In the past weeks, I argued that authority does not always equate to rightness and knowledge. In continuation of my study of John 21:1-19, today’s post reflects on the decision of some of Jesus’ disciples to go fishing with Peter.
John 21:3 reads:
“Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you.’ They went out and got into the boat; but that night they caught nothing”.
The above quotation shows that Simon Peter initiated the idea that they go fishing. Interpretations of Peter’s decision vary. Most commentaries I read argue that Peter made an opportune decision to go fishing. Some argue that Peter and the disciples were called but were not yet commissioned to preach (this happened on Pentecost).
Others argue that Peter went fishing because they needed to provide for themselves since the support they got from the individual’s charity (Luke 8:3) had ceased at the death of Jesus. Jesus rightly said that his disciples would fast when the bridegroom had been taken away (Luke 5:35). Some also argue that if their action were wrong, Jesus would not have graced them with his presence.
On the other hand, very few authors argue that the disciples returned to their old fishing job because they presumed that their discipleship had ended. I stand with this latter group in arguing that the decision to go fishing was not opportune. These are my reasons.
First, at the call of the disciples, particularly the fishermen, Jesus told them that he would make them fishers of men. In doing so, Jesus ended their current jobs. However, they still had their fishing skills intact. We recall that Jesus sent Peter to fish in the lake. From the first catch, Peter would find a coin sufficient to pay their temple tax (Matt 17:27). Here, Peter went fishing as part of the ministry rather than as a way of avoiding idleness or feeding or making profits.
Second, the decision to go fishing took place after the disciples knew that Jesus had resurrected and had already met with him. At this point, there was no doubt if their apostleship had ended or not. Third, to confirm that their path was not ideal, they toiled throughout the night without catching a single fish—a repetition of what happened at the call of the three of them (Luke 5). At the end of the encounter, Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me” (John 21:19)—the same thing Jesus said at Peter’s first call to discipleship (Matt 4:19).
Obviously, the other disciples went fishing because Peter said he wanted to. As I reflect on this passage, I ask myself: How would Peter have reacted if they had reminded him that he was deviating from Jesus’ instruction? Would Peter have considered them enemies or friends? Would he have gone alone without their involvement? Would Peter have argued that Jesus made him the leader, so everyone must follow his directive?
Interestingly, Peter did not instruct other disciples to go with him. He did not say: “Let’s go fishing”; instead he said to them: “I am going fishing”. This is very instructive because the other disciples had the leverage to turn down the offer. Why didn’t they turn it down? Perhaps they did so out of respect for Peter. Maybe they shared the same view of Peter—apostleship has ended. Yet, when Jesus appeared, he faced Peter and Peter alone, even dismissing Peter’s question about John.
Depending on the situation, we are Peter or any of the other disciples. As Church leaders and collaborators to Church authority, we are to help each other in being effective pastors of Christ’s flock for the growth of the Church and the salvation of our souls.
Ka Chineke mezie okwu🙏🏾