And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking.
This week’s Gospel is, as suggested previously, an action parable. Jesus was teaching Peter that he would be a fisher of men. He was also teaching Peter that whatever “catching of men” he would be doing, it wouldn’t be him doing it. Yes, he would be an instrument, but the Lord God would be doing the catching through him.
Another interesting detail to focus on is where we fit in the action parable. If Peter is a “fisher of men,” then what are we? Obviously, we’re the fish.
Don’t you love all the endearing animals Jesus associates us with? Sheep, donkeys or oxen who have fallen in pits, and now fish. Why couldn’t Jesus associate us with cool animals, like tigers, or monkeys, maybe even dogs?
Sheep are dumb, wandering animals. Donkeys and oxen are clumsy, lumbering animals that do things like, well, fall in pits. And fish are a whole different story, but still, not the most positive statement on humanity. Jesus could have compared us to sharks or octopuses. But fish? Big swarms of mouth-agape animals with glossy eyes, following whoever is in front of them?
Our fallen condition necessitates such comparisons, of course. But the fish is an interesting analogy none-the-less, not so much for what characteristics the fish has, but for what happens to it in the parable, its relationship to its environment, and what this teaches about us.
Think of a fish in the water. It’s dark, and it’s obviously wet, requiring a completely different way of breathing. Does the fish know it’s in a wet environment with little light? Do we know we’re in a world of darkness and have a way of living incompatible with the world that awaits us?
And what of that world into which the fish were “caught,” into which the Lord directed them? I’d imagine the most unbearable thing for a fish, upon being caught, is the tremendous light piercing into their eyes. It must be blinding, especially given they have no eyelids. Ow! And of course, upon leaving the water, they cannot breathe. They need a new way of living, if they are to live. (And I cannot imagine the Lord’s point in comparing us to fish is that we’re caught to be feasted on.)
The point is, being caught by God’s Word and brought into the Church is like being a “fish out of water.” It’s not our normal environment. We tend to flop around, get blinded by the light, and struggle to breathe. We want to go back to where we’re comfortable, in the place without light and breath.
St. Paul cannot come up with the proper adjectives or adverbs to describe what the world to come will be like. Here are two instances where this is the case:
Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.
[I pray] that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think…
And of course, John needs to use all sorts of similes to describe heaven in Revelation, similes that don’t quite seem to do justice to it.
We’ll be like fish out of water on that day. We’ll experience a divine light that makes the light of this world look like darkness. We’ll experience a new breath of eternal life – imagine what breathing will be like! The world we left behind will eventually seem like a bad memory, best forgotten, as the Scriptures describe it, “the former things will be remembered no more.”
Meantime, are we like the fish in the net, but not quite dragged out of the water yet? In the world but no longer of the world? Who knows. And this is where over-allegorizing can lead to problems. But the fact remains we are the fish in the text, and fish undergo a complete switch from one world to another, just as we will. We have this by faith now, and the “other-worldly” effects of our faith should be reflected in our behavior, our worship, and our doctrine.