the almost overly simple breakfast on the beach? Perhaps we don’t; perhaps there is somehow nothing incongruous between the two. Perhaps Jesus is comfortable in both scenarios, perhaps He seeks out both the heavenly and the earthy.
This isn’t the first time in the Bible when God pops up in the mundane. Jacob was in a bad place and had to use a stone for a pillow but woke up to discover that he had bedded down in Bethel, the very “house of God,” waking to find angels ascending and descending right in front of him. Moses was tending his sheep on a mountainside when a bush burst into flame and the next thing he knew, he was standing barefoot in the presence of the great “I Am.” The spies dispatched by Joshua to scout out Jericho ducked into a brothel of all places, and though they didn’t exactly go there looking for God, they end up hearing an inspired sermon delivered to them by no less likely a candidate than the establishment’s chief madam, Rahab. Cleopas and his fellow traveler on that first Easter Sunday left Jerusalem quite literally “to get away from it all” and to escape the sadness they had come to associate with the big city. They end up at Emmaus only to discover Jesus after all. And in the Gospel we just heard, the disciples are on a beach. Even having seen the resurrected Jesus twice already, they seem at loose ends. They seem bored and restless, uncertain what to do. They go fishing for lack of a better idea and only after they get skunked despite an entire night of trolling the waters for their prey do they suddenly find Jesus. On the beach. Making breakfast.
And so perhaps that is the lesson for us this morning. That the two worlds Jesus seems to live in are not so separate after all. Perhaps in looking too much to the world to come we miss the world in front of us, the world of the mundane and ordinary, the world of wants and needs, of fishing all night for nothing, the world of coming up short and eating fish for breakfast. It is, after all, the world Jesus came to save at so great a cost. It’s the world He stuck around in for forty days after the Resurrection, popping up in the most ordinary of places and situations. He does that because we need Him to. We need Jesus in the kitchen, “amid the pots and pans” as Theresa of Avila put it. We need Jesus on the beach and at the office, in the car with us and while shopping at the mall. We need a Savior who accompanies us in the everyday, who sees us in those ordinary circumstances, and who speaks into those times and places. We need a Savior whose glory will light Heaven for all eternity, who has the Earth for His footstool, a Savior who is the first and last and all in all. Thankfully, that’s the Savior we have.
Quotes taken from This Week