“When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.’ So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, ‘Come and have breakfast.’ Now none of the disciples dared ask him, ‘Who are you?’ They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.” (Jn 21: 9-14)
The passage quoted above is the Gospel-reading at matins this Sunday, which also happens to be Father’s Day in Austria. Whenever this passage is read at Sunday matins (i.e., once every eleven weeks, because it is one of the cycle of eleven “Resurrection Gospels,” read year-round at Sunday-matins), I remember an incident from my childhood. I was about eight or nine years old, at Saturday-evening vigil, and my dad (the parish priest) was celebrating. Soon after this Gospel was read, I came up with the rest of the crowd to venerate the Gospel and then to receive my dad’s blessing. As I came up to him, he whispered to me, “How many fish did the apostles catch?” – quizzing me, as it were, on the Gospel-reading. I replied, “one hundred and sixty-three.” So my dad smiled and looked at me, like, No, Miss Smarty-Pants, and said, “One hundred and FIFTY-three.”
I don’t know that there’s any theological significance to the exact number of fish. (Perhaps someone out there knows, and will enlighten me.) In any event, I don’t think my dad was drawing my 8-9-year old attention to that factoid, specifically. What he did teach me, by this little “game” he played with me, of Gospel-“trivia,” was to be attentive to the Gospel-readings in church. And I’m delighted and grateful, when I think back to this incident, that my dad challenged me in a way he knew I liked to be challenged, because I was a sort of know-it-all at school and with my little friends. And he “used” my shortcoming to encourage me to pay attention to that which mattered; the Word of God, which continues to be a life-saving and life-sustaining source of “information” for my daily life. Thank you, papa, for your wisdom, and Happy (Austrian) Father’s Day!