Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together.3 “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
5 He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
6 He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. 8 The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. 9 When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.
10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.
I think we often miss the miracle in the story of the fishes. The miracle is not about catching fish. It does not matter whether fish were caught or not caught, whether there were 153 fish, fifteen fish, or no fish at all.
The miracle lies elsewhere: in the realization that the mundane is miracle. After the Resurrection, the Christ visits people, he sits with them, talks with them, and he eats with them. In short, he communes with the world, and is present to those who are willing to see him. The miracle of this story is not a surplus of fish, but the realization that seemingly banal acts, such as cooking breakfast and eating bread, are communion—not in a dogmatic sense, but in the sense that we share in, and commune with, all that makes up our experience of existence. Jesus, holding both life and death within him, returns to his disciples in order to show them that the common is divine: that bread and fish are cosmic flesh and wine is cosmic blood.
At the end of 2016, my grandmother got very sick. And we all fought so damn hard to keep her here with us: treatments, prayer, hope beyond hope. But my grandmother, I believe, saw life with the eyes of one anointed by the understanding that the mundane is miracle. So while we fought, she accepted her death with awe and with love. And so a thin gossamer veil separating life from death rose up before her alone, and we watched her passage from a distance, through fog and fear, wishing that we could be there with her so that we could throw a lock upon the veil, just so that we could keep her here with us for one more day or month or year.
But we couldn’t, and we knew that, and it hurt to see her go. But though it still hurts, and I miss her dearly, I now know something else as well. By design or by chance I do not know, but the veil of gossamer that separates life from death moves sometimes: the Universe lifts it and sends it upon winds where it flits and lands upon mythical mountainsides where the living have never been, and here the veil spreads out and encircles the cosmos in a flowing ribbon whose border is imperceptible to the eye. And the living set their compasses to its location and seek it in their minds so that they can attempt to hold it in writing, in paints and pictures, or in philosophical thoughts. But just when we think we know where it is, what it is made of, or what lies beyond it, the Universe picks it up again, casts it to the winds that roll off our shoulders in the rush of our lives, and it falls upon some new mythical mountainside, and the search begins again.
An here is the miracle of our everyday lives: Sometimes, when the veil moves, we find ourselves in communion with the dead, on the other side of the veil, or perhaps it is the dead on our side. And when this happens, I know that my grandmother is not dead, just as truly as the disciples knew that the Christ was not dead. And though grandma does not appear to us on a shore to call us to eat fish and break bread, she is made manifest in other mundane miracles: She calls to us in certain footfalls that creak the floorboards of our houses and remind us of the home she created. She calls to us in certain words that come from the mouth of her daughter that remind us of her voice. And she calls to us at certain tables when we surround ourselves by laughter and loved ones and more food than we could possibly eat in one sitting.
So I do not believe in the miracle of the fishes. I have no reason to think it awesome or amazing that 153 fishes were pulled up in a single net. But I do believe in something else: I believe in the divinity of the mundane and the fluidity of life and death. I believe that the dead live eternally, not in Heaven, but here, with us, now.