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Many vegetarians (vegans) believe that Jesus was a vegetarian, and these verses are used to "prove" that He wasn't, for they indicate that He ate fish. The vegetarian argument is that He could have just eaten the honeycomb, and not the fish. It is this discussion that has prompted me to write this commentary (see Veg-Christian discussion following this commentary).
Jesus had risen from the dead and had appeared before His disciples, who didn't fully believe that what they were seeing before them was really the risen Jesus. They thought they were seeing a vision, or a spirit, or a phantom, but could not fully grasp that what they were beholding was, in fact, the bodily resurrected Jesus. Thus, Jesus requests something to eat to show them that He wasn't a phantom, and that He could eat or consume food just as they could.
We should keep in mind that when reading the King James old English that the term, "meat" (verse 41), does not necessarily mean flesh, but food in general.
Concerning the phrase, "and of an honeycomb", in verse 42, which does not appear in the Revised Standard Version, the New American Standard Version, or the New International Version, note the following:
"These words are absent from the most important uncial [old Latin lettered] manuscripts; but it is difficult to account for their having found their way into the text unless we suppose them to be genuine. They are unquestionably of high antiquity, being quoted by Athanasius and the two Cyrils, and extant of many uncial and nearly all cursive manuscripts."1
Another discussion arises over the translation of verse 43, and what Jesus actually ate. Most translations say that He ate "it", thus the interpretation could be that Jesus ate the honeycomb and not the fish.
A few translations say that He ate "these". The Greek really doesn't say either "it" or "these". They have been added by translators for clarification. The Greek says: "And taking before them, He ate." What did He eat? We don't really know. It could have been either or both.
If in fact Jesus did or did not eat fish, should it affect the faith of a Christian vegetarian? I don't believe it should. If a person is an ethical vegetarian, one who believes we should do no harm to any of God's creatures (human and non-human) or to the environment, then this belief is totally in tune with the original creation intent of God, and as He depicts our heavenly existence. The importance of these verses is not to argue over whether or not Jesus was or wasn't a vegetarian; the importance is to show the extent to which Jesus goes to help His disciples believe in Him and follow Him.
Jesus first needed to attract the attention of His disciples before they could do His good works which He prepared beforehand (Ephesians 2:10). What was prepared beforehand? The Garden of Eden, a place where there was no death, a place where all of God's creatures ate only a plant-based diet. And we also should remember what Jesus tells us in John 14:12: that we should be able to do even greater works than He was able to accomplish while on this earth in bodily form. If Jesus felt it was necessary to eat fish along with His followers, then He had a God-based reason for doing so. That doesn't mean that we should eat fish today and cause pain and suffering to other animals. We can do a greater work.
1. Cook, F. C. ed., The Bible Commentary, Vol. VII, Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1981, 469.