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An Exposition Of The Gospels by The Most Rev. John Macevilly D.D.

This chapter opens with an account of our Lord’s third public apparition to His Apostles, who were fishing on the Sea of Tiberias—the miraculous draught of fishes, where He is recognized by St. John first, and after that by Peter and the rest (1–9).

Our Lord instructs them to prepare food and distributes the fishes that they had prepared at the fire, and also bread among them (10–14).

In reward for Peter’s triple profession of love towards His Divine Master, our Lord gives him charge of His entire flock, “lambs and sheep,” and thus gives him full jurisdiction to feed and govern His entire Church, pastors and people (15–17).

He predicts Peter’s violent death by martyrdom (18, 19).

He represses Peter’s curiosity regarding the end in store for St. John, the disciple of love (20–23).

The conclusion (24, 25).


St. John would seem to have concluded his Gospel at verse 31 of preceding chapter. Hence, the authenticity of this chapter has been called in question by some, who doubted whether St. John was its author, or whether it may not have emanated from the pen of some other inspired writer. But, as it has been quoted from by the Fathers, and is found in all the codices of St. John’s Gospel, it is generally believed as certain and undoubted that St. John was its author, that the entire chapter was from his pen, and that no other inspired writer had a hand in any portion of it. Some say, it was added by him by way of appendix, for special reasons, as he would seem to have closed his Gospel at verse 31, of preceding chapter.

But its inspiration, whoever its author may be, no Catholic can question after the Decree of the Council of Trent, “De Canonicis Scripturis.”

1. “After this”—after His manifestation to Thomas and others—“Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples,” in a body.

“At the Sea of Tiberias.” So called from the town of Tiberias, situated on its western shore, built by Herod Antipas in honour of Tiberius Cæsar. It was also called, “the Lake of Genesareth,” “the Sea of Galilee,” because situated in Galilee. The Jews were wont to call their large inland lakes, by the name of seas. Our Lord promised to meet His Apostles in Galilee, whither they were commanded to go (Matthew 26:32; 28:10; Mark 14:28; 16:7). Galilee was a retired district, free from danger, where our Lord could conveniently meet them, in order to give them, without fear of molestation, His final instructions before parting from them.

“He manifested Himself after this manner.” The Evangelist describes how He manifested Himself, and tells us who were present.

2. “Nathanael,” supposed to be Bartholomew. He was one of our Lord’s earliest followers (John 1:45).

“And two others of His disciples.” Their names are not mentioned, as probably, they were not among our Lord’s prominent followers.

3. The Apostles deprived of the presence of their Divine Master, who managed to have their wants supplied, while in His company, have now no means of support, and, in order to procure the necessaries of life, have recourse to their former occupation. So had St. Paul recourse to the tent-making trade.

“I go a fishing,” that is, I am resolved on going to fish. This reminds them also of what they should do. They declare their readiness to accompany Him.

“That night, they caught nothing.” It was thus providentially arranged, in order to render the following miracle the more remarkable.

4. At an early hour our Lord stood on the shore, but not recognized by His Apostles. It was only in the exercise of His Divine power, that He was recognized.

5. “Children,” a term of kindness and affability used by superiors towards those with whom they converse.

“Any meat.” The Greek word means, relish, or something to be eaten with bread. It often denotes meat. Here, it means fish. Our Lord’s question means, have they any fish?

6. “Right side,” probably, because it was the side nearest the shore, where there was a less probability of catching fish. A certain place is indicated, to show the capture of fish was not accidental. Without recognizing our Lord, they seemed to have some confidence in Him, as one skilled in the fishing business, and acquainted with where fish might be caught.

“To draw it,” into the boat. They drew it afterwards after the boat (v. 8).

7. “That disciple, therefore,” etc. John himself “said to Peter,” the recognized head of the Apostolic College.

“It is the Lord.” The miraculous draught put it beyond doubt, that it was He.

“Girt his coat about him”—a kind of coarse overcoat used by fishermen, which, in order not to be embarrassed by it in fishing, Peter laid by. He now put it on, out of reverence for his Lord, “and girt it” round him, lest it might impede his progress.

(“For he was naked.”) He was without his outer coat, having on him merely his tunic or under garments.

“And cast himself into the sea,” out of his impetuosity to meet his Lord. Ardour and impetuosity were Peter’s leading characteristics.

8. “Two hundred cubits,” about three hundred and fifty (350) feet, or about twenty rods.

9. “A fire.” This may have been miraculously provided by our Lord; or, perhaps, left there by some other fishermen, for the purpose of preparing the fish they might have caught.

10, 11. Peter drew the net to land,” aided by his companions. He alone could not do it.

“One hundred and fifty-three,” large fishes. This very unusual number of large fishes is specified, to show that the draught was miraculous.

12. “Come and dine.” The Greek would denote a meal earlier than dinner, corresponding with our breakfast. It was early in the day when this occurred.

13. Whether He ate with them Himself is not mentioned here. But it is likely He did so on this, as He did on the occasion of another apparition (Luke 24:43; Acts 1:4).

14. “The third time,” He appeared to them collectively. To such apparitions alone St. John refers here.

15–17. “Simon, son of John, lovest thou Me more than these?” The form is ambiguous in the Greek as well as in the English. It may mean “more than (Thou lovest) these,” or “more than these” love Me. The former construction is simply frivolous. Why ask Peter who so emphatically professed his love for Him formerly, who so ardently sprang through the waters to embrace the knees of his Divine Master when he knew it was He, if he loved Him, the Son of God, more than he loved his fellow-disciples, mere sinful men like himself, who had no claim of gratitude, as his Divine Master had, on him? What merit could there be in this? Our Lord repeats the question three times. But He only says once, and in His first question, “more than these.” For, out of modesty, Peter did not say, in his declaration of love, that he loved his Divine Master more than the others loved Him.

It is to be remarked, that in the first two questions, the Greek for “lovest thou Me,” ἂγαπᾷς, is different from the Greek word in the answer, “I love Thee,” φιλῶ σε. This, however, makes but very little difference as to sense. Also in the Greek, after Peter’s reply to the second question, instead of “Feed My lambs” (v. 16), as the Vulgate has it, it is, “Feed My sheep,” so that instead of having “feed My lambs” twice repeated in verses 15, 16, it is, “Feed My sheep,” that is twice repeated. This, however, makes no difference as to meaning, since, in each construction, there is reference made to the entire flock or Church of Christ. “My lambs,” “My sheep,” are the same in sense as “My Church” (Matthew 16:18). Our Lord’s three-fold question to Peter regarding his love for Him corresponds with Peter’s three-fold denial, “redditur”—(St. Augustine observes—Tract 133)—“Trinœ negationi trina confessio, ne minus amori lingua serviat, quam timori.”

It is also to be observed, that our Lord addresses Peter singly, selecting him from his associates. “Simon, son of Jonas,” and that any power, privilege or authority conferred now was confined to Peter, “Do thou feed My lambs,” “feed My sheep,” so that while Peter was also a sharer in all the privileges and prerogatives conferred on the Apostles collectively, the privilege and authority conferred here was conferred on him individually, and not in common, as on other occasions, with his brethren. “Lovest thou Me more than these love Me?” Peter, unable to penetrate the heart of man and mindful of his fall and former presumption, when seemingly heedless of the prediction of our Lord relative to his three-fold denial, he presumptuously replied, no matter how others might fail, he, surely, would not, now humbly and modestly appeals to his Divine Master, the Searcher of Hearts, as to the sincerity and intensity of his love, without comparing himself with the others, and answers, “Yea, Lord, I love You,” and, as Searcher of Hearts, Thou knowest it. Our Lord, in reward for this confession, says (v. 15), “Feed My lambs,” and after having repeated the same question (v. 16), and received the same declaration, He says again, “Feed My lambs,” which in the Greek is, “Feed My sheep.” There is, however, no substantial difference of meaning, as, “My lambs,” My sheep,” both refer to the entire flock of Christ. They are all “lambs,” all “sheep,” in relation to Him.

On our Lord’s repeating the question a third time, “Peter was grieved.” Very likely, mindful of his former fall and presumption, he now fancies our Lord mistrusted his declaration or profession of love, and perhaps fears he may not persevere in His present dispositions.

He again appeals to our Lord’s Omniscience, humbly mistrusting himself—in proof of the sincerity of his love. Then, our Lord, a third time, in reward for his triple confession, gives him charge of His entire flock, “Feed My sheep,” without exception or limitation. The commission given to Peter here, thrice repeated, to feed and rule the entire flock of Christ, lambs and sheep, proves demonstratively the Primacy of Jurisdiction given him, and him alone, over the entire flock of Christ. “My lambs”—all, are His lambs—“My sheep”—all, are His sheep, including pastors (that is), Apostles, Bishops, Priests—and people, of every rank and degree. The entire flock is said one time to be, “lambs;” at another, “sheep.” For, they are all such in relation to their Heavenly Pastor. The mode in which our Lord introduces the subject, three times, questioning Peter as to his great love for Himself—(an element so necessary for a pastor of souls, who in tending His flock, should bear in mind that they are the flock of Christ, to be tended and cared for Christ’s sake, and not for the personal gain or emolument accruing to the pastor himself)—three times also repeating the commission, makes it the more remarkable.

It is deserving of remark, that the Greek word, used in the second instance, for “feed,” means, to rule, to govern, ποιμαινε—a signification which the word frequently bears with sacred and profane authors, and is commonly applied to kings, to supreme rulers and governors of the people. In the two other concessions of privilege, the word used is, Βοσκε, a word signifying, to supply food.

It is not without deep design, this twofold form of word, expressing “feed,” is addressed to St. Peter, as expressive of his office, which, besides obliging him to furnish to the entire flock the wholesome food of sound doctrine, free from any admixture of error, also implies, a governing, ruling, coercive power to be employed when necessary in restraining and punishing. (See Matthew 16:18, where the whole question of the Primacy is fully treated; also Luke 22:31.)

Our Lord, in order to mark the vast importance of this exalted office of Supreme Pastor, who is visibly to tend his flock, after his own visible power was withdrawn, which office he confers on Peter only, first promises it in the most solemn manner in reward for Peter’s ardent faith. (Matthew 16) Then, in some measure, confers it on him on the eve of His death (Luke 22:31), and now, on the point of leaving this world and ascending to His Father, confers it on him, in the most solemn manner, after having three times, exacted from him a profession of ardent love.

Peter, then, being commissioned to feed (rule) the entire flock of Christ, must be invested with supreme spiritual authority over all the members of the Church. He must, therefore, have full, ordinary, independent, immediate universal power directly furnished to him by the Son of God—the source of all power in heaven or on earth—whom he visibly represents, to carry on efficiently, without let or hindrance, all that is necessary for the eternal salvation of his flock, and employ all the means conducive thereto. In other words, as supreme pastor of the fold, he must possess all legislative and executive authority, to enact and enforce laws necessary for conducting his sheep to the pastures of salvation, and for guarding them against noxious and poisonous pastures, and to restrain by due punishment, such as would lead them aside from the true path, whether in the order of faith and morals, and to appoint subordinate pastors to help in accomplishing these ends. In a word, the unlimited commission given him by Christ involves all necessary power to uphold integrity of faith and purity of morals. This power, in spiritual matters, embraces all persons, and is limited only by the nature of things and the unchangeable law of God. What else is this, but primacy over the entire Church? It involves universal legislative, judicial and executive authority to rule, govern and uphold the universal Church, including pastors and people.

18. After having raised Peter to the most exalted dignity on earth; after appointing him the supreme, divinely constituted Pastor of the Universal Church, our Lord now predicts the end to which this would lead, viz., a violent death. He consoles him, at the same time, by predicting his perseverance in grace, about which the triple interrogation was naturally calculated to make him uneasy, as if his Lord doubted him and feared for him.

“But when thou shalt be old”—reduced to a state of decrepitude and dependence on the kind offices of others. “Thou shalt stretch forth thy hands,” to be assisted and clad by others; or, rather, that those extended hands may be fitted and measured for the cross destined for thee—“and then another shall gird thee,” round your loins—“and lead thee whither thou wouldst not,” that is, to be nailed to a cross, from which nature instinctively recoils. Peter willingly submitted to the glorious death of the cross, after the example of his Lord. Nature, however, instinctively recoils from such; and it is to this feeling of natural repugnance, the words “thou wouldst not,” refer.

We have it recorded on undoubted historical authority, that when Peter, yielding to the entreaty of some Christians, during the cruel persecution of Nero, was saving himself by flight, he was met by our Lord, at the Sebastian Gate, and on asking, “Domine, quo vadis,” received for reply, “Venio Romam iterum crucifigi,” which he understood of our Lord being crucified in his (Peter’s) person, and then returning, was subjected to crucifixion, as we are told by SS. Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory, Hegesippus.

19. St. John, who survived St. Peter, and knew of the manner of death he underwent, now interprets our Lord’s words in the preceding verse, as having reference to Peter’s martyrdom. Very likely, Peter himself understood Him so at the time. Tradition has it that Peter begged to be crucified with his head downwards, humbly declining the honour of being crucified like his Lord. By his death for the cause of truth and the faith, Peter contributed to God’s glory, and proclaimed His adorable Attributes of Veracity, Justice and Mercy. Peter once promised to follow his Lord and failed; this time his Lord will not allow him to fail. “Follow Me,” may mean, in suffering, in taking the cross, through death to glory; follow Me afterwards (21:16), or, “follow Me,” imitate Me in zealously tending and watching over My flock.

20, 21. Following our Lord, in the literal sense of the word, together with the other Apostles (though for him, the words conveyed a still more important prophetic intimation, as to the manner of His death), Peter, on looking back and seeing St. John among them, was anxious to know, now that his own ultimate end was definitely predicted, what St. John’s destiny would be, whether he, too, the disciple of love, had a violent end in store for him. Very likely, this curiosity in St. Peter regarding John in particular, arose from his special love for St. John, and from the knowledge that he was the disciple whom our Lord specially loved. He had employed John, at the Last Supper, to ask our Lord which of those present was the traitor; and, in return, he asks for John, who, he supposed, did not wish himself to ask, what his destiny was.

22. Our Lord, repressing Peter’s undue curiosity, administers to him, a mild rebuke, telling him he was not unduly to pry into the designs of God, in reference to others; he should mind his own affairs; and be satisfied with following our Lord himself, according to the admonition given him already.

“So, I will have him to remain.” For, “so,” the Greek and Syriac Versions and almost all the Greek Commentators, have “if” (εαν), “if I will have him remain.” However, there is very little difference as to meaning, “so,” signifying, in a conditional sense, supposing or granted, “that I will have him to remain,” here on earth, in this mortal life.

“Till I come.” There is a great diversity of opinion about this coming. Some understand it of our Lord’s glorious coming not to final judgment—for, John passed away long before, but, His coming in power to take vengeance on Jerusalem, and bring about its final destruction. John survived this, many years. Others understand it, till I come at the appointed time, to take him out of this world. St. John did not die a violent death. He died peaceably at Ephesus in the third year of Trajan, although he was subjected to a violent ordeal, having been cast into a cauldron of boiling oil by the order of the Emperor Domitian, whence he miraculously came forth intact, thus verifying our Lord’s prediction, that he would “drink of His chalice” (Matthew 20:23). From this circumstance, he has earned the glorious title of Martyr, as the boiling oil would naturally have caused his death, undergone for the faith, if he were not miraculously preserved. He was afterwards banished to the island of Patmos, where he wrote the Apocalypse. Having survived the other Apostles, a rumour was spread abroad, that he was not to die; but, would remain in life till our Lord’s final coming. In order to correct this erroneous impression, St John declares our Lord made no such promise.

23. Our Lord’s ambiguous reply possibly, couched, on purpose, in such language suited to repress undue curiosity, gave rise to a false rumour, viz., that John was destined not to die—the refutation of which would seem to be one of his objects in appending this chapter to the foregoing Gospel. The disciples seemed to know only of our Lord’s final coming. Very likely, the ripe old age St. John had reached, after all the other Apostles had, through the ordeal of a violent death, gone to their reward, may have confirmed this rumour. St. John informs us that our Lord did not say, that he himself would not die; that He only spoke conditionally, as to God’s designs, which it did not concern Peter or others to scrutinize.

“Among the brethren,” among the body of the faithful. The word, “brethren,” is often distinguished from the Apostles and disciples in several parts of the New Testament (Acts 11:1–29; 12:17; 15:22, 23).

The word, probably, refers to the Christians of Asia, of which St. John had special charge.

24. “This”—regarding whom the above erroneous persuasion, not warranted by our Lord’s words—“is the disciple who giveth testimony of these things,” viz., these latter events recorded in the Gospel, “and hath written these things,” contained in the foregoing Gospel.

“And we know,” may refer to John himself, who elsewhere speaks of himself in the plural (1 John 1:5; 3 John 12), or to John and his disciples together; or, it may signify: it is a thing well known and admitted.

“And His testimony is true.” This is a declaration on the part of St. John regarding his own certainty as to the truth of his testimony.

25. This is an hyperbole, by which is meant to convey to us an exalted idea of the words, discourses, miracles and marvellous actions of our blessed Lord.

This figure of speech is sometimes used in SS. Scripture.

Some Commentators, who never doubt the inspiration of these two last verses, question their authenticity. They seem to think they were added by a strange hand. But, the common, almost universal, opinion ascribes them to St. John.

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