When God gives us more than 153 fish

I had been reflecting on the bounty of blessings from my recent travels to Ethiopia, when I came across something I hadn’t noticed before in the 21st chapter of the Gospel of John. 

Jesus had been resurrected. He had already appeared to His disciples. In the midst of these larger-than-life events, Peter suddenly announces, “I am going fishing,” and the others agree to go with him. I don’t want to question Peter too much on the mundaneness of this decision, after all, fishing was his livelihood. And sometimes, when we’re confused about what’s going on around us, we return to what we know to find comfort. But, despite the fishermen’s expertise in fishing, they catch nothing that entire night. (If you recall, this was not the only time that Peter came up empty handed!) 

“Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.”  He instructs them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some” (John 21:4, 6). Sure enough, they catch more fish than they are equipped to haul in. Peter finally realizes that the One who had made the command was Jesus, dives into the sea and goes to shore to meet Him. The others continue the business of bringing in the net of fish. Scripture is specific—153 large fish were captured in the net. As is a fisherman’s tendency, they counted the fish. The specificity of the number has always confirmed for me the historicity of this event, that this incident is not a mere allegorical tale. I have loved telling people that Jesus provided for them 153 fish. But, I just realized my math has been wrong! 

When the disciples arrived on shore, “they saw a charcoal fire in place with fish laid out on it, and bread” (John 21:9). The fish on the fire was not part of the 153 large fish that were in the net! In other words, Jesus provided at least 154 fish that day. Why have I found this so amazing? Does it really matter if the fish totaled 153, 154 or 155? I believe this encounter reveals a profound Truth about Jesus’ love for us. Jesus had filled their net with fish—as much as it could hold, and more than they expected, but then—He adds more. 

Throughout the week in Ethiopia, I experienced this truth. Each day we prayed, and each day God provided more than we had thought or dared to ask. I will share more details of the trip in the weeks ahead, but my favorite lesson learned about God is that He is still able, and willing, to give us that 154th fish. For that, I am overwhelmed and grateful.