Many of the Lord's apostles were fishermen. An account late in the Gospel of John names many of them:
"There were together Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two other of his disciples. " (John 21:2)
The "two others" included Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. Our list of "fishers of men" who were fishermen thus totals 7:
The Lord went into a boat to teach the people because the crowd was pressing upon Him, and it is very difficult to be heard in such conditions. By being in the boat, he forced all of the people to be in front of Him, and more orderly, so they could hear His mellifluous speech.
There is a spiritual reason why the Lord went into the boat. As so many of His soon to be disciples were fishermen, he was preparing for a great miracle which would firmly impress upon them what their ministry was to be. In His wisdom, he our Lord used the familiar (fish) to call his apostles to a spiritual work they did not as yet understand. This miracle happened very early in Jesus' ministry, as He was assembling His apostles.
"For in His condescension to men, He called the wise men by a star, the fishermen by their art of fishing. " (St John Chrysostom)
"The lake of Gennesaret is said to be the same as the sea of Galilee or the sea of Tiberias; but it is called the sea of Galilee from the adjacent province, the sea of Tiberias from a neighboring city. Gennesaret, however, is the name given it from the nature of the lake itself, (which is thought from its crossing waves to raise a breeze upon itself,) being the Greek expression for "making a breeze to itself." For the water is not steady like that of a lake, but constantly agitated by the breezes blowing over it. It is sweet to the taste, and wholesome to drink. In the Hebrew tongue, any extent of water, whether it be sweet or salt, is called a sea." (Venerable Bede)
In the morning, Our Lord is along the shore, and He decides to get into a ship to thrust out a little from the land, and feed the people there with His sweet words. There is an allegory here, in His being a little way off the shore, and teaching from a ship. The ship is the church and the Apostles and Christ were within the ship while He taught. Therefore His words, and subsequently, the Apostle's words, are the teaching of the church. His being a little way off the land had a practical reason -- if He had launched out deep into the waters, nobody would have been able to hear Him. The spiritual meaning is this - He launched out a "little" into the water because later the Apostles would launch out into the deep, and spread the gospel to the far ends of the earth.
He Himself told them: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do," (John 14:12) and indeed the Church has done greater works than Christ did. Many men, women and children have come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ through the efforts of those in the church. Many more miracles have occurred. Many more have been raised from the dead, and many more of the lame have walked than Christ even saw. They did greater works, and our Lord prepared them for their works, both by this teaching a little ways from the land, when they were yet babes, and not even yet His Apostles, and by His entire life, by showing them how to live, to act, to think, to react to things. He also taught them in privacy many things, so that they would know how to govern the church.
The nets are the gospel, that the Apostles would spread, then their Apostles, followed by their Apostles, and so on. The deep is where the world is floundering, where people are drowning and have no belief, or are in ignorance, or despair or despondency, or are addicted to sins. They do not know Christ, and their life is in an uproar and in turmoil as if they are tossed in waves, and are drowning, and our Lord says to go out into the deep to save them. We still go out into the deep to this day, with the very same nets of the Gospel, and in accordance to the teachings of the church.
The seed of great faith is seen in Peter's simple and forthright words. He had fished all night and was tired, and yet, he in simplicity obeys the Lord. His statement also has a spiritual meaning:
"Peter represents the teachers of the law. For the teachers of the law also toiled the whole night before Christ came (the time before Christ's sojourning on earth was indeed night) and took in nothing. But when Christ came, and it became day, the teachers of the law were replaced by the apostles who at His word, that is, at His command, let down the net of the Gospel in which they caught so great a number of men that the apostles could not haul in the catch by themselves. " (Blessed Theophylact, Commentary on Luke 5:1-11)
Simon answered Christ and says: "Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net." These are not words of disbelief, but they are words of simple obedience, from a man who was tired and had been up all night, and taken nothing. He mentions this almost parenthetically to our Lord, and the Peter's words teach us something else very important. Are you ever tired, or despondent, or do your emotions ever play tricks with you? It doesn't matter. If you have faith, you live as a man with faith. Regardless of whether you are happy or sad, tired or not tired, you just obey. Even when things seem pointless, or hopeless, you know that they cannot in reality be pointless or hopeless, because you know Who it is who is telling you to do this thing. If the Lord tells you to do something, then you do it, because you know that He will bless it. When the Apostles had fished all the previous night, they had done so without God's help. He was not in the boat with them, and he had not told them to go out and let down their nets for a draught. It was not that they were being disobedient, after all they were fishermen, and that was their craft, but when Christ blessed their endeavors, and told them to do something, and was with them in the midst of their efforts, then they had a miraculous catch.
The cooperation of the two ships is an image of the church.
"... Peter beckons to his companions to help them. For many follow the labors of the Apostles, and first those who brought out the writings of the Gospels, next to whom are the other heads and shepherds of the Gospel, and those skilled in the teaching of the truth." (St Cyril of Jerusalem)
Simon Peter saw what had happened, and it touched him to the core. Peter was a sensitive man. He might have had hard and callused fisherman's hands, but he had the heart of a Saint. His heart was soft. He realized that he was standing in the presence of God, in this boat, with all these fish, and he said: "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord." Much later on, he would not say such a thing, nor would the other Apostles. They dined with Him, after they had caught the miraculous catch of a hundred and fifty and three fishes, because they had been prepared by living a virtuous life, as Christ had progressively revealed them how to live and how to believe while He walked the earth. We understand this dining with Christ to be an indication of extreme intimacy with Him, which the pure in heart will obtain. When a man recognizes Christ, he should fall down before him, but indeed, not to ask Him to depart, but to ask Him to come, to ask Him to fill. Our prayers are filled with these kinds of requests: "Have mercy on me, enlighten me, vivify me, make me to see, make me to feel, make me to know." Simon Peter was unworthy at that time, and well aware of his unworthiness. He had not been purified yet.
And they enveloped a great multitude of fishes and their net brake. There is another time in the Gospels when a great miracle happened and a great multitude of fishes was caught, a hundred and fifty and three and yet was their net not broken. This is given in the Gospel of Saint John, and is one of the eleven matinal resurrection gospels, and it is full of deep meaning. The Apostles were babes when their net brake, because they had not absorbed all the teachings of Christ, and changed the way they thought and lived. Until our Lord taught them by His words and life, the Apostles were often at loggerheads and arguing with one another about who was the greatest and all sorts of things. Our Lord worked with them for over three years, and they were made ready. After He had resurrected Himself and came back from the dead, He then stood at the shore and said: "Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find.", and they caught a hundred and fifty and three fishes, and yet the net was not broken. God's mercy is limitless. He can fill us abundantly, and we will never break, but there must be a period of preparation in our lives. There is effort involved, to become pliable, and to make us able to contain Him, and not break, as He fills us.
At this point in the Apostle's lives, they were not quite ready for all the abundance that God had prepared for them. At this point in our lives, we are not ready for the abundance that God gives to us - not yet. We have more living to do, more repenting to do, and more living in the context of the church to do. So the Apostles beckoned to their partners that were in another boat, that they should come and help them. This shows the cooperation in the church, and unity, to accomplish that which God intends for us. God fills us so abundantly that we will always have work to do in the church.
Some time during our Lord's forty days on earth after the resurrection, he appeared to seven of the disciples, who were fishing. This was an event similar to the time He called some of them to be his disciples, but with important differences, made possible by the passage of His three years of careful ministry to them. the first time the Lord told the apostles to "let down their nets" is chronicles in Luke 5:1-13. More than three years later, the risen Lord gives the same instruction, as St. John records (John 21:1:25, comprising the 10th and 11th matins resurrection gospels).
In the first case, our Lord only tells them to let down their nets, but to the tested apostles he tells them to let them down on the right side, and they obediently do so, as before, and are rewarded with a staggering catch of fish, which St John carefully mentions as one hundred fifty three. He marvels that there were so many, and yet the net was not broken. When the apostles were as yet uninitiated, and unlearned in spiritual things, the catch of fish broke their nets, and even when they had brought another ship to help with catch of fish, their boats began to sink. After their education and proving, their nets hold this great catch of fish, and one boat is able to contain it, without sinking. These fishers of fish were truly made worthy and able to be great fishers of men, and their net, that is the Gospel and the Christian way of life, would never break again, but will hold all those who come to the church.
In the previous instance, Peter was filled with fear, even asking the Lord to depart from him, as the as yet uninitiated apostle felt the full weight of his sins in the presence of the God-man. In this latter case, the exuberant Peter cannot wait to be beside his Lord, and throws on his fishers cloak, and casts himself into the sea. He who formerly had fear because of his sins now has confidence, because He knows the Lord.
The first great catch of fish was too much for one ship, so another ship was pressed into service, although even it proved inadequate to contain the catch of fish. In this second ship is shown in a mystery of the organization of the church, with it's bishops who are equal brothers, and rightly divide the word of truth. In the latter case, only one ship, with the seven Apostles, was able to fulfill the word of the Lord, and land all the fish. Here we see in an even more powerful way the church, and the infinite resources those within it have to fulfill the commandments, and contain all the fish, that is, souls, who are caught in the nets of the gospel.
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