This Sunday’s Gospel recounts the Risen Jesus’ appearance to His disciples by the Sea of Tiberias (Jn 21:1-19). The Gospel begins, “Jesus revealed Himself.” St. Thomas Aquinas explains that Jesus had a glorified body, which, by its nature or power, could be seen or not seen, as he wished. He “revealed” Himself by making Himself visible. The word “to appear” has a similar meaning, “appearing to them during forty days” (Acts 1:3) (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 2576).
Peter announces, “I am going fishing” (Jn 21:3). Thomas thinks this can be understood with a “mystical interpretation” to mean “the work of preaching” since Jesus had told His disciples: “I will make you fishers of men” (Mt 4:19). Peter invites the others “to share in his concerns and preaching” (Commentary on the Gospel of St. John, 2577).
Thomas thinks that the Gospel might not only be telling us about a manifestation of the Risen Jesus but also may be speaking about Jesus’ presence in the disciples’ ministry.
Jesus told His disciples: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well,” that is, what is necessary for life (Mt 6:33). The abundance of fish that the disciples draw in may represent the results of ministry graced with Jesus’ presence.
Thomas affirms: “It is true that these things will be added, with our cooperation. So our Lord did keep his promise here, with the cooperation of Peter. For who else but our Lord caused the fish that were caught to be within the range of their net?” (Commentary on John, 2579).
Thomas notices that other disciples join Peter: “The others agree to this, we will go with you. This sets an example for preachers and prelates to encourage each other in their work of turning people to God: ‘A brother helped is like a strong city’ (Prv 18:19) (Commentary on John, 2579).
The disciples “went off to get into their boat” (Jn 21:3). Thomas comments that the disciples, as preachers must leave not only sin but also like Abraham, “They should go out from their carnal affections: ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house’ (Gen 12:1)” (Commentary on John, 2582). They must also “leave the quiet of contemplation”
Preachers need to get into a boat: “That is, go forward in charity within the unity of the Church, which is called a ship: They should also board the ship of the cross by depriving the flesh: ‘But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world’ (Gal 6:14)” (Commentary on John, 2582).
In addition, Thomas instructs: “Preachers should have total confidence in the help of Christ. All that night they caught nothing, because as long as God’s help and the interior Preacher are not there, the words of the preacher have no effect. But when the light comes, enlightening hearts, the preacher makes a catch: ‘Send out your light and your truth’ (Ps 42:3). Here, night indicates the lack of divine help: ‘Night comes, when no one can work’ (Jn 9:4) (Commentary on John, 2583).
The Gospel tells us: “Just after daybreak, Jesus was standing on the shore” (Jn 21:4). Thomas thinks that “daybreak” represents the glory of the Resurrection (Commentary on John, 2584).
The disciples do not recognize Jesus because of their ignorance. Thomas observes: “We can see from this that on this turbulent sea of the present, we cannot know the hidden things of Christ: ‘No eye has seen a God besides you, who works for those who wait for Him’ [Is 64:4]” (Commentary on John, 2586).
Jesus asks the disciples if they have any fish (Jn 21:5). Thomas reflects: “In the mystical interpretation, Christ asks us for food to refresh himself. And we do this for Him by obeying the commandments ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work’ (4:34). They answered him, No, that is, not of themselves: ‘I can will what is right, but I cannot do it’ (Rom 7: 18) (Commentary on John, 2588).
Thomas thinks the disciples’ following Jesus’ instructions is an indication of His obedience: “The obedience of the disciples is shown when the Evangelist says, So they cast it, the net; and the effect of this obedience, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish, that is, for the great number of those who would be saved” (Commentary on John, 2590).
In a similar passage in Luke, the nets begin to break. Thomas observes: “This fishing differs from that mentioned by Luke because there (Lk 5:6) the nets broke; and in a like way the Church is rent by disagreements and heresies” (Commentary on John, 2590).
John recognizes Jesus because he was “quick in understanding” and he tells Peter. Thomas reflects upon Peter: “Peter is seen as passionately devoted to Christ. His devotion is clear, first of all, by his quickness to act … As soon as he heard it was the Lord, Peter went without delay” (Commentary on John, 2593).
Peter puts clothes on: “We can learn from this that those coming to Christ ought to put off the old man and put on the new, which has been created for God in faith… His devotion is shown by his lack of fear: for because of his great love he was unwilling to stay in the boat, which was moving too slowly, and so he sprang into the sea, to reach Christ more quickly (Commentary on John, 2593).
Thomas considers the sea as a sign of the difficulties of life: “In the mystical interpretation, the sea signifies the troubles of this present world. Those who desire to come to Christ cast themselves into the sea, and do not refuse the tribulations of this world: ‘Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God’ (Acts 14:22); ‘My son, if you come forward to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials’ (Sir 2:1)” (Commentary on John, 2594).
Thomas recalls the observation of John Chrysostom that John is seen to be greater in understanding, while Peter is more ardent in his affections” (Commentary on John, 2594).
Denis Vincent Wiseman, O.P.
The translation of St. Thomas’ Commentary on John by Fabian R. Larcher, O.P. may be found on the website: http://dhspriory.org/thomas/