Counting the Fish

John 21:1-14

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and he revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, Thomas (called the Twin), Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, because of the quantity of fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved therefore said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment, for he was stripped for work, and threw himself into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards[a] off.

When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Daffodils | London, England | April 2023

153 is a curious number. There is actually a lengthy article in Wikipedia about the number! Here’s part of that article:

The number 153 is associated with the geometric shape known as the Vesica Piscis or Mandorla. Archimedes, in his Measurement of a Circle, referred to this ratio (153/265), as constituting the “measure of the fish”, this ratio being an imperfect representation of {\displaystyle 1/{\sqrt {3}}\approx 0.57735}.

As a triangular number, 153 is the sum of the first 17 integers, and is also the sum of the first five positive factorials:1!+2!+3!+4!+5!.[1]

The number 153 is also a hexagonal number, and a truncated triangle number, meaning that 1, 15, and 153 are all triangle numbers.

The distinct prime factors of 153 add up to 20, and so do the ones of 154, hence the two form a Ruth-Aaron pair.

Since 153=1^{3}+5^{3}+3^{3}, it is a 3-narcissistic number, and it is also the smallest three-digit number which can be expressed as the sum of cubes of its digits.[2] Only five other numbers can be expressed as the sum of the cubes of their digits: 0, 1, 370, 371 and 407.[3] It is also a Friedman number, since 153 = 3 × 51.

Who knew! But that’s not all. Biblical scholars have conjectured its significance from early on. Even Wikipedia reports:

The precision of the number of fish in this narrative has long been considered peculiar, and many scholars have argued that 153 has some deeper significance. Jerome, for example, wrote that Oppian‘s Halieutica listed 153 species of fish, although this could not have been the intended meaning of the Gospel writer because Oppian composed Halieutica after the Gospel text was written, and at any rate never gave a list of fish species that clearly adds up to 153.[8][9]

I would never wish to argue with Jerome, the fourth century priest, scholar and church leader. But I have a different opinion in regard to this number. I believe it’s simply an accounting of the large haul of fish. I see the disciples marveling at the catch of fish that is so large that they cannot haul it into the boat. I see them shaking their heads in disbelief, wondering how it was possible (other than the fact that Jesus was the author of the catch). Then one of them gets the idea, “Let’s count them! Let’s see how many fish are actually in this net!” So they take about the task of counting the fish.

“153!” They cry, “There are 153 fish here! Can you believe it?” They marvel, wonder, and revel in this moment of gracious abundance. Jesus shows up and so does a haul of 153 fish. Can’t get any better than this!

My numbers are different, but no less worthy of wonder. $4.17. That’s all the money we had to our name at one point in our early married years. We were at the seminary and I knew we would have to do something. So I took out a $1000 student loan. Nothing particularly amazing about that, except that because Jesus moved the hearts of many people over the years, we ended our seminary years with a total of $1000 in debt. That $1000 loan was all we had to take out to make it through the entire 4 years.

Maybe you have some wonderment-worthy numbers of your own. Perhaps you’ve seen Jesus show up and bring resources you had no idea of until he made himself known. That relief may come tomorrow. Who knows? And if it does, take a moment to count the fish and praise God for his gracious provision.

Once Again…

  1. Why did he appear at this time to these people?
  2. What was the impact in their lives?
  3. What do I learn from these accounts?
  4. What am I going to do about it?

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