I have to be honest and say that there are very few statements that can grab my attention as quickly and play at my heart strings so effectively. The problem with working in a restaurant for money and an upstart ministry for fun is that this question comes up all too seldom. People are more interested in how hot I can make the bˇarnaise sauce than having their day seasoned with the theological opinions of seminary graduates. This seems to be a common problem with those of us who hoped our life in ministry would be a daily challenge of converting Methodists into Calvinists. The common man, it seems, is more interested in living life than analyzing even the most exciting of theological truths so in that rare instance of a toe-to-toe theological debate you might understand why my heart would beat just a bit quicker.
Just yesterday I heard these sweet words and girded my loins for war. What will the question be: what is the chief end of man? No, too easy. How does God interact with himself as three persons and one essence? Well, let's not hope for too much, maybe he just wants to know the difference of Calvin's theology Luther's. Surely that is a question on everybody's mind, right?
I really should have learned by now that those questions with all the beauty of a rose come attached with prickly thorns. My friend asked an odd question yesterday and I have to say it caught me off-guard. Are you ready?
According to the Apostle John, how many fish did Jesus' disciples catch after he was resurrected?
You know the answer, right? 153. What a weird number. Not 40, like the years in the wilderness. Not 12, like the number of tribes in Israel and the number of disciples. Not even 23, as a hidden, mysterious prophesy of Michael Jordan's future reign over the nets of his day. Nope, 153. Weird, huh?
The bible presents us with a bunch of weird details like this. Just this morning my buddies and I were talking about the end of the book of Ezekiel. For some reason it is important for us not only to know that God will have his temple rebuilt in Jerusalem after the exile but that the North Gate in said temple will be 26 cubits wide- check that, 25. Why bother? Who cares if the North Gate is 25 cubits wide? Certainly not those of us who have no idea what the cubit-to-foot ratio is.
And the 153 fish? Who cares? Why not just say there were 150? It certainly would not be the first time the gospel writers rounded up or down, unless you think there was a head-count in the feeding of the 4,000 and 5,000 that totaled exact numbers. What is the point of 153 fish?
Here is my take. John wants us to know that this story is for real. There really was a catch of a ridiculous amount of fish because there really was a physically resurrected Jesus commanding the real ocean to produce said crappie, salmon or whatever comes out of the Sea of Tiberias. After they caught and apparently catalogued the fish, they had breakfast together- a real breakfast- the once-dead Jesus and his disciples. This is earthy. This is real. This has to do with the day-to-day stuff of life. Why was there 153 fish? I have no idea. That is how many fish they caught- it is that simple. John wants us to know that Jesus is all about the stuff of life.
From the first words of John's gospel story we hear this message. The word has become flesh and has taken up residence among his people. God has invaded the details of reality and lived with us. What a great way to wrap up the story, this word of God invading the very minutia of life. Jesus meets us only in reality, messy and odd as it can be.
To cut a long story short my friend was not pleased with this explanation. He wanted to ponder it more and that is alright. What I know about him, however, is that he is struggling against an addiction that is systematically destroying his life. It would do him good to realize that Jesus caught the disciples 153 fish simply because he is all about reality. This is the theological meeting the practical- the rubber meeting the road.
This is the kind of life Jesus promises. This is the type of catch he collects for us. It meets us in every detail of life because when we see the man Jesus we see a God who is for us. Down to the last detail.