Can You Bring Some Fish?


I am scribbling this in the few minutes before I nip downstairs to start to cooking dinner. I am meant to be revising. My Greek and Hebrew exams are imminent, and every spare moment is spent chanting words or skim-reading textbooks and trying to make sense of my notes. If there weren’t exams looming, it would be quite fun. If nothing else it provides me with the perfect excuse to not do housework (don’t even think about how dirty my kitchen floor is…)

A selection of language textbooks

Anyway, I am currently translating a passage from John’s Gospel, the very last chapter, when the disciples have gone fishing and Jesus appears on the beach. He asks them if they have caught any fish, and when they say no, he tells them to throw their nets out on the other side of the boat. When they do, they catch so many fish they can barely struggle to shore. Jesus is cooking fish over a fire, and he asks them to bring some of the fish they caught, and eat breakfast with him. He then asks Peter whether he loves him.

Modern fishing boats.

Do you remember the story? Here are some of the things that I notice in the Greek version:

Firstly, the story seems to begin when Peter announces that he is going fishing. This is interesting because he used to be a fisherman, before he started to follow Jesus. Since then he has been a disciple for a few years, culminating in a terrible night when he denies knowing Jesus and then Jesus is killed. But after this, Jesus appears again to the disciples (so Peter knows that Jesus is alive) and Jesus tells them to wait in Jerusalem. So, when Peter decides to go fishing, he seems to be ignoring the command to stay in the city.

Why would he do that? Perhaps he was fed up with waiting. Perhaps he was bored. Perhaps—because he had failed Jesus so spectacularly—he didn’t think the command applied to him. You can decide.

When Jesus greets the fishermen, he calls them children. A greeting of: “Hey kids, have you caught anything?” Why would he call them children? It doesn’t seem to fit with fishermen. Was he teasing them? It’s too hard to guess from the Greek, so you can decide.

‘The disciple who Jesus loved’ (probably John) realises that it’s Jesus and tells Peter, who grabs his clothes, and leaps into the water. He would have been naked, because in those days, nudity was more convenient than lots of laundry and most active work would have been undertaken without clothes. (The gymnasts all performed naked, it wasn’t a big deal.)

When the disciples arrive on the beach, they find Jesus with a charcoal fire, cooking bread and fish. Where did the fire come from? Where did the bread and fish come from? We don’t know. But I think the really interesting bit is that Jesus then tells the disciples to bring some of the fish that they have just caught, and to come and have breakfast. Now, why did he want them to bring their own fish? Did Jesus not manage to bring enough? Seems unlikely. Did Jesus not realise how many disciples were going to be at the breakfast? Seems unlikely. Therefore, Jesus must have planned to not have enough. He planned to need what the disciples were able to offer (which he had helped them to catch in the first place).

What then, are the implications for us today? I think God chooses to need what we can offer. And if we don’t do our bit, then there won’t be enough. Whatever it is that we have to offer, however pathetic it might seem to us, that is what God needs. God then accepts our help. This is huge. I don’t think God pretends, I think he genuinely does need our help in whatever area we happen to have something to offer. Yes, he could do it all himself, just like Jesus could have produced enough fish along with the bread and the fire—but he didn’t.

I also think, that if we are meant to be following Jesus’ example, living like he did, then we too should be accepting help from others. We are meant to be a team, everyone with something to offer. If we want to help others, we need to also think about how they can help us, because then the relationship is equal. That seems to be the example we were given to follow. Mostly, we’re pretty bad at copying it.

Thanks for reading. I hope you find something to offer–and accept–this week.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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