At various times in human history, numbers have provided an opportunity for profound speculation into the nature of God, the universe and many things. Even today, there is a debate among philosophers and mathematicians about whether numbers are absolute truths or are they simple representations of the truth.
In this week we get a strange number. 153 fish were caught by the disciples. It seems like such a random number. At various times in Christian history theologians have tied themselves into knots trying to understand this number. Why not just tell us “over 100” or “scores of fish” or something like that. But John gives us a precise number. Does that mean something? All this investigation has revealed something. It turns out that this number is the seventeenth triangular number. If you are not familiar with that term, here is a short explanation.
Is that significant for us? I have honestly have no idea and I cannot really imagine how, except to say that sometimes the universe lines up. It is like triangular number’s more famous cousin, the Fibonacci sequence, which repeats itself in nature over and over again, e.g., the seeds in a sunflower will always reflect this sequence of numbers. What are we to do with such things? I don’t know if they preach except perhaps to open the minds of a hearer to consider that there may be more going on here than we realize at first.
There is another number in this text, however, which merits our closer attention. Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves Him. The third time it is evident that Peter realizes what is going on here. Jesus asks once for each time that Peter denied our Lord. He weeps at the third time, and through his tears says that he indeed loves Jesus. Jesus is restoring fallen Peter in this sequence of questions. The text ends with Jesus renewing the call He had given Peter in a fishing boat when there had been another miraculous catch of fish: Follow me.
Jesus is still restoring fallen servants and bidding them to follow Him every day. He does that for you too.