The Miraculous Draught of Fish. That’s what it’s called by many. The episode appears once in the Synoptic Gospels, in Luke (5:1-11) and in the Gospel of John (21:1-14). The narrative is fairly straightforward and its mysteries found easily enough. The tough nut to crack in this pericope is that number – 153. 153 fish. Christians have been pondering and offering up explanations for that number since, presumably, the first time it was read by someone other than the author. Now John’s writings have a mystical slant to them anyway and that seemingly meaningless number thrown in begs interpretation. Of course, it could be that that is the actual number of fish caught, but very few Scripture scholars believe that.
Saint Jerome, who was a holier man than I – even if he was a grouch – maintained that the 153 refers to the total number of species of fish that were know of at the time. He was off by less than 30,000 – barely less than 30,000. So, no, I don’t think that’s really the answer.
Saint Louis-Marie de Montfort, another man much holier than I, claimed that the 153 referred to the number of Hail Marys said in a rosary, even though the the rosary wasn’t to be composed for another 1200 years. So, no, I don’t think that’s the answer either.
And then there are the legions of interpreters who are convinced that the number has to do with Sacred Geometry, referring to all the wonderful things one can do with the number by dividing, comparing, adding, etc. Come ON! The man was a fisherman! Yes, he was definitely infused with the Holy Spirit, but higher mathematics is a bit much to expect from the Holy Spirit when one is writing Scripture. (Many believe that John was the first to actually realize he was writing Scripture at the time he was writing it).
I believe the answer is much simpler. I’m convinced that Luke’s and John’s 153 recalls the 153,600 resident aliens who were conscripted to construct Soloman’s Temple in 2nd Chronicles (ch. 2:17-18). Obviously, everyone, even devout followers of the Christ, would scoff at a catch of 153,600 fish – much too ridiculous, but 153 is believable and doesn’t interrupt the flow of the narrative, so Saint John abbreviated. His message is that as 153,600 men built up the original Temple so 153 – those the fishers of men will bring into the fold – will build up the True Temple, the Church. It’s really very simple.