I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. (Job 19:25 NIV)
There are more than 100 direct references to St. Peter in the New Testament. Following the life of Peter after his first encounter by the shores of Lake Gennesaret, we may see a sort of biography of the Fisherman or … we can “go to the deep” and discover much more. The Gospels pay special attention to Peter’s spiritual growth from his first encounter with Jesus all the way to the days after the Crucifixion when the Resurrected appears to them again near the shore of the lake. Holy Tradition completes Peter’s spiritual biography, describing how he meets Our Lord while trying to escape Rome. There he is instructed to ascend that other Calvary, the Mons Vaticanus to let his enemies crucify him. Peter conquers Rome in the same way that his Master had conquered the world. Those are the two extremes of Peter’s Christian biography: his first meeting with Jesus by the lake and his crucifixion at the Circus, located atop of the Vatican Hill.
Observing carefully, one can see how Jesus works on Peter from the beginning, guiding his spiritual growth. That labor of love results in a magnificent martyrdom and the departure of Peter from this world to “go into the depths” of Heaven to join the Master. And we can also notice a structure that could very well be a prophetic model representing the Roman Papacy through the ages. The very person of Peter and his mission, projected through history on his successors until the end of this age.
Those are complex concepts. It is necessary to study the record of Peter’s life very carefully, extracting not only the minutiae but also the image, the big picture. I am convinced that, as we go over Peter’s life in this series of posts, we will understand his mission much better.
Before he ends his earthly mission, three important events happen by the shore of the lake:
- Meeting Jesus for the first time and the first great catch of fish.
- The people ask for a sign and Jesus departs across the lake to Caesarea.
- The Resurrected Jesus appears and the second great catch of fish ensues.
- As Peter flees Rome, Jesus meets him. Peter returns to the city to be crucified.
This last event does not happen by the physical shore of Gennesaret but by a figurative shore. The Fisherman has reached the end of his life. One American poet also compared death to a departing ship, gone from the sight of those watching from the pier but welcomed by those expecting her on the other side.
And, just at the moment when someone says, “There, she is gone,”
there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices
ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”
And that is dying…
(Gone from my sight, Henry Jackson Van Dyke,1852-1933)
In the same manner, Peter’s departure from this world happens at the edge of Roman greatness. The great Empire will last for many centuries yet but their hours of glory are behind them. Caesar and Augustus are gone, Nero reigns. The greats that unwittingly prepared Rome for the arrival of God Incarnate have left behind a weak and degenerate progeny. But Peter’s legacy will outlast the Roman Empire, that will be his great triumph over Nero who will die in disgrace, shortly after ordering the persecution of Christians.
The barque of Peter begins the long voyage that will take her to another shore, to the Second Coming of the Lord. There they will cast the nets again for the very last great catch of fish at the end of the age.
The first great catch of fish
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
Jesus uses the amplifying effect of water to reach as far as possible. He picks Simon’s boat. The same boat will become later a symbol of the Church. That was not a coincidental choice; the Church will become Christ’s loudspeaker to broadcast the Good News far and wide to all the nations until the end of the age. Every act, every gesture and word of the Logos Incarnate has meaning.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Remember we are observing how Jesus begins to transform the Fisherman and builds a lesson around him. Now Jesus asks Simon to go into the deep part of the lake. This runs counter to Simon´s experience, The sun is up and the schools of fish will instinctively flee from the shadow cast onto the depths by the boat. It is early in the morning, the crew needs rest, time is money, they have been working all night for naught … etc. But Simon is impressed and he trusts the Rabbi. However, Simon will respectfully utter a word of caution.
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
They move towards the center of the lake one more time. The morning must be well advanced by now and the sun is ascending. To the best of their experience, the fishermen perhaps think that the Rabbi may know a lot about the Word of God but he certainly has no idea how to catch fish. Yet, they were humbled by the long fruitless night and obediently go about the familiar task. They fold the nets and prepare to cast. When they reach the dark abyss they unfold the nets down. And soon their arms sense the pull as the nets begin to feel heavy. Simon shouts the order and they all begin to sing and pull rhythmically. The catch is heavy and their arms are tired …
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
The miracle is a surprise for those simple men. Jesus has favored them greatly for letting him use the boat to talk to the crowds, for tarrying listening to him instead of returning home and rest. No service ever rendered to God remains unpaid, and He will not allow us to be more generous than He is. But the nearness of God makes Simon uneasy. Surely this is a holy man, and he is not. He is a man of the frontiers of the Roman Empire, despised by the Jews for being a Galilean, despised by the Romans for being a Jew. He´s no stranger to fights. His business requires a fast mind and strong arms but sometimes he has to resort to tough tactics to survive… He fears God but he carries a sword.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
The miracle touched Simon´s conscience and impressed his young partners, the sons of Zebedee, his old partner. Perhaps it was Zebedee who taught young Peter his trade. The man of God, the tall strange Rabbi smiles at him. Simon thinks about what the people ashore are going to tell the Teacher about him. He can´t be anything less than sincere with Jesus … Simon unloads a confession, He wants to be honest. That must have melt the Rabbi´s heart. To Jesus, all these men are almost like children, by now He knows the wisdom of unfathomable ages lives in him, in the flesh. The men think they have caught a small fortune, Jesus knows he has caught four saints for the Kingdom, the first four of the innumerable descent of Abraham: “Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them so shall your descendants be.” (Genesis 15:5)
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will be catching men alive.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:1-11)
The first lesson is about trust. As soon as the lesson is completed, Simon is informed about his mission. Logos does not waste time. Simon will be gathering many men from the depths of fallen mankind.
He does not know it yet but something has changed inside him and his very soul is being transformed into something new. Simon the Fisherman, the son of Yohanan, the partner of Zebedee has come from the depths of the lake transformed. He has a mission, like a new Jonah: not to convert a city but to conquer himself first and then the world.
Jesus is beginning to build up a parable around Simon’s life. A parable that will last until the entire world is made anew. It is the work of Christ but Simon, by confessing his sinfulness has gained for himself the honor to be the first one called to the Kingdom.
Continues on Peter Grows in Faith.
The Cycle of Peter
- Made Anew
- The First Great Catch of Fish
- Peter Grows in Faith
- Peter: Sign and Action
- The Fisherman’s Destiny
More articles will follow soon.