painting of a family around a table

Questions for Reflection and Discussion – John 21 1-14

The Uniform Series text for Sunday, April 8 is John 21:1-14. [Some notes on the text are here with a little more here.] Here are some questions we might or might not want to consider in class:

Verse 2 lists the names of the disciples, including two unnamed members of the group. What difference does knowing the names of the disciples make in the way we hear this story? (e.g., do we have a more vivid image of the scene?) Why is that, do we think? Does anything we know about these particular disciples affect what we think this story might mean? What is that (e.g., that Thomas is called “doubting Thomas,” that Simon Peter is thought of as the first leader of the church, other …)? What effect does that have on our thinking? Why?

The text doesn’t say why Simon Peter decides to go fishing. Readers have had many ideas about this (e.g., that he doesn’t know what to do next, that he is returning to something familiar, that he needs “to blow off steam,” …) What difference does Simon Peter’s motive here make to us? Does it affect the way we understand the story? How? Does it affect what we think the story means for us? How? Do we think his decision to go fishing was a mistake? Why do we think that? What do we think he should have been doing instead? Why?

In verse 3, the disciples fish all night and catch nothing. In verse 6, they catch an abundance of fish. Does what we are told in verses 4 & 5 explain the difference in the outcomes? What are we told, and how does that explain the difference, do we think? Does how we answer this question make a difference in what we think this story means for us? What difference does it make? Why?

Notice that in verse 6, the disciples follow the instructions given by the man on the beach before they recognize him as Jesus. Why, do we think? Does this affect what we think is happening in the story? How? Does it affect what we think this story means for us? How? Why?

In verse 7, the “disciple whom Jesus loved” recognizes the man on the beach as “the Lord.” In verse 12, all the disciples recognize the man as “the Lord.” What seems to allow them to recognize Jesus? Why does that allow them to recognize Jesus? What does that mean for us? Why? [More personal] Have we ever recognized Christ’s presence or involvement in something we are doing? What allowed us to recognize Christ in that situation?

What does it mean that the disciples eat breakfast with Jesus? Does it matter that Jesus shares his food with them? How – what does that mean?

[More personal] Does this story support, or challenge, the way we think the results of our work are related to divine presence, approval or assistance? How? Have we ever worked hard, with few or no tangible results? What have we thought that means? Why have we thought that? Have we ever had surprising results from our efforts? What have we thought that means? Why have we thought that? Does it make a difference how we answer this question? What difference? Why?

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painting of a family around a table

5 responses to “Questions for Reflection and Discussion – John 21 1-14”

  1. I think what can sometimes happen – or, at least, is hoped for – is that we want divine intervention to do the work for us. But that’s not what happened here. Divine intervention said “try again.” They still had to do the work. They had to submit to the authority of the One telling them to do the work. In my own life, that’s where the breakdown can happen most often.


    • Hi, Tim, thanks for the observation! For myself, I agree – following instructions is something I am not always good at.

      Something I think is interesting about this story, though, is that the disciples do what the man on the beach says to do before they know it’s Jesus. If that detail matters, which it might not, but if it does, then in this case they seem less to be “submitting to divine authority” – if they are, it’s unwitting – and more to be … just accepting someone’s recommendation or taking some well-meant advice or something they have no real prior reason to think is a big deal – but it turns out to be.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I hadn’t thought of that in this instance. I understand that the first time Jesus instructed them to do so upon meeting them for the first time in the gospels, they recognized Jesus as a rabbi (I assume by the way he was dressed). That detail is not part of this story, however. I like that observation of taking someone’s well meant advice without reason for doing so.


  3. Not a comment but an inquiry: who were the two other disciples (unnamed)? My personal note of the inquiry is “unnamed for a purpose” if there is another response to the inquiry/question.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi, Alokoa, and btw, thanks for reading!

      If anyone has suggested a different answer, I don’t know of it. In the longer notes on this text from the last time it came up in the standard lessons (those notes are here) I noted that a) they’re not named, so b) we can’t figure out “which ones they were,” since not all the disciples are even IN this group who go fishing, but c) by leaving out the names, John may leave some room for more reader identification. It’s easier for us readers to imaginatively insert ourselves in the narrative when the characters are nameless. Maybe. And that would definitely be “a purpose,” as you note.

      On the other hand, if it’s true that the gospel of John comes from an early Christian community that was different from the one that gave us the synoptics, and that there were links to different disciples in that group, it might have had something to do with that practical first century politics. But if that’s the case, we’ve forgotten about it by now!

      Either way, by leaving them nameless, it gives us something to think about – a kind of “opening” in the text.

      (Sorry, I know that was kind of long …) Again, thanks for reading!!


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