Fishers of Men – April 17, 2016

John 21

April 17, 2016

I want you to know that I used this title today with “fear and trembling.” That’s because I went to seminary in the late ‘70’s. And there I learned all about “inclusive language.” That means that you’re not supposed to use “male only” pronouns. Hence we now have the word “Chairperson” and “Salesperson.”

Actually I’m fine with all that. It’s good! Bur my feeling, being a “word person,” is that we need to try to find ways to do all that, without “butcher the language!” For me, instead of saying “chair-person,” why not just call the head of the committee the “chair.” That makes sense to me.

Well, I use the title this way only because of a familiar connection I have to an old song, a song I learned a long time ago in Sunday School. “I will make you fishers of men, fishers of men, fishers of men…” Does that sound familiar?

That’s what we’re talking about today. This story for today is the last resurrection appearance of Jesus in John’s Gospel. The other Gospel writers tell of other appearances, including the very last one when Jesus ascended to heaven. We’ll look at that story in a couple of weeks.

But for now, this is the story we have before us. And in John’s Gospel, this is the end. And actually, the song I just mentioned, was not from this story. It was from a time that was very reminiscent of this story. It was about the time early in Jesus’ ministry when he first called some of these disciples. And those were the words he used. It was by the sea, where they were fishing, just like this. And Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And “they rose up and followed him.”

Well, here we have Jesus with his disciples by the sea, once again. And this time it was at the end of his ministry. And I believe they would have remembered that time! I was thinking this week, maybe this was even the same spot! They would have remembered that first time, the time when it was about Jesus’ calling on their lives – the calling to follow – the calling to be his disciples. I think they would have remembered his words! And in this story, I believe, they would have known that his “calling” on their lives had not ended!

I suspect they were wondering about that, in this after Easter time. They had been through so much in the past months, but now was it over. And now they had gone fishing, which for them represented going back to life as it was before. For most of them, that was their trade. But Jesus had other plans. He was showing them that the story would continue.

There were several things that happened in this story that would have reminded them of things that had happened before. Not the smallest of those things was the catching of the fish! When that happened the way it did, they would certainly have remembered the time a couple of years earlier, when Jesus told them to cast their nets – and they caught a large number of fish! In fact, literally, they caught a plethora of fish! That story taught them who Jesus was. That taught them that he had amazing powers and authority. Here that was certainly confirmed. And here they knew that the time with him was not finished! At that time he used again this metaphor he used before, and the one we’re thinking about today He said to them “Henceforth you will be catching men.”

When they came ashore something else happened that was reminiscent of an earlier time. Jesus had a meal made for them. And I want you to notice what that meal had consisted of. It was (what?) loaves and fishes. What does that sound like? I think that would have reminded them of another of the great miracles of Jesus, the “Feeding of the 5,000.” Again, that was a demonstration of his great power! I believe they would have been thinking about that, in this moment by the sea.

Another thing Jesus did that day would have been remembered by Peter. And maybe it would have been remembered by some of the others, if Peter had told them about it. Peter was reminded that day of his denial of Jesus! Jesus turned to him and asked, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He asked him that three times! Peter would have gotten that. He would still have been thinking of his three-fold denial, not that many days ago! And notice that Jesus used his old name, “Simon.” For now, he wasn’t “Peter – the Rock.” The rock had crumbled! But here Jesus reaffirms him. Here, Jesus shows him that there is forgiveness and reconciliation. And here, there is an invitation to follow, once again.

There is a lot going on in this story, isn’t there! John didn’t want us to miss this one! This was not just another resurrection appearance of Jesus. This was a new calling of these men. This was a new commissioning of their lives in the service of his kingdom. And in this encounter, there was a reminder of who he was, about his power in their lives, and about what he was calling them to do – once again!

I hope this story calls us to remember, too. I think it calls us to remember that the original calling Jesus made on our lives – in whatever form that took – hasn’t ended, either! All those different experiences with God, all those ways he chose us – whether we realized it at the time or not – all of those times he touched our hearts, like we talked about last week, all of them served to make us who we are today as his people. We can’t forget that! And that’s too easy to do! Even these guys, even the Apostles, went back to fishing. For a time, they forgot that Jesus had made them “Fishers of Men!”

We need to know these things he reminded the disciples of that day. We need to know he has power and authority. We need to know that his calling still goes on. And in that calling, we need to know we are forgiven and we can still follow – no matter how broken hearted we may be, no matter how much we may have failed him in the past.

And there’s one more thing. This story was not all just a “look back” for the disciples. For Peter it was a look ahead. And it was not very pleasant. Jesus told him, “…a time will come when another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” John gives an editorial statement to that, saying that Jesus was telling Peter how he was going to die. History tells us that meant crucifixion. Tradition tells us that Peter was crucified upside-down, because he didn’t feel worthy of dying in the same manner as Jesus. Since John was the only one of the twelve to die of old age, and since his Gospel was the last to be written, that may actually have happened by the time he was writing this!

The road ahead might be difficult. It would be for the disciples. But still they went out and changed the world! Except for answering a question or two, Jesus ended this story with the words he started with three years before. He said, “Follow me.” (“…and I will make you fishers of men…”)

I asked you last year if you were a “Jesus follower.” I hope you’ve thought about that. Yes, there was definitely a “special calling” on the lives of these men. They were the disciples, after all. They would soon be “Apostles,” meaning “those who are sent.” But we’re called to be “followers,” too – every one of us! We’re not just “believers!” We’re followers!

So, as you go from this place today, may you do so with those words ringing in your heads. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”


Eternal God, we thank you that you have indeed called us. Help us to know what that means for each of us. Help us to grow in our knowledge of you, and of your son, our savior, Jesus Christ. Help us to seek to follow him, not just believe in him. Teach us what that means, too. For this we pray in his name, Amen.