The story of the call of Simon and the miraculous catch of fish is the subject of our reflection today. Here’s how we get to this account. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus is just beginning his ministry. He announced himself as the Messiah in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. The people rejected him and even tried to kill him. He left Nazareth and went to Capernaum. The people in that synagogue accepted his teaching. While he was there he liberated a man possessed by an unclean spirit who cried out, “I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” From that moment on, the word about Jesus began to spread like wildfire. He left the synagogue and went to Simon’s house and cured his mother-in-law who was very ill with a fever. He continued his travels through Judea. He cured many people along the way. Demons often witnessed to him as he exorcised them by crying out, “You are the Son of God!”
He began preaching along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, a large body of water, thirteen miles long and eight miles wide and very deep, six hundred and eighty feet deep at its lowest point. Many fishing towns surrounded the lake.
As the crowd listening to Jesus began to grow, he looked around and saw two boats along the shore. They belonged to Simon and his partners, Zebedee and his sons, James and John. He asked
Zebedee and his sons, James and John. He asked to use one of the boats as a stage so that the people might hear him better.
When he had finished teaching he told Simon to take the boat out to deeper water and to cast his nets. Fishing was often done at night and Simon was just coming off a very unsuccessful night. He had caught nothing. Reluctantly, Simon obeyed the request. To everyone’s surprise, there was such a tremendous catch that Simon had to call his partners to bring their boats over to assist him. The catch filled both boats!
The event threw Simon and the others for a loop. Simon fell to his knees overwhelmed by an intense sense of sinfulness. The others stood there, struck with astonishment. Jesus reassured them telling them, “Do not be afraid.” He then said something they probably didn’t quite understand at the time, “From now on you will be catching men.” But the event, and Jesus’ words, were so powerful that “when they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.”
Why did Jesus tell these fishermen not to be afraid? It seems a bit strange, doesn’t it? After a bit of research, I discovered that the phrase is used 365 times in the New Testament. What’s so frightening? Jesus cured people, and liberated people from demonic possession. His message was one of love and compassion, of forgiveness and inclusion. This account can throw some light on the question.
In the account of the great catch of fish, Jesus called Simon and Andrew, and James and John, to follow him. They didn’t know what that would entail. They were awestruck by the miracle. The invitation seemed like a privilege; the teacher was calling THEM. But they would discover that following him for the next three years wasn’t going to be a piece of cake. It would take them from their families. They would have no place to call home. They would survive on hand outs or little jobs they got along the way. They would be hated by some just as Jesus was. They would suffer persecution and be expelled from the synagogues. Eventually, eleven of the twelve apostles would suffer martyrdom. Meeting Jesus was wonderful, but saying yes to his invitation was going to be the greatest challenge of their lives.
Pope John Paul II, addressing the massive crowds that attended his Masses and gatherings around the world, often quoted Jesus’ words, “Do not be afraid.” Pope Francis repeats those same words. They’re directed to every person who hears in his or her heart, the invitation, “Follow me.” It’s the greatest moment in a person’s life, but it’s the scariest, too. Where will the path lead?
In his call to follow fearlessly Jesus was asking the apostles, and us, to trust in God – to trust totally and completely. The catch of fish was a prophetic act. It was teaching us that by placing ourselves in God’s hands, and allowing ourselves to be guided by God, we would see tremendous and unheard-of things. Through our faith, God would gather humankind in an embrace of divine love.