Jesus disciples head out to fish at the best time, namely at night, to catch fish in the Sea of Galilee (Tiberias is the name a Greek audience would have understood). Remember these are experienced fisherman so they should have known when to catch fish. Nevertheless they had no
luck. So with no luck they must have been returning to shore. We know that because the story tells us they were within a football field (100 yards) of the beach.
They could barely make out a figure standing on the beach. Maybe the light was dim or humidity was in the air or smoke from the charcoal fire that was burning on the beach obscured their vision. In any case they were unable to see the person on the shore. It seems slightly odd that the disciples in the boat would not have been able to recognize the person as Jesus. He had appeared to them in the previous chapter twice (John 20:19-28).
Before getting to shore the figure on the beach, Jesus, notes that they must not have caught any fish. You could probably tell since fisherman who have their catch are excited. They answer with the dejected, "No, we caught nothing." So Jesus tells them to caste their nets on the other side of the boat. Why didn't these well-trained fisherman know the best place to throw their nets? Nevertheless they do what they are told and catch more fish than they know what to do with.
The beloved disciple, an important figure in John's gospel (and highly debated as to his identity), tells Peter that indeed the figure on the beach is the Lord. Peter jumps in the sea and gets to shore leaving the others to pull in the fully loaded net that did not rip despite the enormous load of fish. Jesus invites them to bring their fish and have breakfast. He had already been charcoaling a fish and maybe even some bread (some bruchetta?!) It is not clear if the fish and bread are both on the grill. By now everyone recognizes Jesus and dare not ask if it is him. They were given fish and bread by Jesus for breakfast.
As one approaches the story and tries to understand the text carefully one is quick to realize that a related story appears in Luke 5:1-11 but it is not a post-resurrection story. So discovering the relationship between the two will help discern the purpose of each. In addition, there are reminiscences to fish stories in other gospels (see the extra-canonical Gospel of Peter 58-60) and thematic relationships between other texts within the Gospel of John. Look at the relationships of John's telling of the multiplcation of loaves (John 6:1-13). More importantly the relationship of John 20:1-31 and John 21:1-25 is telling. There would seem to be a series of interlinked purposes in John. One of the best commentaries to work through the relationship of these chapters and John and Luke is found in Ray Brown's insightful commentary in The Anchor Bible.
Given the exchange between Jesus and Peter in John 21:1-14 one is left a bit hanging regarding Peter's mission. But as one adds the question asked three times about Peter's loving Jesus (John 21:15-17) we are taken back to the three times denial by Peter of Jesus. The fish story begins to restore Peter's calling to a mission and away from "merely" fishing for fish and turning to fishing for men.
The abundance of what was brought in by following Jesus word and shifting the nets to the other side of the boat also coincides with all that Peter is to accomplish. Then there are the eucharistic elements of Jesus taking the bread and giving it to them, and as well the fish (compare John 21:13 and John 6:11). Certainly remeniscent of John 6:11 which leads one to see the reenforcing relationships between John 20 and 21. In the final analysis Peter and the disciples get it right by taking Jesus advice to cast their nets to the other side. Maybe they thought after Jesus was crucified they could return to their old haunts.
The story is told of Derrick Redman, a 400 meter runner from Great Britain in the '92 Olympics in Barcelona. He rounded the curve. All of a sudden he fell on the track. He got up, holding his thigh. He had torn his hamstring muscle. He started to inch along toward the finish line. He could barely move. The officials came out on the track and surrounded him, tried to move him off the track. He insisted on finishing the race. Then a man came out of the stands, Derrick's father. He put out his hand to his son. The son reached out and took his hand. The father girded him, strengthened him. Leaning on his father's arm, Derrick finished the race. Afterwards a reporter asked the father, "Why did you do that? Why did you come out of the stands?" He said, "Because we started this together, and we are going to finish this together."
The disciples in their boat, fishing. A stranger on the shore tells them where to find the fish. They couldn't do it on their own. Then he renews the life that he gave them years before. He gives it back to them. He just appears from nowhere and gives their life back to them. A life they thought they had thrown away. They know now they could not have done it by themselves. But because he started with them, he finished with them.
Derrick Redman story from Mark Trotter
Illustration - The miracle of the Catch of 153 fish by Duccio, 14th century