153 - a fishy play on numbers

So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. (Jn 21:11)

WARNING: What follows is not a rigorous exegesis of this passage. In fact it's not intended to be an exegesis at all. It's just an amusing play on numbers that will (a) serve as a mnemonic for this number (b) draw out some truth easily exegeted elsewhere.

Let's start with some maths that is indisputable:

153 = 70 + 72 + 11

Now I'm just going to use these numbers as a "hook" without inferring this significance is implied in the passage.

In Matthew 4, Jesus calls the disciples to leave their jobs as fishermen and to follow him to become "fishers of men". In Luke 9 Jesus sends out the 12 (of whom 11 were left at this post-resurrection appearing), and in Luke 10 he sends out the seventy-two, which some texts render as the seventy.

Jesus said he would make them fishers of men, and in this miraculous catch of fish there is a connection to the numbers of men who were sent by Jesus: the 70/72 and the 11. A link between the catch in and the commission.

What I would like to draw out is that Jesus did not just draw men to himself, but fishers of men. Those who would themselves be sent to draw men after him. In turn the disciples were not just fishers of men, but fishers of fishers-of-men. The disciples were not just told to go out and make converts, but more disciples. Those who are drawn are also sent. They are sent to draw men who in turn are also sent, and so on. To switch analogies, the harvest is not just bread for the eater, but seed for the sower. That is, the harvest itself is intended to produce a still greater harvest.

Here's some more maths:

153 + 40 = 193

Now this is definitely not inferred in the passage, but 193 is the number of nations currently recognised by the United Nations. Forty is significant for many things, but in the context the hook I'd like to use is that it is the number of days during which the risen Christ presenced himself among his disciples before he was taken up into heaven.

As fishers of men, the disciples were called to go into all the world; to reach every nation tribe and tongue. But despite all their natural resource they were warned that this is a job they would be unable to do without the empowering presence of God with them - the Holy Spirit poured out by the risen ascended Christ.

Since the number of nations changes year to year, I appreciate this is a hook with a limited lifespan! But for me, and those in related churches it is one that will stick in the mind, as we have recently committed to go into all 193 nations over the next two years. [See www.mission193.com]

This number study is just a bit of fun, but I hope it has blessed you. At least you'll never forget how many fish were caught now! For any School of the Word Students (any of you reading this year?) this is a question, as I recall, in your end of year Bible-knowledge exam, so here's one extra mark on me! ;-)

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