My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ!
Sometimes, when we read the Gospels appointed to the days of the year, it is as if our Lord is teaching us directly with the very words He used in teaching those who were hearing Him. Such it is when we hear the parables and the instructions of our Lord as recorded by the Evangelists. His words transcend time and space and become a source of instruction and encouragement just as much for us, today, as they were for those who first heard them two thousand years ago.
At other times, however, the lesson that we are to learn is more in what is done, in the actions that are related in the Scriptures, than by our Lord’s verbal teaching. We see this in today’s Gospel, where it is related that our Lord “taught the people out of the ship,” but what our Lord said to the people is not recorded. The content of our Lord’s word to the people in this instance are lost to history, but not the import of the lesson which is presented to us in today’s Holy Gospel. As we read:
At that time: Jesus stood stood by the lake of Genesareth, and saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. And going into one of the ships that was Simon’s, He desired him to draw back a little from the land. And sitting He taught the multitudes out of the ship.
The Lord comes to the lake of Gennsareth so that He might teach the people and that He might attract the fishermen with His spiritual net. He saw there two ships standing by the lake: one belonged to Peter and Andrew, the other to James and John; for they were partners in catching fish. He found them at their fishing; they had left the ships and were washing their nets, since they had lost all hope that day of catching anything. And we see that the Lord entered Peter’s ship and had him put out a little from the land, so that it would be possible for all nearby to listen to His teaching from the shore, and so that people would not crowd in upon Him, but yet all could behold Him.
Thus, sitting by the sea and teaching the multitude, the Lord Himself becomes like a fisherman, catching and hauling in His net all those who are swimming in the fluctuating and churning waves of this life.
Now when He had ceased to speak, He said to Simon: Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said to Him: Master, we have labored all the night, and have taken nothing: but at Thy word I will let down the net. And when they had done this, they enclosed a very great multitude of fishes, and their net broke. And they beckoned to their partners that were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they were almost sinking.
Not only does the Lord preach and teach; He also shows signs, giving portents of His power and confirming the truth of His words with manifestations of the miraculous.
After He had sufficiently discoursed with the multitude, He turns to working miracles. He catches disciples with all the craft and skill of a fisherman, that they may understand that His will is all powerful, and that all creation heeds Him. Just as He summoned the Magi by means of a star, so also here He attracts His disciples by employing their own craft, wishing to make them fishers of men.
As the Lord said to the Prophet Jeremias, “Behold I will send many fishers, …and they shall fish them: and after this I will send them many hunters, and they shall hunt them.” By fishers, Saint John Chrysostom tell us that the Lord means the holy apostles and disciples; and by hunters, the later leaders and teachers of the Church.
The Lord commands Peter to cast his net for fish, and he does as he is ordered. They then took in such a great quantity of fish that their nets were breaking from the weight of such a multitude, and they called those who were in a nearby ship to help. They hauled in the fish and filled both boats to such an extent that they were suffering and were starting to sink.
Which when Simon Peter saw, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying: Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was wholly astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken. And so were also James and John the sons of Zebedee, who were Simon’s partners.
Seeing the innumerable multitude of fish, the nets tearing and the ship sinking, Peter understood that the Lord’s command had brought all this to pass, and in his deep reverence and great awe he regarded himself as unworthy; he would not allow himself to be close to Christ, calling himself a sinful man, unworthy of His company. The gift of wonder – and truly it is a gift – took hold, not only of Peter and Andrew, but also of those with them: James and John also were amazed by what had happened. Such are the works wrought by God, moving all who see them, to their very soul.
And Jesus saith to Simon: Fear not: from henceforth thou shalt catch men.
The voice of the Word of God is always a voice of power; as the Psalmist King David says, He will utter with His voice a voice of power. In the beginning of creation, light shone forth at the very instant of His command; the heavens came into existence in the moment when He gave the order, and the rest of creation also appeared at His creating word.
It is the same here; when the Master gave the order to let down the nets, there was such a catch of fish as He Himself willed, being the Creator of land and sea. Peter was astounded at this, and out of reverence he asked the Lord to depart from him.
The Lord, giving Peter a view of things to come, rather says to him, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. And likewise, the Lord said to all the disciples, Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.
These men of Galilee were simple and unimportant in the eyes of the world; they knew no other language than their own; their occupation was a humble one, for they worked as fishermen. Nevertheless, the Saviour promised to make them fishers of men and preachers of His teaching, and He did so, true to His promise, thus showing His divine power, which can effect deeds far surpassing any human feats of virtue.
If our Lord had put forward men who were wise and learned, or those who were rich and famous, and sent them out to be teachers of His word, it would have been considered the work of man. There are very many people who are ready to listen and to obey when they are won over by the goods of the rich, or who are charmed by long speeches and the appearance of wisdom, or who are impressed by the great image of the famous.
Not such were the disciples whom the Lord chose. On the contrary, they were poor, unknown, simple in speech, humble, and insignificant. The facts themselves showed that He performed deeds most glorious simply by His divine power. First He called them with His voice alone and made them His followers; then, having promised to make them fishers of men, He gave them, in place of the nets which they had, a net woven from all the words of the Law and the Prophets and from His own divine teaching, in order that they might cast it into the sea of human life and catch whatever they may find, filling their spiritual nets with every sort of person, whether Jew or Greek, barbarian or Scythian, and draw them up from death to life.
And whereas fish from the sea, which dwell in the darkness of the deep, perish as soon as they are exposed to light and air, as many persons as are caught by Christ’s disciples and removed from the darkness of ignorance are brought up to divine life; though even these, too, first die to their former sinful life and selves.
Thus, the Lord connected the draught of fishes with the catch of men, and promised to make the Apostles fishers of men. What the Saviour foretold by divine power, the Lord showed to be true and faithful in fact; for Peter the fisherman, an Aramaic-speaking catcher of fish, caught, instead of a catch of fish, multitudes of men too numerous to number. Things never before seen are made manifest; that which the long era of human life before the Theophany of the Saviour did not bring to light; that which Moses, and the prophets who came after him were unable to attain, though they laboured greatly; these very things are accomplished by a poor Galilean.
The evidence of what Peter did at that time is found in those churches whose light continues to shine to this day: the church of Caesarea in Palestine, of Antioch in Syria, and in the city of Rome itself; for Peter himself is remembered as founder of all these churches and those around them. He also founded the churches of Egypt, including the church of Alexandria itself – not, however, in person, but through his disciple Mark. Peter himself laboured throughout Italy for all the peoples that lived there, while he made his disciple Mark fisher and teacher of Egypt.
Similarly, in the other apostles and disciples, whom the Lord promised to make fishers of men, the word was also fulfilled by the deed. To this day the Lord acts and works through His apostles, pastors, teachers and disciples all over the world, stretching His spiritual nets to reach all men everywhere. Men of every race He pulls from the depths of wickedness, and He leads the souls of men up from the darkness of godlessness into the light of divine knowledge which He has bestowed.
The Gospel concludes: And having brought their ships to land, leaving all things, they followed Him.
Consider, my friends, the faith and obedience of Christ’s disciples. In the midst of their work they heard Christ’s command; they did not delay, they did not postpone, they did not say: Let us go home and consult with our families, our relatives, and our attourneys and accountants to see if this is a feasible business plan. Rather, forsaking all, they followed Him.
Such is the obedience which Christ seeks from us: that we should not delay even a little while, not even if some great need seemingly compels us. For Christ’s zeal is nothing else than love, the greatest of all virtues, and for the sake of which our Lord became man and was obedient even unto death.
The Lord also this very day draws us to Himself through the Apostles. He is today, here and now saying, “Come unto Me.”
Let us not remain with things that are corruptible, things crumbling and earthly, but let us turn our eyes, our ears, our wills, our minds, and our hearts to the things which are to come. Let us flee from the vain bustle of this life and from the tossed sea of the passions. Let us stop weaving nets out of thoughts of passing earthly pleasures, for with these very nets the evil one seeks to catch the mind and the heart.
Rather let us be ready as the Apostles to follow Christ’s call; and thus we shall go to follow Him; and thus we shall travel with Him, not through Judaea and Samaria, but through the interior cities of the virtues. Not only shall we thus ourselves be fulfilling God’s commandments, but we shall also be teachers and guides for others, urging them on to the same zeal, becoming great in the kingdom of heaven. For our Lord said, Whosoever shall do and teach the commandments, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.