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Fishing & Faith

Photo of Stephen BrownlowStephen Brownlow | Bio

Stephen Brownlow

Stephen is married to his wonderful wife, Brittany, and is the father of two children. He is a ministry graduate of Dallas Christian College and received his masters from Point University. When he isn’t writing, you can find him making things in his garage or just enjoying the role of being a husband and father.

Everywhere I looked, there was someone sitting in the grass or on stone ledges where they could get a nice view of the Sea of Galilee from the Mount of Beatitudes. In the distance, I could see one of the modern replicas of ancient fishing boats moving through the water at a steady pace.

Just a few hours earlier, I had been sitting on one of those boats as we made a surprisingly smooth journey into the middle of the lake, a testament to the First Century design. I kept looking for an empty spot, and finally sat down on the edge of a sidewalk adjacent to the parking lot that provided me with a decent view of the Sea of Galilee.

On the ground below my feet, pieces of pottery were poking through the soil here and there, a common thing in Israel. Every step you take in Israel is a step on thousands of years of history and archaeology. Down the mountain below me this town of Capernaum hugged the shore of the sea, a stunning place where you can walk in the same synagogue that Jesus did and see the ruins of the house of Peter.

I had been in Israel for several days by this point and was constantly amazed at how every moment seemed pregnant with spiritual significance.

It was like a continual awakening as each place I visited became real and imprinted on my memory.

Somewhere down on that shoreline, Peter and some other disciples had set sail to fish one morning after the death of Jesus. They had returned to fishing for fish and were not yet fishing for men.

And somewhere on that shoreline, they had encountered the risen Lord as they worked. The exchange between them was almost comical as the Lord called out, “Hey! Do you have any fish?” The sweaty and hard-working men on the boat did not. They gave the man a very short answer: no.

Undeterred, Jesus gave some helpful advice, “Cast your net on the right side of the boat and you will catch some.” They decided to follow the advice. Amazingly, their net was completely full of fish. It was so full, in fact, that they couldn’t get the net back into the boat!

When John saw the catch, he realized the man on the beach wasn’t just a helpful passerby, but the Lord himself.

John immediately told Peter, who predictably leapt into the water and swam for shore, leaving his mates to handle the catch. In fact, the text says that he “cast” himself into the water, the same verb Jesus used when giving them instructions for the net.

I imagine Peter flailing wildly in his rush to get to shore. I wonder how big the splash was. The other disciples stayed dry and brought the boat and the catch to shore. Once there, they saw that Jesus had already prepared a fire for the meal.

I imagine the disciples were feeling the spiritual significance of the moment, just like I was on the Mount of Beatitudes, except that it was probably ten times more powerful. Here was their risen Lord in the flesh preparing breakfast like it was just any other day. I would have been torn between shouting for joy and sitting in somber, holy awe.

What happens next in the story caught my attention when I read it.

Jesus asked the disciples to bring some of the fish they had just caught (John 21:10). I remember reading it and thinking, “Wasn’t Jesus already cooking fish?” I looked back at verse nine and sure enough, when they got to shore, Jesus already had some fish and bread on the fire. A question popped up in my mind.

Why did he ask the disciples to bring fish to breakfast if he already had some cooking on the fire?

Our minds can speculate on this. It could be a simple: maybe they just needed more fish to feed everyone. Or maybe the reason we are even told about this is because a miracle is recounted during Peter’s response: he jumped aboard the boat and dragged the whole net of fish to shore. The author points out that the net was amazingly not torn by this feat of strength.

Faith is not something we possess as much as it is something we enact.

But if Jesus can turn two fish and fives loaves into enough to feed 5000 people, my question remains. Why did he ask them to bring the fish they caught?

We can answer the question if we understand faith and discipleship.

Peter’s exuberant acts – jumping into the water and hauling the large net ashore – are the acts of a man who is desperately demonstrating his fidelity to Jesus. Peter’s recent betrayal of Jesus cast doubt on his faith to everyone around him.

The man who walked on water in a storm, although briefly and only when Jesus called him, had now jumped into the water and swum 100 yards to the Lord without being summoned.

This is a man desperate to make his allegiance known to the Lord.

Faith is not something we possess as much as it is something we enact.

Jesus always asked his disciples to get involved. Whether it was healing people, casting out demons, or feeding people, he wanted his disciples to do more than simply sit at his feet. Our allegiance to him is shown by our actions–the good works we do in his name and according to his will.

Why did Jesus tell the disciples to bring some of the fish they caught? It’s because a disciple doesn’t show up empty handed to a feast with the king.