Friends, we must attend to the mystical depth of today’s Gospel. At the break of dawn, the disciples spy a mysterious figure on the distant shore who shouts out to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” When they answer in the negative, he instructs them to cast the net over the right side of the ship. When they do, they bring in a huge catch of fish.
This fishing expedition is a symbol of the Church (the barque of Peter), across space and time, at its apostolic task of seeking souls. The life and work of the Church, John seems to be telling us, will be a lengthy, twilight struggle, a hard toil that will often seem to bear little or no fruit. But after the long night, the dawn of a new life and a new order will break, the transfigured world inaugurated by Jesus. The catch of fish that he makes possible is the totality of people that Christ will gather to himself; it is the new Israel, the eschatological Church.
We know this through a subtle bit of symbolism. When the fish are dragged ashore, John bothers to tell us their exact number, 153—a figure commonly taken in the ancient world to signify the total number of species of fish in the sea.