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Luke 5: 1-11

I propose a biblical analysis with the following steps: a study of each Greek word of the gospel passage, followed by an analysis of the structure of the narrative and its context, to which is added a comparison of parallel or similar passages. At the end of this analysis and as a conclusion, I propose to summarize what the evangelist meant, and I end up with some suggestions on how this Gospel could shed light on our current situation.


 


  1. Translation of the Greek text (28th edition of Kurt Aland)

    Greek textTransliterated Greek textLiteral translationTranslation in current language
    1 Ἐγένετο δὲ ἐν τῷ τὸν ὄχλον ἐπικεῖσθαι αὐτῷ καὶ ἀκούειν τὸν λόγον τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ αὐτὸς ἦν ἑστὼς παρὰ τὴν λίμνην Γεννησαρέτ1 Egeneto de en tō ton ochlon epikeisthai autō kai akouein ton logon tou theou kai autos ēn hestōs para tēn limnēn Gennēsaret1 Then, it came to pass in the to press him the crowd and to hear to word of God, and him, he was has been standing by the lake of Gennesaret,1 While the crowd pressed Jesus on all sides and listened to the word of God, and he was standing near the sea of Gennesaret,
    2 καὶ εἶδεν δύο πλοῖα ἑστῶτα παρὰ τὴν λίμνην• οἱ δὲ ἁλιεῖς ἀπʼ αὐτῶν ἀποβάντες ἔπλυνον τὰ δίκτυα2 kai eiden dyo ploia hestōta para tēn limnēn• hoi de halieis ap' autōn apobantes eplynon ta diktya.2 and he saw two boats have been standing by the lake. Then, the fishermen from them, having stepped out, were washing the nets.2 it happened that he saw two boats standing near the sea and whose fishermen who had gone down washed their nets.
    3 ἐμβὰς δὲ εἰς ἓν τῶν πλοίων, ὃ ἦν Σίμωνος, ἠρώτησεν αὐτὸν ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς ἐπαναγαγεῖν ὀλίγον• καθίσας δὲ ἐκ τοῦ πλοίου ἐδίδασκεν τοὺς ὄχλους.3 embas de eis hen tōn ploiōn, ho ēn Simōnos, ērōtēsen auton apo tēs gēs epanagagein oligon• kathisas de ek tou ploiou edidasken tous ochlous.3 Then, having stepped in into one of the boats, which was to Simon, he asked him from the land to put off a little. Then, having sat down, out of the boat he was teaching the crowds.3 When he got into one of the boats, which belonged to Simon, he asked him to go a little way from the shore. Then, sitting down, he taught the crowds in the boat.
    4 Ὡς δὲ ἐπαύσατο λαλῶν, εἶπεν πρὸς τὸν Σίμωνα• ἐπανάγαγε εἰς τὸ βάθος καὶ χαλάσατε τὰ δίκτυα ὑμῶν εἰς ἄγραν.4 Hōs de epausato lalōn, eipen pros ton Simōna• epanagage eis to bathos kai chalasate ta diktya hymōn eis agran.4 Then, as he stopped speaking, he said towards Simon, put off into the (water) depth and let down the nets of you for a catch.4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Go away in deep water and throw your nets to fish".
    5 καὶ ἀποκριθεὶς Σίμων εἶπεν• ἐπιστάτα, διʼ ὅλης νυκτὸς κοπιάσαντες οὐδὲν ἐλάβομεν• ἐπὶ δὲ τῷ ῥήματί σου χαλάσω τὰ δίκτυα5 kai apokritheis Simōn eipen• epistata, di' holēs nyktos kopiasantes ouden elabomen• epi de tō rhēmati sou chalasō ta diktya.5 And having answered Simon, he said, Master, through whole night having toiled we have taken nothing, Then, upon the word of you, I will let down the nets.5 Simon answered him, "Master, after having toiled all night, we took nothing. But on your word, I'll throw the nets".
    6 καὶ τοῦτο ποιήσαντες συνέκλεισαν πλῆθος ἰχθύων πολύ, διερρήσσετο δὲ τὰ δίκτυα αὐτῶν.6 kai touto poiēsantes synekleisan plēthos ichthyōn poly, dierrēsseto de ta diktya autōn.6 And this having done, they enclosed a great multitude of fishes. Then, were breaking the nets of them.6 After doing this, they seized a very large quantity of fish to the point that their nets were about to be torn apart.
    7 καὶ κατένευσαν τοῖς μετόχοις ἐν τῷ ἑτέρῳ πλοίῳ τοῦ ἐλθόντας συλλαβέσθαι αὐτοῖς• καὶ ἦλθον καὶ ἔπλησαν ἀμφότερα τὰ πλοῖα ὥστε βυθίζεσθαι αὐτά.7 kai kateneusan tois metochois en tō heterō ploiō tou elthontas syllabesthai autois• kai ēlthon kai eplēsan amphotera ta ploia hōste bythizesthai auta.7 And they beckoned to the partners in the other boat to take part with them, having come, and they came and they filled both the boats to the point to sink, them7 And they made a sign to their companions in the other boat to help them. They came and filled the two boats to the point where they almost sank.
    8 ἰδὼν δὲ Σίμων Πέτρος προσέπεσεν τοῖς γόνασιν Ἰησοῦ λέγων• ἔξελθε ἀπʼ ἐμοῦ, ὅτι ἀνὴρ ἁμαρτωλός εἰμι, κύριε.8 idōn de Simōn Petros prosepesen tois gonasin Iēsou legōn• exelthe ap' emou, hoti anēr hamartōlos eimi, kyrie.8 Then, having seen Simon Peter fell at the knees of Jesus saying, Get out from me, for a sinful man I am, Lord.8 Seeing this, Simon Peter threw himself at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man.
    9 θάμβος γὰρ περιέσχεν αὐτὸν καὶ πάντας τοὺς σὺν αὐτῷ ἐπὶ τῇ ἄγρᾳ τῶν ἰχθύων ὧν συνέλαβον,9 thambos gar perieschen auton kai pantas tous syn autō epi tē agra tōn ichthyōn hōn synelabon,9 For amazement surrounded him and those with him upon the catch of the fish which they have taken with them.9 The perplexity had overwhelmed him, and all those who were with him, in front of the fishing they had just done.
    10 ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ Ἰάκωβον καὶ Ἰωάννην υἱοὺς Ζεβεδαίου, οἳ ἦσαν κοινωνοὶ τῷ Σίμωνι. καὶ εἶπεν πρὸς τὸν Σίμωνα ὁ Ἰησοῦς• μὴ φοβοῦ• ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν ἀνθρώπους ἔσῃ ζωγρῶν10 homoiōs de kai Iakōbon kai Iōannēn huious Zebedaiou, hoi ēsan koinōnoi tō Simōni. kai eipen pros ton Simōna ho Iēsous• mē phobou• apo tou nyn anthrōpous esē zōgrōn.10 Then, likewise James and John sons of Zebedee who were partners with Simon. And he said towards the Simon the Jesus, Do not fear, from the now men you will be catching.10 This was also the case of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were Simon's companions. Jesus then said to Simon, "Stop being afraid! From now on, it is men that you will take".
    11 καὶ καταγαγόντες τὰ πλοῖα ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν ἀφέντες πάντα ἠκολούθησαν αὐτῷ.11 kai katagagontes ta ploia epi tēn gēn aphentes panta ēkolouthēsan autō.11 And having brought down the boats upon the land, having left all, they followed him.11 Bringing their boats to the shore and abandoning everything, they began to follow him.

  1. Analysis of each verse

    v. 1 While the crowd pressed Jesus on all sides and listened to the word of God, and he was standing near the sea of Gennesaret,

    Literally: Then, it came to pass in the to press him the crowd and to hear to word of God, and him, he was has been standing by the lake of Gennesaret,

to press him the crowd
The audience that Luke presents to us is eager to hear the word of God to the point that they press Jesus. Yet, the crowd's behavior seems to be mostly due to the fact that he commands the unclean spirits with authority and power and they come out, leading them to say, "What is this word?" (See Lk 4:36). Thus, this word of God should not be placed in the theological world, but in the world of effective action that sets people free. In this context, we can imagine the hope of the people and their search for Jesus.

v. 2 it happened that he saw two boats standing near the sea and whose fishermen who had gone down washed their nets.

Literally: and he saw two boats have been standing by the lake. Then, the fishermen from them, having stepped out, were washing the nets.

 
In itself, this scene is quite likely on the shore of the Lake of Galilee, which was also called Gennesaret (city on the northwest shore) or Kinnereth (i.e. harp, the shape of the lake) or Tiberias (city on the west shore). This lake has a north-south length of 13 miles, and is 7 miles wide, with a depth of 138 to 157 feet. Because of its dimensions, the Gospels speak of a sea. The main activity was fishing since this lake is full of fish. Luke mentions that there were two boats and the fishermen were washing their nets. The way Luke tells this story gives us the impression of a historical event, because why speak of two boats and not just one? Moreover, washing the nets was part of the usual activity of the fishermen returning from their fishing.
v. 3 When he got into one of the boats, which belonged to Simon, he asked him to go a little way from the shore. Then, sitting down, he taught the crowds in the boat.

Literally: Then, having stepped in into one of the boats, which was to Simon, he asked him from the land to put off a little. Then, having sat down, out of the boat he was teaching the crowds.

he asked him from the land to put off a little
Why does Jesus ask them to go away from the shore and get into a boat to continue preaching? It is hard to see why Luke would have invented this fact for catechetical reasons. On the other hand, we can understand Jesus' decision for logistical reasons. Finally, we know that Peter's birth name was Simon, and that it was Jesus who gave him the nickname Peter, so that Luke will only use the name Peter after the formation of the Twelve (see Lk 6:12-16); the use of the name Simon helps to support the historical character of the scene.

v. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Go away in deep water and throw your nets to fish".

Literally: Then, as he stopped speaking, he said towards Simon, put off into the (water) depth and let down the nets of you for a catch.

 
If you regularly read the gospels, you know that an action that follows a preaching is meant to support the preaching. In our story, it is therefore normal to expect something that will illustrate Jesus' preaching. Moreover, Jesus' request to go into deep water to fish is somewhat artificial: why would Jesus suddenly be interested in fishing? Would he have an urgent need to eat fish. We can feel Luke's editorial touch.

v. 5 Simon answered him, "Master, after having toiled all night, we took nothing. But on your word, I'll throw the nets".

Literally: And having answered Simon, he said, Master, through whole night having toiled we have taken nothing, Then, upon the word of you, I will let down the nets.

 
The usual structure of a miracle story is somewhat shaken up here. For in a miracle story there are usually five moments, i.e. 1) the description of a problem, a disease for example, 2) then the request for help or healing, and 3) usually followed by a word or action of Jesus and 4) the results of that word or action, and 5) the story ends with the reaction of the audience. Here, even before the description of a problem or any request for help, Jesus takes the initiative and asks to cast the nets. Only later do we learn the problem: the night fishing was unsuccessful. As for a request for help, it is non-existent: Simon never asks Jesus to intervene.

It is clear that we are in front of a staging. The fact that the previous night's fishing was unsuccessful will highlight the success of the day's fishing. Peter's response is clearly a typical gesture of faith: "On your word, I will do what you ask of me even if I do not understand it."

v. 6 After doing this, they seized a very large quantity of fish to the point that their nets were about to be torn apart.

Literally: And this having done, they enclosed a great multitude of fishes. Then, were breaking the nets of them.

 
This is the fourth moment of a miracle story, the results of Jesus' invitation: a bountiful catch following an unsuccessful one. It is clear that the mention of the nets about to break is not so much to give visual details of what is happening as to support the claim that this is an extraordinary catch.

It is useless to look for rational explanations. Of course, an extraordinary catch can always follow a fruitless night. But this is an account by Luke, and Luke's intention is clearly to make a connection between this great catch and Jesus' preaching: he is certainly not interested in playing journalist and presenting a fishing scene in Galilee in the year 27 CE. First of all, he was not present, and secondly, as he says in the introduction to his gospel, he is writing a catechetical account. What Luke is saying is this: this wonderful fishing scene is an illustration of the success of Jesus' preaching (For a study on the question of the historicity of this story, see Meier).

v. 7 And they made a sign to their companions in the other boat to help them. They came and filled the two boats to the point where they almost sank.

Literally: And they beckoned to the partners in the other boat to take part with them, having come, and they came and they filled both the boats to the point to sink, them

 
In an indirect way, this verse affirms that it is only the group with Jesus that succeeds in this catch, and not all the companions; for these other companions are invited to come and help those in the boat with Jesus.

The mention that the boat was sinking, typical of tales where the features are exaggerated, simply wants to insist on the extraordinary character of the fishing.

v. 8 Seeing this, Simon Peter threw himself at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man.

Literally: Then, having seen Simon Peter fell at the knews of Jesus saying, Get ou from me, for a sinful man I am, Lord.

 
Here we are at the fifth and final stage of a miracle story: the reaction of the audience. Here the audience is personified by Simon. Everything Simon does and says is situated in the world of faith: a) first of all, the use of the term "Lord" to designate Jesus, a term that will become part of the vocabulary of the first Christians; b) the gesture of throwing oneself on one's knees, which is justified before a superior being or before the divinity and expresses a form of veneration or piety; c) finally, one can only recognize oneself as a sinner before God, and the fact of recognizing oneself as such is intended to express the infinite distance that exists between man and God. In short, Simon expresses the meaning that Luke wants to give to his story: we are not faced with a pure chance, but with an action of the infinite mystery that is God and of which Jesus is the spokesman.

v. 9 The perplexity had overwhelmed him, and all those who were with him, in front of the fishing they had just done.

Literally: For amazement surrounded him and those with him upon the catch of the fish which they have taken with them.

thambos (fear)
I translated thambos as perplexity which some bibles translate as fright or stupor or fear. It is difficult to find the right term. For few individuals can testify to such an experience. It would be the experience of being in front of a force beyond our control, in front of an unusual event that escapes our control and our understanding. The Bible sometimes speaks of religious fear in the context of an all-powerful God who can shake the pillars of the earth. In a modern context where the emphasis is on the search for meaning, I find it appropriate to use the word perplexity to describe this feeling of being in front of an event that escapes our understanding of things and points to the mystery.

For Luke, the reaction of the audience is his way of expressing this encounter of man with the divine mystery. This is not a familiar reality, for not only is it not usual, but it confronts two totally different realities. Perhaps here we have a criterion for judging the authenticity of a religious experience: an authentically religious experience upsets our schemes and preconceptions, hence the feeling of perplexity, and opens us to new and greater dimensions.

v. 10 This was also the case of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were Simon's companions. Jesus then said to Simon, "Stop being afraid! From now on, it is men that you will take".

Literally: Then, likewise James and John sons of Zebedee who were partners with Simon. And he said towards the Simon the Jesus, Do not fear, from the now men you will be catching.

James and John sons of Zebedee
Among Simon's companions, Jesus identifies two of Zebedee's sons, James and John. This is the first time Luke names them in his gospel. Now we see his intention: to make this account a call to discipleship, and more particularly to form the group of intimates called the Twelve. His account differs from Mark's and Matthew's where there is no miraculous catch, but simply a call from Jesus on the lake shore addressed first to Peter and Andrew, his brother, and then to James and John, the sons of Zebedee. Strangely, Luke ignores Andrew in this call to discipleship and his name appears only in the general list of the Twelve in chapter 6. The order in John's gospel is also different, since it is Andrew who first discovers Jesus and announces him to his brother Peter, while James and John are totally absent, and a reference to the sons of Zebedee without naming them appears only in what is considered an appendix to the gospel, in chapter 21. What can we conclude from all this? The gospels are not journalists or historians looking for the greatest possible accuracy. They are catechetical. There is no doubt that Jesus chose twelve intimate disciples whom he called to follow him. But here Luke is only interested in Simon, James and John, because they will later be considered as the pillars of the early church; Luke already has in mind their role which he will describe in his Acts of the Apostles, like James who will die a martyr, like Peter and John always together to preach with confidence and to lay hands on. In short, in order to interpret this story properly, we must place ourselves after Easter, in the context of a Christian community.

Do not fear
This is another way of saying: "Have faith". Because fear and faith are antithetical: someone who is afraid, lacks confidence, and therefore lacks faith. To trust life is to stop being afraid. For Jesus, the mission he is about to entrust to the disciples presupposes the elimination of fear and a great faith that it will succeed.

it is men that you will take
Jesus' final words illuminate the whole story: the fishing trip symbolically illustrates the mission that Jesus entrusts to Peter and the disciples, and this mission will be fruitful as was this fishing trip. Of course, the image used should not be overemphasized: the people who will receive the preaching of the Twelve will not be "fish" who have been tricked. The emphasis is more on an activity that gives wonderful results, as the image of a seed or a tree bearing fruit would be used elsewhere. Since the content of Jesus' preaching is good news that gives hope and makes people stand on their feet, then the story announces this human mass that will find in this preaching a healing.

v. 11 Bringing their boats to the shore and abandoning everything, they began to follow him.

Literally: And having brought down the boats upon the land, having left all, they followed him.

 
Luke gives here a characteristic of the disciple who will be part of the intimate group of the Twelve: he will have to leave his job and physically follow Jesus on the road. Unfortunately, we know very little about the individuals who made up the group of Twelve. But what we do know about Simon, James and John confirms that they physically followed Jesus on the roads of Palestine, and after Easter they will meet again in Jerusalem, far from their native Galilee, to bear their witness courageously. Jesus cannot be just a passing friend, but one who grasps the whole being and for the whole life.

  1. Analysis of the narrative's structure

    Introduction: setting

    v.1 We are on the shore of the lake of Gennesaret where Jesus is preaching and where the crowd is pressing against him

    Part 1: Preaching of Jesus from a fisherman's boat

    Jesus takes the initiative to change his place of preaching by using the help of fishermen
    v.2 Jesus sees two boats on the shore
    v.3 Jesus asks Simon to go away so he can teach from a boat

    Part 2: Extraordinary fishing and the call to become a fisher of men

    1. Jesus asks Simon to go fishing
      v.4 Jesus asks to go out into deep water to cast the nets.

    2. Simon's human objection
      v.5a The previous fishing was unsuccessful

    3. Simon's attitude of faith
      v.5b Simon obeys Jesus even though it contradicts his experience

    4. The result of the fishermen's action is extraordinary
      v.6 The nets are full to the point of tearing
      v.7 Fishermen must work together to bring in all the fish

    5. Fishermen's reaction
      v.8 Simon discovers the work of God and recognizes his unworthiness
      v.9-10a The other fishermen are perplexed, especially James and John

    6. Jesus' call
      v.10b Simon is called to fish for men

    7. Response from some fishermen
      v.11 Simon, James and John abandon everything to follow Jesus

    The structure of the story reveals this:

    • There are clearly two parts to the story:
      1. A very successful preaching of Jesus to the point where he has to find a new place to teach, i.e. one of the fishermen's boats

      2. An extraordinary and unexpected catch by Simon and his companions, a sign of the missionary action that awaits them

    • The two parts are closely related: on the one hand, Jesus' successful preaching gives symbolic meaning to the fishing story that follows, i.e., it is less about fish to be caught than about human beings; and on the other hand, the miraculous fishing illustrates the power of Jesus' preaching, which will later become a preaching about Jesus.

    • Two literary genres are partially combined:
      1. A miracle story with some of the same structure, except for the request expressed by someone who has a problem: attitude of faith, word of Jesus, confirmation of an extraordinary result and reaction of the audience.

      2. A story of the call to discipleship: Jesus' call, the response of people who leave everything to follow him

  2. Context analysis

    1. Beginning of the missionary activity of Jesus in Galilee (4: 1-44)

      • After being baptized, Jesus was tempted by the devil for 40 days before he withdrew (4: 1-13)
      • He began to teach in the synagogues of Galilee and his reputation spread (4:14-15)
      • Jesus teaches at the synagogue in Nazareth on a Sabbath and announces that now is the time for the good news of Isaiah to be realized (4:16-21)
      • Mixed and even hostile reactions from the audience (4:22-30)
      • Jesus teaches at the synagogue in Capernaum on the Sabbath and expells out the demon from a man, stunning the people with the authority of his word (4:31-37)
      • On the same day, Jesus goes to Simon's house and heals his mother-in-law (4:38-39)
      • At sunset Jesus heals many who are sick and expells out demons, while preventing them from revealing that he is the messiah (4:40-41)
      • The next morning, Jesus refuses to be held back, for he must proclaim the good news of the Reign of God to the other cities, and so goes preaching in the synagogues of Judea (4:42-44)

    2. The call of the disciples, the formation of the Twelve and Jesus' justification of his actions (5: 1 – 6: 16)

      • Squeezed by the crowd, Jesus moves away to preach, then invites Simon and his companions, including James and John, to an extraordinary catch, arousing amazement and faith, so much so that they decide to follow him (5:1-11)
      • Jesus heals a leper and the people talk about him more and more, but he retires to the desert to pray (5: 12-16)
      • Jesus heals a paralyzed man by forgiving him his sins, prompting disputed reactions, ranging from amazement to accusations of blasphemy (5:17-26)
      • Jesus invites Levi, a tax collector, to follow him and he obeys (5:27-28)
      • Jesus has to justify himself to the Pharisees and scribes who are scandalized by his gesture of agreeing to eat at Levi's with the tax collectors, saying that it is precisely the sick who need a doctor (5:29-32)
      • Jesus has to justify the fact that his disciples are drinking and eating and not fasting like many other groups, saying that it is currently a wedding season (5:33-35)
      • Jesus justifies also his attitude by presenting himself as a new garment or new wine, impossible to harmonize with what is old (5:36-38)
      • Jesus must justify before the Pharisees his disciples' act of breaking the Sabbath as they pluck and eat ears of corn, saying that David and the new human being are masters of the law, not slaves (6:1-5)
      • Jesus finalizes his list of twelve apostles after spending the night praying on the mountain (6:12-16)

    The analysis of the context allows us to make a number of considerations.

    • The story of the miraculous catch begins a section where Jesus chooses his disciples and ends with the selection of the twelve apostles. In our story, he first chooses three: Simon, James and John.

    • In the previous section, after overcoming the obstacle of the devil, Jesus begins his teaching mission, a teaching full of authority to the point of healing and freeing people, which provokes mixed reactions.

    • The story of the miraculous catch of fish thus plays a kind of pivotal role between the two sections: on the one hand, it takes up the missionary action of Jesus from the first section, which is to teach with authority, to the point of reaching large crowds symbolized by the immense quantity of fish; on the other hand, among the people who listen in faith are those who agree to become his disciples, the first of whom are Simon, James and John.

    • The second section reveals another aspect of Jesus' teaching, its novelty, which provokes disputes with the Pharisees in particular. The miraculous catch of fish had somewhat foreshadowed this, since it had taken place during the day, not at night, and had produced unprecedented results. And thereafter, Jesus must constantly justify this novelty (freedom from the ritual of forgiveness, freedom from fasting, from Jewish laws and from unclean people), which foreshadows the conflicts to come, and in a way, his trial and death. So the very fact of choosing disciples prepares the "after Jesus".

    • The opposition to Jesus that we find in the first section (And they said, "Is not this the son of Joseph?" 4:22) will be accentuated in the second section:
      • The scribes and Pharisees thought, "Who is this one who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (5:20);
      • The Pharisees and their scribes murmured and said to his disciples, "Why do you eat and drink with publicans and sinners?" (5:30);
      • The disciples of John fast frequently and make prayers, and those of the Pharisees likewise, and yours eat and drink!" (5: 33);
      • But some of the Pharisees said, "Why do you do that which is not lawful on the Sabbath day?" (6: 2)
      • But they (the scribes and Pharisees) were filled with rage, and they consulted together what they might do to Jesus (who had just healed on a Sabbath (6:11)
      This context highlights the faith of disciples like Simon, James and John who, unlike the scribes and Pharisees, are open to this mystery of newness and attach themselves to Jesus.

  3. Parallels

    The only other scene similar to this miraculous catch is in John ch. 21, that appendix to John's gospel where the scene takes place after Easter.

    We have underlined identical words.

    Luc 5, 1-11Jean 21, 1-19
    1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.1 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. 2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.
    4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." 5 Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10a and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.3 Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 Jesus said to them, "Children, you have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No." 6 He said to them, "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off. 9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
    10b Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." 16 A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." 17 He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." 19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me."

     

    • Luke and John thus present two similar narratives. The question may be asked: do these two narratives borrow from the same basic narrative? The answer is yes because of the number of common elements (see Meier):

      1. A group of fishermen led by Simon spent the night without catching anything
      2. With supernatural knowledge, Jesus invites them to spread their nets again
      3. Simon and his associates obey, and bring in a huge quantity of fish
      4. The impact on the net that could break is mentioned
      5. Simon is the only one to react strongly
      6. The narrator calls Jesus by name, while Simon alone says: Lord
      7. The other disciples remain silent
      8. Jesus invites Simon to follow him
      9. The symbolism of the story is clear and is linked to the missionary action: without Jesus, Simon and the other disciples cannot succeed, but with Jesus they will be very successful
      10. The accounts of Luke and John contain many common words: go in or out of the boat, follow, net, fish, boat, night, son of Zebedee.
      11. When Peter reacts to the miraculous catch, he is called Simon Peter. This is all the more remarkable since it is the only mention in Luke.

      In short, we have two different versions of the same story.

    • All this poses a problem. For the scene in John takes place after Easter, whereas in Luke it takes place at the beginning of Jesus' ministry. Which one is right, which one is closer to the original story? In this case, the gospel according to John is right for the following reasons:

      1. Throughout the gospels, there is a tendency to retro-project into the ministry of Jesus situations from the first Christian communities, such as the proclamation "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16:16), which presupposes the experience of Easter, or the statements "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not stand against it. (Mt 16:18) or "If he refuses to listen, tell the community. And if he refuses to listen even to the community, let him be to you as the Gentile and the publican" (Mt 18:17) which presuppose the existence of Christian communities. In doing so, the evangelists sought to justify and legitimize the Church's teaching, worship and mission so that they would be seen to be in continuity with the historical Jesus. Conversely, we have no example of a scene from Jesus' ministry being projected after Easter. In short, there is every reason to believe that this miraculous catch is a post-Easter scene, as John asserts, retro-projected by Luke into the ministry of Jesus.

      2. In a way, John's version helps us understand a strange element in Luke's account: why does Simon say he is a sinner when he sees this miraculous catch? In John's version, Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him, to echo his three denials. It is therefore understandable that Peter should recognize himself as a sinner as a result of his three denials when he finds himself before the risen Jesus working wonders in Luke.

      3. One might ask: but why didn't Luke do as John did and insert this scene after Easter? One can imagine that Luke, by opting to block out all the scenes about the resurrected Jesus on the same day as Easter and centered in Jerusalem (see the unity of time and place of the Greek theater), could no longer present a scene of fishing in Galilee which, of necessity, would have taken place a few days later. Moreover, as we have seen in our analysis of the context, this scene does serve as the beginning of the call of the disciples at the beginning of Jesus' ministry.

      4. Finally, the story of the miraculous catch has the characteristic features of a post-Easter situation:
        • Jesus appears as the exalted Lord
        • The title of Simon Peter refers to his role in the Church
        • Jesus preaches at a distance from the crowd to express the majesty of the Lord in the midst of his community
        • Peter uses the word Lord when he addresses Jesus.

  4. Intention of the author when writng this passage

    • So Luke had an account of Peter returning to his job as a fisherman after Jesus' death, but mysteriously experiencing an extraordinary catch one day after an unsuccessful night, which opens the door to the experience of the risen Jesus and leads him back on the missionary path. In fact, insofar as we can reconstruct the sequence of events, it would seem that following Jesus' death, the immediate group of disciples returned to Galilee to resume their work and daily life. Without being able to place this event in time or have any details, it would seem that Peter was the first to experience the risen Jesus. This is echoed in the oldest Christian testimonies (note Peter's pre-Christian name): "It is true, the Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon" (Lk 24:34); "The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon" (Lk 24:34); "that he (Christ) appeared (first) to Cephas, then to the Twelve" (1 Cor 15:5). This account was of great value because it justified the fundamental role of Peter and the place of the mission in the Church.

    • Since Luke had made the literary choice of blocking out everything related to Jesus' resurrection in Jerusalem and on Easter day itself, he had to find another time to insert this story that takes place in Galilee. It is understandable then that he inserts it at the beginning of Jesus' ministry in Galilee, which solves the problem of geography. Moreover, by inserting it early in Jesus' ministry, it allows him to begin the sequence of calls to follow him, beginning with Simon Peter.

    • By taking up and modifying the original story as he does, Luke gives it a theological color of his own. First of all, Luke gives a central place to the word of God, to the joyful proclamation of the good news as prophesied by the prophet Isaiah (see Lk 4:17-21: the captives are set free, the blind see, the oppressed are set free, all live a year of grace). This is one of the main threads of his gospel (for example, see the place given to Mary who listens to the Word in relation to Martha (Lk 10:38-42) and in Acts (for example, the Apostles appoint deacons so as not to neglect the Word, Acts 6:2-3). Also, our story begins with Jesus preaching the word of God to the crowd (v.1), and this preaching continues in Peter's boat (v.3), a thinly veiled allusion to the preaching of the Church. Later on, the quantity of fish that Peter gathers clearly refers to the results of this preaching, since Jesus will associate these fish with the men that Peter will succeed in reaching.

    • Moreover, as we have already said, Luke uses this story to make it Jesus' first call for people to become disciples. But he does so in a different way from Mark (and by implication from Matthew). In Mark, the call goes like this: Jesus saw Simon and Andrew, Simon's brother, casting the hawk into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Come after me and I will make you fishers of men". (Mk 1:16-17). This is a direct call from Jesus, without any introduction. For Luke, the call to Simon comes after he has experienced the mystery of the Passover, the power of the risen Jesus in a way, through the abundance of fish. This is consistent with his definition of the apostle who becomes a witness of the risen Jesus, having met him in a unique experience.

    • Finally, Luke puts into Peter's mouth an expression characteristic of a pure act of faith: "Master, we toiled all night without taking anything, but on your word I will let down the nets." "On your word" is not found in John's version of the story. But it is Luke's way of taking up the same idea that we find in John when all the disciples want to leave Jesus and Simon Peter says to him: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (John 6:68) In Luke's account, this act of faith is the pivot of the story that allows for the continuation of events, the miraculous fishing and the response to Jesus' call.

    • Luke addresses Christians around the years 80 or 85, when the pillars Peter, Paul and James had already died, but the Christian communities were still spreading throughout the Roman Empire. At the beginning of his gospel addressed to Theophilus (= friend of God), either a known Christian or a fictitious name representative of all Christians, Luke explains that he wrote this gospel "so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed." He is therefore aiming at convinced Christians whose faith he wants to strengthen through a solid catechesis. What is he saying to Theophilus with this story of the miraculous catch? If you are a believer today, it is because of the extraordinary fruitfulness of Christian preaching, in the image of this miraculous catch of fish, a preaching begun with Jesus through which people feel healed and liberated, a preaching continued by disciples whom Jesus chose for himself, including Simon Peter, a pillar of the community because, even though he was a sinner who denied Jesus, he made this move of faith by putting all his trust in him in spite of the opposition around him, and accepted to follow him. It is now up to you to take over, if you are ready to show the same faith and to believe that the risen Jesus will work through you.

    • When analyzing what an author means, I find it important to also make explicit the opposite, what the text does not mean. This avoids misunderstandings or drifts. First of all, Luke does not intend to impress us with another of Jesus' magic tricks. If this were the case, we would not be able to use this story as catechesis: for what can we say in front of a magic trick, except: "Ah, how good he is!" Secondly, Luke does not intend to play the journalist of a local newspaper by describing as minutely as possible all the happenings by the lake on a particular day of the week. He is not at the level of facts, but at the level of the meaning of things and of life. Moreover, as we have seen above, the original story he takes up is set in a post-paschal context, when Jesus is no longer of this world.

  5. Current situations or events in which we could read this text

    Our story includes several images that lend themselves to symbolic interpretation and may be evocative of current situations.

    1. Fishing and nets overflowing with fish

      • For parents or grandparents, it is their children or grandchildren who are surprisingly successful in making their way through life and thriving.
      • For educators, these are all people to whom they have devoted countless hours and the results of their work surprise them
      • In the world of work, the attitude of supervisors or managers who live deeply human values and invest in their staff, end up with incredible results.
      • How else can we see the results of the work of Nelson Mandela who, after 27 years in prison, succeeded in bringing down the apartheid regime without firing a shot?
      • Two thousand years after the death of Jesus, his disciples can be found all over the world, driven by the same passion for the same good news

    2. Jesus teaches from the boat

      • What characterizes our humanity is its ability to speak and to pass on the lessons we have learned. It is vital for parents to talk to their children, for educators to talk to their students, for politicians to talk to their constituents. It is not surprising that Luke presents Jesus as a teacher who is constantly teaching.

      • The message we convey through our words is double-edged: it can liberate as it can destroy or imprison. When we teach people to think for themselves, to find solutions to their problems, to have confidence in themselves, to go to the end of themselves, to not be afraid of the future or the unknown, we know we are liberating them. When you use fear, threats, authority, force or violence, as some sects do, you destroy people, you make them slaves.

      • Jesus taught in the synagogues, then in our story on the lake shore, and then in a boat. The way we teach today uses a variety of media: personal meetings, the classroom, print, radio, television, the Internet. Depending on the circumstances, we must change our methods. The important thing is to adapt each time to the circumstances to better reach people.

    3. The crowd presses Jesus from all sides

      • People can tell if what we say is relevant. When we offer what people really need, they come looking for us, stick to us and ask for more. Do we know how to identify these needs? Do we know how to fill them? When people don't want to know anything about the Church, is it simply because their faith has cooled, or are they sending a message about the relevance of what the Church teaches?

      • Jesus' teaching received mixed reactions: while some people stuck by him and wanted him to stay with them, others were so shocked that they rejected him. Can we transpose these two attitudes today? Under what circumstances? Let's take those who pressed against him: they needed healing, they needed to be liberated, they needed to be recognized as valuable in society. What word and what gesture today could enlighten their hearts? Wouldn't that word be like the man from Nazareth? Let us now turn to those who were shocked by Jesus' teaching. In the sequence of scenes following the miraculous catch, we note the amazement and anger of the Pharisees, who represent many of us: how can you get over someone's past misdeeds (forgiveness of the sins of the paralyzed man)? How can you socialize with disreputable people (Jesus is at table with the tax collectors)? How can one spend all this time eating and drinking, and leave aside religious actions like fasting (reproach of the Pharisees)? How can one distance oneself from religious laws and not respect them, under the pretext that life is more important (the disciples who plucked ears of corn on the Sabbath)? All these attitudes are found in today's world.

    4. Peter makes a move of faith: "Master, after toiling all night, we have caught nothing. But on your word, I will cast the nets."

      • To toil all night fruitlessly could mean many things in our lives.
        • The feeling of not having succeeded with our children
        • The feeling of an educator after several years of teaching
        • The feeling when faced with a spouse or parent with whom, despite so much effort, communication cannot be re-established
        • The feeling of a politician who could not carry out a political project
        • Our feeling in front of a personal struggle: depression, alcoholism, drugs, etc.
        • Our feelings about an unsuccessful personal project

      • Saying to Jesus "on your word I will act, even if it doesn't seem to make sense" is characteristic of an act of faith. It can mean the following things:
        • On your word, I will leave the door open for my son or daughter, even if the bridges seem to be cut and what he or she has done is terrible, because I know that your Spirit works on hearts
        • On your word, I'm going to get back to work even if the results so far are ridiculous, because I know that I'm not alone and that what I see is not the whole reality
        • On your word, I will rise again in spite of my previous failures, because you made Simon Peter, that man who was afraid and denied you, a pillar of faith for a multitude, and you are able to do the same with me
        • On your word, I will continue my fight for justice, equity or peace, because I know that it is not only a personal fight, but I participate in a movement that fundamentally comes from you

    5. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Stop being afraid! From now on, it is men you will take."

      • Fear is what paralyzes and prevents us from acting: fear of others, fear of their judgment, fear of the unknown, fear of not controlling our destiny, fear of losing our possessions or our power or our reputation or our relationships. Fear of being robbed. Fear of terrorism. Fear of losing our life. We cannot act without controlling our fears. This was true for Simon, the fisherman who later found himself in charge of the young Christian communities. It applies to us today.

      • What is the antidote to fear? Faith. Faith and fear are antinomic. It is not a question of the magic faith of Ayrton Senna, the racing driver, who imagined that nothing would happen to him because he prayed regularly. We know what happened next: he died in a car race. No. This is about faith in the way of Jesus, who acted with passion, because he knew he was constantly loved by the one he called Abba, Daddy, and that the love he shared with everyone was rooted in it, because he knew he was participating in a movement greater than himself and which he called the Reign of God or the World of God. This did not prevent him from experiencing the anguish of Gethsemane, but this anguish did not paralyze him and he went to the end of himself. This is the faith that allows us to act in the same way today.

    6. Bringing their boats to shore and leaving everything behind, Simon, James and John set out to follow him.

      • Bringing the boats back, leaving everything behind, meant for Simon, James and John to leave their jobs and their source of income, to leave their homes or their married life for a while, to physically follow Jesus on the roads of Palestine. This meant, in a way, putting their fate in the hands of this leader Jesus. We could identify equivalent actions today with those people today who decide to follow a leader, leaving their work and their environment behind. But we know how ambiguous all this can be, when we think of the ravages of certain sects. In any case, one cannot make real life choices without letting go of a number of things.

      • Without going so far as to mention those religious who become "professional followers" of Jesus, we can understand the following events that involve choices that force one to leave something behind. Note that this list could go on and on.
        • Leaving a form of independence to form a couple and have children
        • Give up one job for another that pays less because it better meets our values and priorities
        • Agreeing to give time to train men and women, even if it might hinder career advancement
        • Accepting a difficult or disabled child, even if it will eat into our leisure time and freedom
        • Agreeing to help people in need financially, even if it will have an impact on one's lifestyle and some leisure activities
        • Accepting to care for a parent as a caregiver, even if it means giving up a career and having no free time
        • Going abroad to share knowledge and expertise and contribute to human progress, even if it means giving up a well-paid job or a promising career
        • ...

    7. Jesus said to Simon, "Get out into deep water and cast your nets to fish."
      • "Get away," "deep water." There is a minimum requirement for opening up to unexpected outcomes, that of stepping away from one's known world to face what may be scary, what carries risk. There are people who do not accept to move away from what is familiar to them. These people condemn themselves to never go beyond themselves and listen to the calls of the Spirit. Only faith gives the courage to overcome one's fears and to answer the call to a mission.

      • Many people who are involved in NGOs will find themselves in this sentence.

    Rather than starting from the symbolic richness of our story, we can simply start from what preoccupies our thoughts and seek how our story can shed light on it.

    • Recent reading in National Geographic Magazine about Douglas Mawson and his feat of surviving alone in Antarctica in late 1912, coming so close to death.
    • A brother-in-law who is bipolar and has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and the tension that this introduces into the marriage.
    • A colleague who has to take time off work, with financial consequences, because his wife, who is expecting twins after having given birth to three other children, has been ordered by doctors not to do any more housework because of complications and the danger of too premature births.
    • Elderly parents who require more and more care and with whom communication is extremely disappointing.

 

-André Gilbert, Gatineau, January 2013