In the reading from the Gospel of St. John (21:1-14) for the Third Sunday of Easter, Jesus, once again, reveals Himself to His apostles, a third time, after His resurrection from the dead. This time, He appears to them in the early morning hours at the shores of the Sea of Tiberias, also called the Sea of Galilee. According to the Gospel, the apostles who witness this appearance of Jesus as the Risen Christ include Peter, James, John and Nathanael. Here Jesus appears to them only after they had failed to catch any fish all night in their boat. They certainly would have been disappointed. They had worked hard for several hours during the night. They neither had a full night’s sleep nor did they have a full meal that night. In fact, they may have not had any food to eat at all, considering that they had failed to catch any fish. Consequently, as human beings, they certainly would have been tired, sleepy, and hungry. They also would have been mentally and emotionally drained after working all night, and failing to catch any fish. For the apostles, losing hope, or despairing, in these difficult circumstances, was a real temptation.
Indeed, as human beings, especially as men, the disciples suffered the temptation to despair after they worked hard all night, but failed to produce any fruits from their work. In the reading from St. John’s Gospel, the Gospel reading for the Third Sunday of Easter, the disciples’ temptation is only implied circumstantially. Still, considering the circumstances, there is a reasonable basis here for concluding that the disciples did, in fact, suffer from the temptation to despair, even if this temptation is only implicit. On the other hand, in St. Luke’s Gospel, a similar reading offers a fuller understanding of the state or condition of the disciples by directly revealing their temptation to despair through St. Peter’s response to Jesus. I will consider that passage later.
The question I want to consider here is this: Why would failing to catch any fish, after fishing all night on the Sea of Tiberias, tempt the disciples to despair? In my reading, I believe they suffered this temptation to despair not only because they had failed as fishermen, but primarily because they had failed the people who depended on them, the people who depended on their support, materially or economically. Certainly, their elderly parents or grandparents would have depended on them, including their wife and children, if they had any. True, the inspired authors of the Gospels only mention that St. Peter was married. In doing so, they recount a certain day that Jesus visited St. Peter’s house only to find the mother of the wife of St. Peter, St. Peter’s mother-in-law, lying in bed suffering from an illness (Luke 4:38-39, Matthew 8:14-15, Mark 1:29-31). In this sense, not only did Peter’s wife depend on him, but his wife’s mother also depended on him, especially in her illness. After all, for the people of Israel, a man’s vocation, particularly a husband’s, was to honor his wife and his parents, including his wife’s parents, by supporting them, or at least helping them materially, according to their needs, as justice required. In this case, St. Peter ‘s mother-in-law needed a home. As such, St. Peter helped her by welcoming her into his home as a member of his household. In this sense, God called the people of Israel, particularly the men, to be just by honoring not only their mother and father, but also their grandparents and elderly family members, including their wife and children. In fact, God’s Fourth Commandment of the Decalogue calls the people of Israel to honor their mother and father (Exodus 20:12). Accordingly, in St. Peter’s faithfulness to this Commandment, he honored his wife’s mother by sheltering her. This means that he was supporting her, at least by offering her a home. For this reason, she depended on him, just as his wife did. The Gospels only recall that Peter was married. They do not mention the marital status of any of the other apostles.
On the other hand, in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, he does suggest in a passage that some of the other apostles may have been married (9:5). In this passage, he says that he and his brothers have a right to have a wife, as do the other apostles, including the Lord’s brothers and St. Peter. True, St. Paul is only claiming that they have a right to have a wife, just as the apostles do. St. Peter, of course, made use of that right. He had a wife. He had a wife and mother-in-law who depended on him. As for the other apostles, they may or may not have made use of their right to marry. What is certain is that at least some of them would have still had parents, grandparents, or other family members who would have depended on them materially for support. As I have already said, for the people of Israel, particularly for the men, justice required that they honor these people by helping them through their work. For the apostles, this work was fishing.
As human beings, particularly in marriage and family life, people can, at times, feel drained mentally and emotionally, and also disappointed and discouraged, after working hard for years, perhaps many years, but feeling that they have failed as spouses or family members. After all, in their judgment, they have not produced any of the fruits that they had hoped to produce, by their work, for the good of their marriage or family life. These fruits would help them support the people in their life who depended on them materially, particularly their spouse, their children and their parents. Consequently, their failure to produce any fruits to support their marriage and family, through work, would be difficult for them. For this reason, they would feel drained, disappointed and discouraged, just as the apostles did, after fishing all night on the Sea of Tiberias, but failing to catch any fish for their family. As such, they suffered, just as the apostles did. Human beings, of course, including spouses, have no desire to fail in the work they do to support their marriage and family life. Indeed, they do not work hard, for years, only to hope that they will fail to produce any good fruits from their work, particularly those fruits that will help them support their family materially. On this basis, human beings do not intend for their work to be unfruitful, but sometimes they just fail to produce any fruit.
At the same time, during difficult times, times of suffering, when people fail to produce fruit in their work for the good of their marriage and family life, they can easily be tempted to despair. This is the temptation to lose hope that they will ever be fruitful in their work. In this sense, in their suffering, they may be tempted, but a temptation is not a sin. On the contrary, a temptation is an evil thought or feeling, antecedent to an act of the will, that inclines people to sin. For this reason, in their suffering, human beings who are tempted to despair, can reject the temptation, just as Jesus did in the Garden of Gethsemane. Indeed, they can do God’s will, just as He did by the work of virtue. In doing so, they hope that the work that God calls them to do daily for the good of their marriage and family will bear fruit by God’s grace.
This is the same hope that the apostles had about their work as fishermen. In the reading from St. John’s Gospel, after the apostles fail to catch any fish all night (21:3 and 5) and suffer the temptation to despair, they do just as Jesus tells them, after hearing Him. They cast their net to the right side of the boat in the Sea of Tiberias, hoping they will finally catch some fish, just as Jesus prophesies to them. They do not question Him or complain to Him. They just do as He tells them. As a result, they catch many fish (21:6). In a similar reading from St. Luke’s Gospel (5:4-6), after Jesus tells the apostles to cast their net to the right side of the boat, St. Peter, acting on behalf of the other apostles, begins by questioning or complaining to Jesus that they have worked hard all night but have caught nothing. In a sense, St. Peter is telling Jesus that casting the net there, once again, would be completely useless or futile, for he and the other apostles have already done that throughout the night fruitlessly. This suggests that the apostles are tempted to stop fishing as an act of despair or hopelessness, but this is only brief, for right after, St. Peter tells Jesus that they will do as He tells them. This is an act of hope that their work as fishermen would produce fruit. For this reason, after casting their net as a people of hope, they catch many fish that would certainly help them support their family members.
Conversely, in their suffering, people who are tempted to despair can also yield to this temptation. In this act of despair, they lose hope that they will ever produce fruit by their work. Consequently, they stop working, because they have no hope. They have no hope that their work will ever produce the fruit that will help them support their marriage and family materially. By stopping their work, by stopping the work that God has called them to do, because of their hopelessness, they cannot help their family. They cannot help them materially or spiritually.
In conclusion, in this reading St. Peter and the apostles teach human beings that after failing to catch any fish all night on the Sea of Tiberias, and suffering their temptation to despair, they still do God’s will, just as Jesus did in suffering His temptation. Indeed, they are hopeful that by working daily, by doing the will of God everyday, they will produce fruit daily for the good of their marriage and family. This is, first and foremost, the fruit of hope that they produce interiorly in their hearts for the spiritual and material good of their spouse, their children and their parents. This means that their call to support their family members involves helping them not only materially, but also spiritually, by teaching and forming them in God’s Word. There is no greater work they can do for them than helping them become holy men and women of God through holy virtue. Pray for people, especially spouses, to produce good fruit for their family, the fruit of hope, through the work of virtue.
In Christ with Blessed Mary,
Friar Mariano D. Veliz, O.P.