The Scriptures this week focus on the holiness of God and the limitations of those God chooses to call to ministry. The prophet Isaiah had a vision of the awesome holiness of God and realized his own unworthiness. And yet, at God’s request, Isaiah accepted the call to serve as prophet.
In the Gospel, the apostles had been fishing all night with no results. Yet, when Jesus asked them to lower their nets, they caught a great number of fish. In the face of this abundance, Peter acknowledged his unworthiness and Jesus responded by reassuring the apostles and calling them to his service.
The fish became a prominent symbol in the Scriptures and in early Christian imagery. Besides the large catch of fish in today’s Gospel and the reference to the apostles as “fishers of men,” Jesus described the Kingdom as a net which collects fish of every kind (Mt. 13:47) and compared the final judgment to fishermen sorting their catch. Jesus fed the multitude with five loaves and two fish (Mk 8:5-9) and had Peter draw the temple tax from the mouth of a fish (Mt. 17:24). After the resurrection, when Jesus first appeared to the apostles, he asked for something to eat to assure them that it was truly he — and they gave him fish and honeycomb which he ate (Luke 24:42). Later, he prepared a breakfast of bread and fish for the apostles after their fishing expedition (Jn 21:9-11).
Because of the miracle of the loaves and fish, the fish with wine and the basket of bread was used as a symbol of the Eucharist. The letters of the Greek word for fish, “Ichthys” are an anagram for “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior” (Iesous Christos Theou Yios Soter) — a simple creedal statement of the Christian faith and a counter to the emperor Augustus Caesar who titled himself “the son of the divine.”
The symbol of the fish is found in the first century catacombs of St. Callistus in Rome. In addition, Tertullian, a second century Christian teacher, wrote in “De Baptismo,” “but we, being little fish, as Jesus Christ is our great Fish, begin our life in the water, and only while we abide in the water are we safe and sound.” The Greek father, Clement of Alexandria (c. 150), advised Christians to use a dove or fish as their seal or symbol, and St. Augustine, in one of his sermons, explained the symbolic meaning of the catch of the 153 fish. Also, according to tradition, during the times of persecution, Christians used the fish to mark their meeting places and to distinguish friends from foes.
Let us pray this week for the church and her ministers that God will touch the hearts of many so that “nets” of the kingdom might be filled beyond our capacity to count or contain.
Sr. Rehrauer is the director of Evangelization and Worship for the Diocese of Green Bay.