“As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fisherman.” Matthew 4:12-17.
After several Sunday reflections about John the Baptist, we go on the road with Jesus as he begins his missionary journey.
Keep in mind, Pope Francis has designated this Third Sunday of Ordinary Time as “Sunday of the Word of God,” an invitation to Catholics and Christians around the world to deepen their appreciation and witness to God and His Word.
In his homily earlier today at Saint Peter’s, Pope Francis said the “Bible is a ‘love letter’ from God to all humanity.” He recommends that we read scripture daily, and that we keep the bible as close to us as our cellphone!
Let’s join the Lord and his transition to a new locale and walk with him on his spiritual journey.
To this point, Pope Francis spoke about this moment in Jesus’s life, the pope writes:
“What differentiates Jesus from John the Baptist is the way and manner. Jesus chooses to be an itinerant prophet. He doesn’t stay and await people but goes to encounter them.
Jesus is always on the road! His first missionary appearances take place along the lake of Galilee, in contact with the multitude, and particular fisherman. There Jesus does not only proclaim the Kingdom of God but seeks companions to join his salvific mission.”
Today, I have two brief ideas about fish and fishermen. It comes from my dual roles as teacher and preacher, and where I can be both “teachy and preachy.”
First, let’s talk about fish!
Two weeks ago, I spoke about an artwork of mine by Corita Kent. You recall, I mentioned this piece incorporates a lovely quote from Thomas Browne, “We carry within us the wonders we seek without us.”
While trying to jar my recollection of Corita Kent, and learn about Thomas Browne and the quote, I came across plenty of Wikipedia knowledge on Browne.
For example, Browne was a 17th-century English essayist and someone like his contemporaries interested in the natural world. He wrote non-fiction much in the style of the better-known Michel De Montaigne, the French writer, and inventor of the personal essay.
If you want to know who to blame for your courses in essay writing, both Browne and Montaigne provided definitive samples of this form of expository writing.
Browne’s writings covered such diverse subjects as English funeral customs and whether elephants have knees. Do elephants have knees? According to Siri, “elephants are the only animal to have four forward-facing knees.”
Since the Bible was the very first translated book in print, from time to time, Browne’s essays prompted questions on scripture and Jesus. One of Browne’s pieces caught my attention; it’s entitled: “Of the Fishes eaten by our Savior with His Disciples, after His Resurrection from the Dead.”
Consisting of only six-paragraphs, Browne expresses frustration that for all the scriptural references to fish in the Old and New Testaments. At his count, the exact type or species of fish are barely mentioned.
He adds: “And even the fish swallowed by Jonah, and is called a “great fish” and commonly thought to be a great Whale, is not received without all doubt; while some learned men conceive it to have none of our Whales, but a large kind of Lamia.” Also known as a giant shark.
Writing in the 17th century, Brown voices his doubts about the common belief that the so-called “Peter” or “Penny Fish,” those having two round spots upon either side, were the marks of Peter’s fingers or his signature.
If you find yourself in a Monterey fish restaurant, and you see “Sand Dabs” on the menu, “Peter” or “Penny Fish” look and taste virtually the same.
Browne concludes that there was no probability that such a kind of saltwater fish could find its way into the Sea of Galilee, or to the Sea of Tiberias since they are miles from the ocean.
What we read here are among the very first scientific musings about how very words of scripture help inform our beliefs. This is the result of the printing press that set off the sparks of theological and scientific knowledge.
So, we carry within us our wonders and even doubts about faith and seek ways to reconcile these ideas of ours through rigorous science and reasoned thought. So this day, “Sunday of the Word of God” is dedicated to the riches of the Bible, a simple reminder how the treasures of scripture can enrich our lives.
Now onto the fisherman.
In today’s gospel, Matthew tells us of Jesus calling his recruits – Peter, Andrew, James, and John.
While Jesus was a carpenter by trade, he selected fishermen to be his closest co-workers. To be clear, in ancient times, the need for well-maintained fishing boats might make for an all-important collaboration between carpenters and fishers.
But Jesus was calling each by name to a new job and ministry. Were these men suited to the work of preaching and healing? Are we adapting to the work of bringing witness and comfort to souls?
Let me end with a passage again from Pope Francis. This was part of a Sunday Angelus address that the Holy Father gave on January 22, 2017.
“In this very place, at the Sea of Galilee, Jesus meets two pairs of brothers: Simon and Andrew, James and John. He calls them, saying: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
The call reaches them in the middle of their daily activity: the Lord reveals himself to us not extraordinarily or impressively but in the everyday circumstances of our life.
There we must discover the Lord, and there he reveals himself, makes his love felt in our hearts, and there – with this dialogue with him in everyday circumstances of life – he changes our hearts.”
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.