Friday, April 9, 2010

Jesus Said, "Cast The Net Over The Right Side". And They Were Unable To Pull It In, Because Of The Number Of Fish.

Friday in the Octave of Easter
Reading I
Acts 4:1-12
After the crippled man had been cured,
while Peter and John were still speaking to the people,
the priests, the captain of the temple guard,
and the Sadducees confronted them,
disturbed that they were teaching the people
and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.
They laid hands on Peter and John
and put them in custody until the next day,
since it was already evening.
But many of those who heard the word
came to believe and the number of men
grew to about five thousand.

On the next day, their leaders, elders, and scribes
were assembled in Jerusalem,
with Annas the high priest,
Caiaphas, John, Alexander,
and all who were of the high-priestly class.
They brought them into their presence
and questioned them,
“By what power or
 by what name have you done this?”
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, answered them,
“Leaders of the people and elders:
If we are being examined today
about a good deed done to a cripple,
namely, by what means he was saved,
then all of you and all the people of Israel should know
that it was in the name of
Jesus Christ the Nazorean
whom you crucified,
whom God raised from the dead;
in his name this man stands before you healed.
He is the stone rejected by you, the builders,
which has become the cornerstone.
There is no salvation through anyone else,
nor is there any other name under heaven
given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”
The next stage in the mission of the disciples now takes place: after the proclamation and healing comes the persecution and harassment, as promised by Jesus.

As in the Gospel, we see the contrasting reactions between the Jewish leaders and the people. The leaders, mostly Sadducees who did not believe in resurrection after death, are objecting to the apostles’ teaching about the resurrection of Jesus and put them under arrest (together with the man they had healed).

Those arresting them include the priests, the captain of the Temple guard and Sadducees. The priests were those responsible for the Temple liturgies. The temple guard were composed of Levites and their captain ranked next to the high priest. The Sadducees, among other things, were drawn from the priestly families and from the upper classes. The high priest was one of their members. They tended to be pro-Rome and hence found Jesus and his followers a dangerous element. The Sadducees were strongly opposed to and by the Pharisees.

As it is late in the day Peter and John are thrown into jail for the night. The evening sacrifices ended about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and the temple gates would be closed. Judgements involving life and death had to be begun and ended during daylight hours.

In spite of the religious authorities’ actions, many of the people who had heard Peter’s preaching did believe in his message and their numbers had swollen to 5,000, up from 3,000 on the day of Pentecost - an amazing number in such a short time.

On the following day Peter and John are made to stand before a meeting of the top leadership together with the high priest and members of his family. They are led by Annas. He was officially high priest from AD 6-15 but deposed by the Romans and succeeded by his son, Eleazar, and then by his son-in-law, Caiaphas (whom we meet during the account of Jesus’ passion). However, Annas was still recognised by the Jews as the real high priest. The John mentioned with him may be a son, while Alexander is otherwise unknown.

What strikes one in this scene is the boldness of Peter, when compared to his behaviour during the passion of Jesus. As Jesus had promised in his lifetime, Peter is filled with the Spirit which gives him both his courage and his eloquence to speak out boldly. What they have done, they tell their accusers, has been done in the name of Jesus, “the one you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. By this name and by no other…this man is able to stand up perfectly healthy, here in your presence today.”

Quoting from Psalm 118, Peter tells them that Jesus “is the stone rejected by you the builders, but which has proved to be the keystone”. In general, the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies was important in early Christian preaching. This is especially the case with Matthew’s gospel. Jesus, himself, is quoted as using this text about himself.

“There is no salvation through anyone else nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” The message is very clear. In the Roman world in the time of the Acts, salvation was often attributed to the emperor, often hailed as a ‘saviour’ and a ‘god’. Peter, however, affirms that real salvation can only come from Christ.

A passage like this gives us encouragement. First, we ought not be surprised that we will be mocked and attacked for our faith in Christ and his Gospel, and, secondly, we will be provided with what we need when faced with hostility and even persecution.
+++     +++    +++    +++
Psalm 118
The stone rejected by the builders
has become the cornerstone.
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his mercy endures forever.
Let the house of Israel say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
Let those who fear the LORD say,
“His mercy endures forever.”
The stone rejected by the builders
has become the cornerstone.
The stone which the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
By the LORD has this been done;
it is wonderful in our eyes.
This is the day the LORD has made;
let us be glad and rejoice in it.
The stone rejected by the builders
has become the cornerstone.
O LORD, grant salvation!
O LORD, grant prosperity!
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD;
we bless you from the house of the LORD.
The LORD is God, and he has given us light.
The stone rejected by the builders
has become the cornerstone.
+++    +++    +++     +++ 
Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples
at the Sea of Tiberias.
He revealed himself in this way.
Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus,
Nathanael from Cana in Galilee,
Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples.
Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”
They said to him, “We also will come with you.”
So they went out and got into the boat,
but that night they caught nothing.
When it was already dawn,
Jesus was standing on the shore;
but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
Jesus said to them,
“Children, have you caught anything to eat?”
They answered him, “No.”
So he said to them,
“Cast the net over the right side of the boat
and you will find something.”
So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in
because of the number of fish.
So the disciple whom Jesus loved
said to Peter, “It is the Lord.”
When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord,
he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad,
and jumped into the sea.
The other disciples came in the boat,
for they were not far from shore,
only about a hundred yards,
dragging the net with the fish.
When they climbed out on shore,
they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread.
Jesus said to them,
“Bring some of the fish you just caught.”
So Simon Peter went over
and dragged the net ashore
full of one hundred fifty-three large fish.
Even though there were so many,
the net was not torn.
Jesus said to them,
“Come, have breakfast.”
And none of the disciples dared to ask him,
“Who are you?”
because they realized it was the Lord.
Jesus came over and
took the bread and
gave it to them,
and in like manner the fish.
This was now the third time
Jesus was revealed to his disciples
after being raised from the dead.
Today we have a resurrection story which is unique to John and is in his final “extra” chapter, which may be a kind of appendix added on later by another author following the Johannine tradition. The text contains peculiarities which are closer to Luke’s style but others which are Johannine. It bears close resemblance to a similar story about a catch of fish in Luke (5:1-11) and another in Matthew where Peter gets out of the boat to go to Jesus (14:28-31). Although it seems added to the original text, the chapter appears in all extant manuscripts of John.

Like most of John’s accounts, it is a story full of symbolism.

We see a group of disciples, seven altogether, seemingly at a loose end with nothing to do. The seven are Simon Peter, Thomas the Twin, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons (James and John) and two others of his disciples. Nathanael, who is only mentioned in John’s gospel, appears in John 1 as one who was called by Philip. This is the only mention of James and John in John’s gospel, although they have such a central role in the other three gospels. Some speculate John may be the second of the two disciples called by Jesus in John 1 (the one named is Andrew) but he could also be the Beloved Disciple, not yet ready to be so called. Of the two other disciples in the boat, one is presumed to be the Beloved Disciple who appears very soon in the story. The number seven suggests the fullness of the community. (John likes the number seven - seven signs performed by Jesus and seven ‘I AM’ statements.)

Peter, the leader, decides to make a move. “I’m going fishing.” It is what he knows best. The others go along with him. Is there an implication that the great enterprise that Jesus began is over and they return to their old way of living?

After a whole night on the lake they get nothing. (Aristotle tells us that night-time was favoured for fishing.) Is there also an echo of words spoken at the Last Supper, “without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5)?

As the light of dawn breaks Jesus is standing on the shore but, as usually happens in these post-resurrection scenes, they do not recognise him. He asks the question fishermen do not like to be asked, “Have you caught anything?” Reluctantly they have to admit, No. He then gives them some suggestions. On a natural level, it is possible he could see a movement of fish that was not visible from the boat but the real meaning is deeper. He will lead the fish to them as he will lead people to them later on.

After following Jesus’ instructions, they make a huge haul of fish, so many that they cannot be brought into the boat. The exact number is given: 153. Is that an actual memory or is there a special symbolism in the number? St Augustine thought the latter and made his own speculations. St Jerome saw it as an expression of the universalism of the Christian mission saying that the Greeks believed there were altogether 153 kinds of fish. The number is also the sum of the first 17 digits: 1+2+3…

The main point, however, is to emphasise God’s generosity, recalling the amount of water changed into wine at Cana, the amount left over after feeding the crowds in the desert, the abundance of life that the Good Shepherd gives and the fullness of the Spirit, life-giving water that guarantees we are never thirsty…  And the net was not broken. The net itself is, as in other texts, a symbol of the Kingdom of God.

This is all clearly a parable, a symbol of their future work as fishers of people, a work whose success will originate in the power of Jesus behind them and in their following what he tells them to do.

A similar incident had happened during Jesus’ earthly life and the “disciple Jesus loved” immediately saw the connection. He is the one with deeper insight into the presence and the ways of his Master. “It is the Lord!” he exclaims.

But if the “other disciple” was the one Jesus loved, it was Peter who was the one who loved Jesus. And it is Peter, the impetuous one, who reacts first. He was not wearing any clothes* so he throws something around himself and jumps into the water to get to Jesus, leaving the others to bring the boat and fish to the shore. Such is his anxiety to be close to his Lord. Says the New International Bible: “It is curious that he put on this garment (the word appears only here in the New Testament) preparatory to jumping into the water. But Jews regarded a greeting as a religious act that could be done only when one was clothed.”* Peter is responding to the call “It is the Lord” and hears it as pointing to Jesus as Someone special.

On the shore they find that Jesus has lit a fire. There is bread and some fish cooking. (Where did these fish come from? It is the kind of question we do not need to ask when reading a symbol-full passage like this.) “Bring the fish you have just caught.” “You”??? Yes, literally they had pulled the fish in but where had they originally come from? The same goes for much of what we claim to do. It is important to acknowledge God’s role in our actions, especially our “successes”.

In response to the command, it is Peter, the leader - now and in the future, who alone brings in the huge catch from the boat by the water’s edge. Peter alone dragging the net in is an image of the Kingdom coming (compare the parable in Matthew 13:47ff). It also signifies the special position of Peter in the mission of the Apostles. Just now the whole group together could not haul the net into the boat.

Jesus then invites them to come and eat with him the meal he has prepared for them. Here, too, there are eucharistic overtones. Now as they stand close to the friendly stranger, no one dares to ask “Who are you?” because they know quite well it is the Lord, the risen Jesus. Again we are being taught to find the presence of the Lord in all those who are kind to us, who do good to us in any way and especially in those who share the eucharistic meal with us. Just as we are called to be Jesus to everyone that we encounter.

His identity in a way is now confirmed by his taking the bread and the fish and giving it to them to eat. He broke bread, he celebrated a Eucharist with them.
We have here then some central pillars of our faith:
- recognising Christ in the kindly stranger and playing that role ourselves;
- expressing our love and solidarity with each other through our celebration of the Eucharist and breaking bread together;
- working with the power of Jesus to fill the net that is the Kingdom, becoming truly fishers of people.

‘Not wearing any clothes’, that is, naked. Some of our translations use all kinds of euphemisms (e.g. ‘lightly clad’ New American Bible) to express this. Does it shock us that the first pope could go around like this? Male nakedness was much more acceptable in Peter’s society. A redeemed people should have no problem with an unclothed body. It was only after their sin that Adam and Eve became ashamed of their nakedness. Jesus reversed that by dying naked on the cross. We need to remember, too, that Peter is still under a cloud after denying his Master three times. Nakedness is only for the innocent. So, the moment he hears the person on the shore is his Lord, shame and guilt make him cover himself. It is possible that all the others were naked also but had no reason to cover themselves. Very soon, however, there will be a reconciliation between Jesus and Peter.

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

'Peter, the impetuous one'

Yes, I think this is a fundamental characteristic of Peter. It makes him sometimes appear the most childlike of the disciples, despite his seniority. So it probably gave him a headstart on entering the Kingdom of Heaven!

When he says 'I'm going fishing,' he seems to be acting on impulse - but not his own. The impulse has come from the Holy Spirit, because it leads him to Jesus. It's the same as when he blurts out: 'You are the Christ; the son of the living God'. Jesus informs him that this statement came from the Holy Spirit.

Peter's impulses do not always come from the Holy Spirit. He tries ineffectually by word and deed to 'save' Jesus from the cross, but is put to shame.

Peter is a bit like a rough diamond that Jesus chips away at and polishes until he becomes the uniquely strong and precious stone that he truly is. Then his impetuousness is no longer driven by pride, but by the Holy Spirit. He becomes truly himself when he reflects God's will.