Discipleship and following Jesus serves as the theme of the Gospel for Feb. 6, 2022. Photo from Shutterstock.com
Discipleship and following Jesus serves as the theme of the Gospel for Feb. 6, 2022. Photo from Shutterstock.com
Gospel Reflection for Feb. 6, 2022, Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

It’s an interesting scene to imagine. Jesus, an itinerant preacher is beginning to make some noise in Capernaum. He has preached in the synagogue and afterward went to Simon’s house where he cured Simon’s mother-in-law. Now, in our Gospel passage this Sunday, Jesus is walking along the shore of the lake. As Capernaum was a bustling fishing village and the fishermen would be bringing in their catch in the morning and Jesus seizes this opportunity to speak to the crowd. In what becomes Jesus’s truly first public sermon he commandeers Simon’s boat and asks him to take him offshore so that he can speak to the crowd. We do not know how many people Jesus is addressing. Presumably there are some who are already following him having heard him speak at the synagogue. While the leaders of the synagogue had turned on him, and led many others to do so, it is likely that others were intrigued and wanted to hear more. Jesus has yet to assemble a definitive group around him and it is here that Jesus will begin assembling his inner circle.

Due to the peculiar topographical features of Lake Gennesaret (also known as The Sea of Galilee and Lake Tiberius) a natural mini-amphitheater can be formed when one speaks just off the main shore line. Jesus seems often to take advantage of this phenomenon which is why he so frequently speaks near the lake.  

Simon [Peter], though tired from his usual overnight of work, accommodates Jesus and allows him to use the boat. Luke does not provide us with the content of Jesus preaching here but clearly Simon is moved once again by Jesus as his reaction to the call of Jesus is both clear and immediate.

In a scene reminiscent of an encounter between Jesus and the apostles at the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus invites Peter to cast his net on the other side of the boat so as to haul in a catch of fish. Surprisingly these fishermen caught no fish overnight so they were likely desperate for some fish to sell in the market. This was, after all, their livelihood and not a mere hobby or pastime. To get the impression that they were generally unsuccessful fishermen would be a mistake. This was an unusual event and not a regular one. Fishing requires a skill – one must know the habits of the fish and the depth and temperature of the water. Capernaum was a fishing center so one would expect that the competition for the market was pretty high. That Simon has partners and they are using multiple boats suggests that they were at least moderately successful.

Jesus was not a fisherman. He was a tradesman and a rabbi. Despite this, and the fact that these men are tired and their fishing nets are tied up, Simon does what Jesus tells him to do and casts again, this time to the other side of the boat. The ensuing catch of fish is unprecedented and barely manageable. (In John’s account there are 153 large fish). These fishermen clearly understand the meaning of this moment in their lives. The invitation from Jesus to Simon and the others: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men,” is one that they respond to immediately. While scholars through the centuries have discussed the precise meaning, and even mused on what the Aramaic expression that Jesus used actually was, it seems that this is an anecdote that carried a specific connotation to them that has subsequently been lost to us. Nonetheless, we understand this in the context of their work as disciples.

Jesus calls these men to not just be his disciples but to engage in the work that he is about to do – to change lives and to lead others to faith. It is here that we see the very foundation of the church. Jesus is preaching the Kingdom of God as present in their midst. Jesus is preaching that God intends the salvation of all people. The preeminence of faith has eclipsed the generally accepted of observing the Law of Moses. St. Luke already envisions the development of the church as distinct from the Jewish community. Of course, as a Gentile he only knows the church as the source of his faith having never been a part of a synagogue assembly.

St. Luke tells us that they immediately left their boats to follow Jesus. This response to the invitation of Jesus is borne of a powerful desire on the part of these men, not only Simon but also James and John who were his business partners. But, as we discover through the Gospels, it was not just their livelihoods that they abandoned, they leave everything behind.

This work of “being fishers of men” continues in the Church today, as all of us are called to evangelize the world around us.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.