Formations 04.30.2017: Casting Anyway

John 21:1-14

At first light, it’s still an empty morning. The boat is empty and Jesus, though resurrected, is gone. I expect the absence, of both Jesus and fish, was new for the disciples.

Christ Appears to the Disciples (Duccio de Buoninsegna)

I would be surprised if they didn’t go into the night expecting to catch fish, dreaming about their haul. Though they might acknowledge the luck involved, it’s their job to outmaneuver chance and fill their nets. But morning comes and they had nothing to show for it.

Then a man standing on the shore tells them to cast again on the other side of the boat.

To be honest, his advice isn’t all too remarkable. They’d been doing it all night. Fishing is casting again, observing what works, recognizing what doesn’t, and adjusting until they hit upon the right combination to bring in a good haul.

So I wonder how they respond. Maybe they roll their eyes at the obvious suggestion and throw the net just to appease the onlooker who thinks he knows more than the professionals. Or maybe they, ready to clean their nets after a night of eternally diminishing hope, found some encouragement in the stranger.

Regardless, they throw their nets and there are so many fish they can’t pull them in.

Which I imagine is both expected and miraculous. Expected because it’s their job to fill boats with fish. Miraculous because even though we know rationally that the sea holds fish, more recent experience suggests the opposite.

Jesus’ resurrection, at least in this scene, is ordinary. Here comes their friend visiting them while they are at work. He gives them simple advice to cast again on the other side. But it’s also surprising because their friend had been dead and they aren’t used to the fact that he isn’t dead anymore, and now his words now appear to fill their nets.

In its own way it’s miraculous they even listen. Though it’s their responsibility, the promise that casting again would yield fish must have been hard to hear. On one hand, it’s too simple, but on the other, it asks us to hope, believe, and trust after a long night—or nights, or maybe years—of casting and pulling back empty nets.

Fishermen are in the business of mystery, of pulling life from the unknown. The work of experiencing and sharing resurrection in the face of suffering, despair, violence, hatred, and death asks the same of us. Some days, maybe most, we come up empty.

Jesus told the disciples to follow that impulse to cast one more time. Maybe he asks us the same. For them life came in the casting; could it come in ours too?


• What experiences of God’s absence challenge your trust in the promise of resurrection?
• What experiences of resurrection challenge your experiences of God’s absence?
• How have you experienced resurrection as simple and expected? How have you experienced it as extraordinary and surprising?
• How do you hold the promises of resurrection with the mystery of it?

Reference Shelf


Seven disciples are together (v. 2), one of whom is Peter. When he says he is going fishing, the others go with him (v. 3a). This behavior on the part of the seven disciples (= disciples generally) is entirely appropriate within the Johannine context. They are together. They act together. This unity is what the Johannine Jesus has prayed for (17:11) and has given the Holy Spirit to enable (20:22; 17:22). So far, their commission has been “to be” the community (chs. 13–17); it has not been to leave their occupations and “to go” make disciples. Only in 21:3-14 will they learn of their task to be Jesus’ fishermen.

They fish all night (a common occurrence since then they could sell a fresh catch the next morning) but catch nothing (v. 3b). At daybreak, Jesus stands (v. 4; cf. 20:19, 26) on the beach, unrecognized, and asks, “Children, do you have anything to eat?” (J. H. Moulton and W. Milligan, Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1952], 551-52). “No,” they reply. “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” When they do as Jesus has directed, they are “not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish” (v. 6; Lk 5:4-7). The beloved disciple recognizes Jesus: “It is the Lord” (cf. 20:18, 25). He has the discernment. Peter has the devotion: “he put on his clothes . . . and sprang into the sea.” The other disciples come in the boat, “dragging the net full of fish.” They do their duty. When they reach land, there is a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread for breakfast (v. 9). Jesus asks them to bring some of their catch, which numbers 153 fish. In spite of the great number of fish, the net is not torn (v. 11). Jesus invites them to eat (v. 12a). They know it is he (v. 12b). “Jesus came, and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish” (v. 13). “This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead” (v. 14; remember 20:19-23, 26-29). Just as Jesus was recognized in 20:20, 27 by his wounds, so here he is recognized by his role as nourisher of his people (remember 6:4-14; cf. Lk 24:13-30; Acts 10:41). It is the same Jesus, only now risen from the dead.

Charles H. Talbert, Reading John: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Fourth Gospel and the Johannine Epistles (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005), 269–70.


The resurrection of Jesus differs in one crucial respect from the prevalent first-century Jewish expectation for a general resurrection of the dead. Jewish expectation was for a corporate resurrection—all the righteous would be vindicated—which would occur at the end of time. The resurrection of Jesus does not diminish the eschatological flavor of resurrection hope but it does relocate the hope radically. The resurrection of Jesus—that which happens to one person—is confessed as an event in history which has eschatological significance. Thus, not only is the resurrection of Jesus a transformation of Jesus, it is also the immediate cause for the transformation of a resurrection hope from a corporate, eschatological event to a personal, historical event with corporate, eschatological implications.

Richard F. Wilson, “Resurrection in the New Testament,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: MU Press, 1995), 755–56.

William Scruggs is a graduate of Mercer University. His favorite pastimes are adding music to his listening list, TV shows to his viewing list, and books to his reading list. When he isn’t pretending to check items off these lists, he spends time with friends and plays music. He is excited for the opportunity to continue exploring the rivers of Middle Georgia and to stay in Macon as an associate editor at Smyth & Helwys.


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