22nd Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year II)
While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that the boats were in danger of sinking. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.
Interestingly, the majority of biblical scholars identify the miraculous catch of fish in Luke 5 with the post-resurrectional miracle in John 21, though there are some divergences in details.
The New American Bible (Revised Edition) offers two major clues to support this thesis (see the footnote to Luke 5:1-11). First, Simon addressed Jesus by his post-resurrectional title, “Lord.” Second, Simon’s plea to Jesus to “depart” from him, a “sinful man,” though not recorded in John, seems appropriate in the context of his triple denial. The second clue is inconclusive, as the prophet Isaiah similarly declared himself “unclean” in the presence of the holy (Isaiah 6:5). The all-night fishing with an empty yield followed by the bulging net at the point of breaking are stronger clues.
Readers are certainly free to accept two separate miracles of great resemblance; historical conjectures are not apodictic. However, supposing Luke really made the transposition, what would have been his purpose?
It has already been noted that the material in Luke was not arranged chronologically. The author launched his account of the Galilean ministry by narrating latter events first, with Jesus’ rejection at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30). Further, Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law (Luke 4:38-39) before he met Simon for the first time in chapter five.
Chronology is only one way of “looking” at history. Just as an object can be viewed from multiple angles and through multiple lenses, producing very different “shots” of the same thing, history can be viewed in a variety of ways.
The superposition of the beginning (call of Simon) and the end (the wondrous catch of fish) has the effect of lifting the contemplative above the stream of linear time to glimpse the overall scheme from a higher vantage point. Simon the fisherman (called “Simon Peter” here prior to his name change) received his vocation against the backdrop of the eschatological sign of the overflowing boats. St. Ephrem the Syrian, the fourth-century Eastern Father, saw the two boats as the Jews and the Gentiles, or “the circumcised and the uncircumcised” (Commentary on Tatian’s Diatessaron 5.18).
Jesus, the arch-fisher, caught the minor fishers and invited them to follow him. In Mark and Matthew, Jesus found Simon and Andrew casting a net into the sea, who when called, promptly left their nets and followed him (Mark 1:16-20; Matthew 4:18-22). The other Synoptics do not recount a miraculous catch at this stage, certainly an event an eyewitness would have remembered. Luke states at the outset that he is not an eyewitness, but has pieced his narrative from other sources.
The superposition of ends and beginnings is a prerogative of the “omniscient” point of view, both in writing and in fact. For example, the protoevangelium in Genesis 3:15 already sees the Blessed Virgin Mary in Eve at the point of expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Luke’s account sees the great catcher of persons in Simon the fisherman.
Scripture was not written to satisfy the demands of modern journalism, but is a record of the divine pursuit of humankind. When we “look” at history from an eternal perspective, we engage in metahistory—inquiring into meanings transcendent to events.
From “outside” of time, the Alpha is the Omega as there are no parts outside of parts (space), and no before or after (time). From a higher perspective, separate events in history may be viewed simultaneously and produce an insight that transcends them.
Nothing prevents a writer like Luke from rearranging the voluminous material of the Gospels to reach a certain audience (e.g., the Gentiles) more effectively. The pericope of the call of Simon in Luke is packed with events that other Gospels separated into distinct events. The calling of Simon is not only simultaneous with the miraculous catch, but also nestled within the midst of Jesus’ preaching mission. The writer seems to have had too much to say, and too little time and space to say it all.
Jesus’ teaching from a boat, for example, is an event on its own in Mark and Matthew (Mark 4:1; Matthew 13:1-2). If Luke’s sequence is taken literally, Jesus, a complete stranger to Simon, would have proceeded to give a lengthy speech to a crowd in his boat without any prior introduction.
Up to this point, Luke has painted a portrait of an extraordinary, wonder-working Christ rejected by his hometown and hemmed in by popularity in Capernaum for his healing gifts—the master of Peter and the apostles who were already known to his audience. His readers would not have faulted Luke for drawing multifarious events together, for they would have been familiar with the material by oral preaching. His pastiche presented known material in a new light.
So what is the “net” effect of Luke’s account of Simon’s call? An image of kingdom prosperity and abundance, not in gold and silver but in human persons, bursting from the central figure of Christ impresses itself upon the hearer. Simon, James and John will convert their fishing occupation to the job of “capturing” persons alive (Luke may have changed the fishing metaphor to offset the image of fish out of water).
The author’s own introduction to his Gospel “suggests that Luke is a third-generation Christian looking back on the traditions which he has inherited” (see the Reading Guide to Luke in The Catholic Study Bible, RG 417-8). Each generation contributes new insights by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.