3rd Sunday of Easter, John 21:1-19
John 21:4, “When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.” –The Lord had walked upon the water before his death upon the Cross, why does he now remain on the shore and not go out to meet the disciples in the boat?
If we consider this episode more closely, we will notice its similarity with another story: that of the call of St. Peter (Luke 5:1-11). At that time, as here after the Resurrection, the Lord stood on the shore and commanded that St. Peter should cast his net over the side. Then, as here, the disciples caught a great multitude of fish and realized that it was the Lord.
Comparing this gospel account of our Lord appearance to the disciples after his Resurrection with these two other accounts (the call of St. Peter and the walking on water) will serve to bring forth its mystical meaning.
St. Gregory the Great says, “The sea signifies this present world, which, in the tumults of affairs and the corruptible waves of life, dashes against itself. But the solidity of the shore signifies the perpetuity of the everlasting rest. The disciples therefore as yet were engaged in the waves of this mortal life. But the Lord was now standing on the shore, towards which Peter, to whom the Church was specially committed, draws the fishes, showing to the faithful the stability of eternal peace. This he did by his preaching and his epistles. This he does still by daily signs and miracles.”
This gospel account mystically signifies the peace of eternity as compared to the tumults of the present life. Whereas earlier, before his death, Christ was among us as one who suffered, as one tempted, and indeed as one persecuted; now, after his Resurrection, Christ no longer suffers, is no longer tempted, and is no longer persecuted (at least not in his proper person, though he still suffers in and through his Church). Hence, whereas it was proper for him before his death to go out walking upon the stormy sea, signifying that he is one with the Church in her suffering; it is now proper for him to remain upon the sturdy dry-land, signifying the peace and surety of eternal life.
Hearken now to St. Augustine (Tract. 122): “In the capture of the fish is set forth a sacrament of the Church, to wit, what shall be at the last resurrection: to set forth which it is signified that it is as it were the end of a book, which should be, as it were, the proëmium of a narrative which is to follow. And the seven disciples by their number signify the end of time. For all time is included in seven days. The shore signifies the end of the world, for it is the boundary of the sea. And as the Church, such as it shall be at the end of the world, is here meant, so by another fishing is signified the Church such as it is now. Therefore on that occasion Jesus did not stand upon the shore, but went up into the ship. Then the nets were not cast at the right side, in order not to denote the good only; nor yet at the left not to denote the bad only: but indifferently on both sides, to signify that the good were mingled with the bad. But now the net is cast on the right side, to signify the good only, who are reserved for the resurrection of life. And they will appear on the shore, that is, in the end of the world when they arise. For the Church possesses them at the end of this life in the sleep of peace, lying hid as it were in the deep, until the net shall come to the shore. And what was signified in the first fishing by the two ships in this place is figured by the 153, namely the elect of the two dispensations, the circumcision and the un-circumcision.”
The gospel account signifies the end of time and the final judgment. In his first coming, Christ was as one cast about on the stormy waters of the present life; but in the day of judgment, the glory of the Lord will show forth and he will stand on firm ground as the sovereign judge of the living and the dead. When Christ first came into the world, he did not come so as to bring the end of time, but rather he entered into the midst of time, into the midst of the world—for this reason, he had earlier come out upon the waters and entered into the boat. But when the Lord comes again, his entrance into time will bring about the end of time, his coming into the world will be the end of the world—therefore, Christ now calls to the disciples from the sea shore, the sturdy dry-land and does not go out to meet them upon the waters, but calls them from the waters to himself.
For more on this mystery, consult Cornelius a' Lapide's Commentary on John.
The Resurrection of Christ directs us to these ultimate realities. He who has died and risen is now constituted as Lord of the living and the dead. When he comes again, he will make our mortal bodies to be like his own glorified body and we, who have been faithful to him in this life, WE SHALL LIVE!