Today’s biblical reading talks about “the miraculous fish catching and calling of the first disciples,” from Luke 5: 1-11.
The passage begins with “Jesus standing by the lake of Gennesaret” where the multitude pressed Him to hear the “word of God”. The people were thirsty to hear the teachings of Christ about the kingdom of heaven.
During this time, Jesus preached and evangelised on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, where fishermen worked to make a living. He did not visit and preach at schools of philosophy or big cities; instead, He made the shore of Lake Gennesaret as a centre of His ministry and recruited His first disciples, among who were simple fishermen, also from this area.
Then, “He saw two boats by the lake; but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets”. The fishermen had finished their work and were mending the nets and washing them to be ready for the next day. We understand now that those two boats stood for two groups of people, Jews and Gentiles.
The crowd pressed about Jesus on the shore of the lake, so He preferred to move away a little so that he could address them and see all of them. Jesus then entered the boat of Simon, who was later called Peter, and sat on the bow of the ship teaching the crowds. Here we see Christ using Simon Peter’s ship as a “pulpit for preaching.” Since the beginning of Christianity, the symbol of the ship has been used to depict the Church. The Church is the “ship of salvation”.
When Jesus finished teaching, He addressed Simon Peter, saying: “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” The depth here signifies the depths of a man’s soul. A man must go into the depths to obtain the precious catch. He should move far out from the sensual and material shallows into the spiritual depths. On the shore is where the seaweed washes up and what the waves throw out of the remnants, but the precious treasures can be found only in the depths of the ocean, thus it is required for us to penetrate into the depths of ourselves to know ourselves and the treasures, to know our weakness and our shallowness, only then we will discover the greatness of God, His mightiness and holiness.
However, to Peter, the order of the fishing process, which Christ mentioned, sounded illogical, so he answered: “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” In other words, Peter is trying to say to Jesus: Master, you are an expert in carpentry, but we are experts in fishing and we know that the favourable and right time and place for a good catch is in the evening. And if the evening attempt was a failure, then what will be the share of the daytime’s catch? Peter’s answer to Jesus displays his very little hope of getting a catch, but despite his doubts, the Apostle Peter was ready to obey and believe: “But at Thy word I will let down the nets.”
The prophet Isaiah says about the efficacy and power of the word and command of the Lord: “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11). We see this happening in this passage: the fish obeyed the command of the Lord and came forth to fill the nets of the fishermen, so much that the two boats were in danger of capsizing!
Behold here the fruit and reward of obedience and faith in the Lord. And when they had done this, “they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink “. Through the blessing of the Lord, there is abundance, wealth and riches. Simon Peter recognised Christ’s love for His people. He not only satisfied their spiritual needs through the Word, but also took care of their living needs. This experience resonates later in the Epistle of Peter when he says: “Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5: 7).
The disciple Peter was present when the Lord Jesus healed his mother-in-law before this miracle we read about today happened (Luke 4: 38-39). But it seems that this particular miracle shook the depths of his being at the core, as Peter thought he knew all matters of fishing and the sea, but soon realised the shallowness and weakness of his experience and human reasoning before the greatness of the Lord and His majesty and authority. Peter fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” At recognising his own sinfulness and unworthiness, he begged the Lord to depart from him. For Peter, Jesus was no longer a “Master” but rather a “Lord”. Here, Peter’s whole-hearted obedience revealed itself. He, and all that were with him, were astonished at the catch of fish, and it moved him so that he expressed his faith and weakness by prostrating himself before the Lord, to whom we give glory.
This miracle changed the course of life for Simon and his two companions, James and John, the sons of Zebedee. St. John Chrysostom comments on the way that Jesus recruited these disciples by saying: “For in His condescension to men, He called the wise men by a star, the fishermen by their art of fishing”. In other words, he spoke their language. From now and beyond, the Church is a ship and the Gospel is the net in which Peter, James and John will catch men.
In today’s Gospel, there is a lesson on faith and trust in God: “Who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2: 4). The issue of obedience and faith is not only in matters that we consider logical and possible, but also in matters that appear humanly illogical and impossible. Here comes the role of faith and obedience in the person of Lord Jesus Christ.
We say colloquially: “Man purposes, but God disposes,” or according to the book of Proverbs, “There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel – that will stand,” (Proverbs 19:21). And here we can talk about the importance of “Synergy”, or the cooperation between human efforts and the Divine Grace or assistance. The important thing is that in all that we are planning, we seek the Lord’s will and blessing. O Lord, we have laboured all night and did not get anything, but according to your word, that is, with faith and trust in You, we will continue our mission and continue our work, seeking your blessing and your mercy forever.
+ His Eminence, Metropolitan Basilios