Third Sunday of Easter C
R. (2a) I will praise you, Lord, for you have rescued me.
Homily: A Fishy Story
Two avid fishermen went on a fishing trip. They rented all the equipment: the reels, the rods, the wading suits, the rowboat, the car, and even a cabin in the woods. They spent a fortune! The first day they went fishing, they didn’t catch anything. The same thing happened on the second day, and on the third day. It went on like this until finally, on the last day of their vacation, one of the men caught a fish. As they were driving home they were really depressed. One of the men turned to the other and said, "Do you realize that this one lousy fish we caught cost us fifteen hundred dollars?" The other man said, "Wow! It's a good thing we didn't catch any more!"
Surely, anyone who fishes knows that fishing can be an unpredictable, yet extremely pleasurable experience. Why would Jesus use the occasion of fishing to teach his disciples? As always, Jesus, the master teacher, uses the occasions he finds with his disciples, simple human situations like fishing, to teach them about the hidden ways of God: “He revealed himself in this way:”
In this case, he uses the sometimes difficult task of catching fish. What is it about the catching of fish that seems so fruitful to Jesus’ teaching? The success of fishing is only partially dependent upon our abilities. Despite all our plans, it might not go well. There is a great value in following the directions of an expert fisher.
So, Jesus takes this unpredictable and futile occasion to provide a “miraculously large” catch of fish, 153 in all. Is there a meaning of 153? This is a question that has been asked since the very beginning of the faith. Does the number reveal some hidden truth? Theories of the 153:
- The actual number of fish, carefully handed down by tradition
- St. Jerome, on his commentary on Ezekiel 47:6-12, tells us that Greek zoologists had recorded 153 different kinds of fish—symbolizing the totality and range of the disciples’ catch and anticipating the Christian mission to preach to all peoples.
- St. Augustine’s Commentary on John, # 122, the sum of all numbers from one to 17. Thus 153 is a number of perfection, helped by the fact that 17 is constituted by 7 and 10, important numbers in contemporary Jewish though: ten commandments, seven as a perfect number. Thus, again, 153 symbolizes the fullness of the Church.
- St. Cyril of Alexandria offers an allegorical interpretation: 100 represents the fullness of the Gentiles; 50 represents the remnant of Israel, 3 represents the Holy Trinity.
- The number of communities of believers that were connected to John, carefully gathered up in the net that is Christ.
- Raymond Brown concludes, “Because the symbolism is not immediately evident, it did not prompt the invention of the number, for certainly the writer, were he choosing freely, could have come up with a more obviously symbolic number, for example, 144. The origin of the number probably lies in the direction of an emphasis on the authentic eyewitness character of what has been recorded. The Beloved Disciple is present.”
What seems very clear from the teaching of Jesus is that he is speaking of the truth that, when the disciples follow Jesus’ lead, their work of discipleship in catching in the net of Christ believers will be more abundant than they could every produce or even imagine. In fact, this became the case. A small group of believers because a world-wide movement spreading over twenty centuries and now including maybe a third of the world, some 2 billion persons. And, even with a very large “catch” of believers, we need not fear the net be torn.
Second, the great catch used as an image reminds us, once again, that following Jesus is not so much about finding Jesus, as letting ourselves be caught by Him. He desires such an enormous catch, that he will come and find us, particularly if we hang around other believers.
Finally, since we have the promise that Christ will remain with us, our efforts at knowing and serving God will be successful beyond our expectations, if we will but follow his direction. The disciples, of course, as fisherman, approach the fishing in their usual manner, and are unsuccessful. When they listen to the voice of Jesus, who asks them to “cast the net over the right side of the boat, and you will find something,” their work, their livelihood, overflows with abundance. Whatever our calling in life, if it is a life rooted in Christ and daily seeking his direction (not our own) and trying to become more like him (and less like our old selves), we can expect life in abundance unlike we could imagine.
Fishing is an unpredictable, sometime exasperating, and even expensive venture. So too is Christian living an unpredictable, sometimes exasperating, and costly venture. But Christ says to us, our can be abundantly rich indeed if we will but follow his direction. Living our lives according to his teaching, not our own preferences. Seeking his Spirit to guide our daily actions, not merely going our own way.
Each Easter season is the annual call to the abundant life to which our Lord invites us. As we look over our lives, are there parts, or the whole, which have become meager and lacking in richness. Are we attentive to the promptings of the voice of Jesus, in our hearts and in our community, to a new way, to “cast our nets” in a new place? Even while we consider this, the good news is that Christ is ready to catch each of us anew, in his full and abundant life.
Let us come to this altar, receive him, but even more importantly be received by him, and be caught anew in the abundant life into which he directs us and invites us.