10 February 2019
The true story of the
‘big fish that got away’
Sunday 10 February 2019 (The Fourth Sunday before Lent):
9.30 a.m. Castletown Church, Kilcornan, Co Limerick, the Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2)
Readings: Isaiah 6: 1-8; Psalm 138; I Corinthians 15: 1-11; Luke 5: 1-11.
An icon of the Church as a boat, including Christ, the Apostles and the Church Fathers (Icon: Deacon Matthew Garrett, www.holy-icons.com)
May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Do you ever ask whether you are worthy of the call of Christ – the call to follow him, the call to be a disciple, the call that was first answered for you, on your behalf, at your behalf?
Sometimes, I have to question my worthiness to be priest. I am not a priest because I think it is my right to be one, or because I thought at one stage this would be a good career move. I am a priest because, despite my resistance to the call over many years, I believe God called me – called me many years ago, almost 50 years ago, at the age of 19.
This morning, in our readings, we hear how the call of Isaiah, the call of Saint Paul, and the renewed call to some of the disciples, including Peter, James and John, come not to people who feel they are worthy of this call, or have inherited a call, or have a right to speak on God’s behalf.
Isaiah is in the Temple when he hears and responds to God’s call. The Psalmist is in God’s presence in the Temple when he finds God answers his prayer and gives him a new calling, new spiritual gifts. Saint Paul recalls his own call after all the other disciples have been called. Peter, James and John are called not only to speak on Christ’s behalf, but to do what he commands and to follow him.
In all these readings, Isaiah, the Psalmist, Saint Paul and then Saint Peter, all express their feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness, yet accept God’s call to speak in God’s name unconditionally and in faith.
In the Epistle reading (I Corinthians 15: 1-11), we hear the earliest New Testament account of the Resurrection.
Here too Saint Paul describes Baptism as sharing in Christ’s suffering and death and being raised to new life in Christ. So, Baptism has ethical implications for our discipleship: in the community of the baptised, ethnic and social barriers are shattered, for ‘Christ is all and in all.’
In our Gospel story (Luke 5: 1-11), we hear a story of commitment to Christ, to his message and to discipleship. Christ calls Simon or Simon Peter to be a disciple, promising him he is to be a ‘fisher of men,’ and Peter, James and John leave everything and follow Christ.
This story begins by the ‘lake of Gennesaret,’ on the south-west shore of the Sea of Galilee. The crowd is pressing in to hear Christ, the Word of God, preach the ‘word of God’ or the Christian message.
Christ gets into the boat with Simon Peter. There are two boats in this episode, and James and John are also fishing in one of the boats.
They not only listen to Christ, but they do what he tells them to do, and they are amazed at the consequences. Simon Peter acknowledges Jesus as ‘Master’ or teacher, and responds by falling down before Jesus in humility, pointing to himself as a sinful man, and calling Jesus ‘Lord,’ which becomes an expression of faith.
Peter, James and John make a total commitment to Christ, leave everything, and follow him.
In Christian art, the boat is often used as an image of the Church, while the fish is an image of Christ.
In the Early Church, the fish came to symbolise Christ because the Greek word Ichthus (ΙΧΘΥΣ), meaning ‘fish’, is an acrostic for Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ, ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.’
Some years ago, when I was visiting Kaş, a pretty town on the south coast of Turkey, I visited the former Church of the Annunciation. Kaş had once been a Greek-majority town known as Andifli, but the Greek ethnic community was expelled in 1923 in one of the early examples of ‘ethnic cleansing’ in 20th century Europe.
For 40 years, the Church of the Annunciation on the acropolis or hilltop above the town lay deserted and crumbling. But in 1963, 40 years after these people were expelled from Andifli, their former parish church was requisitioned as a mosque, and – despite its age – was renamed Yeni Cami (New Mosque). A minaret was added, along with a fountain with a quotation in Turkish, rather than Arabic, from the Quran: ‘We made from water every living thing’ (Surat al-Anbiyya, the Prophets, 21: 30).
Inside, the church was aligned facing east, a new mihrab or prayer niche facing Mecca and a minbar (pulpit) were inserted into the south wall, the frescoes were stripped away and the icon screen was removed. All obvious Christian symbols, including crosses, were picked out of the hoklakia or pebble mosaic in the courtyard. But no-one noticed the significance of the fish, symbolising the Greek word Ichthus (ΙΧΘΥΣ), so that dozens of fish symbolising Christ and the Christian faith are still scattered though this pebble mosaic.
This is, truly, the story of the ‘big fish that got away.’
Have you ever spoken of someone or some thing as a ‘good catch’? A person you had an emotional or romantic interest in? A job you wanted? A house you wanted to buy?
Can you imagine how Christ sees you as ‘a good catch’?
If the Church is the agent of Christ, do we do a good job in drawing in his ‘good catch’?
Are we trusting enough to do what he asks us to do as his disciples?
And are we trusting enough to know that he sees you, you and me, as a ‘good catch’?
But that there are more and more ‘good catches’ that he wants us to draw into the boat, into the Church?
And the way to do this is to listen to what he says and what he asks us to do. ‘When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him’ (Luke 5: 11).
What he has been asking us to do in the readings in recent weeks – what he asked us to in his reading from the Prophet Isaiah, which we heard as our Gospel reading here two weeks ago [27 January 2019] are:
● to bring good news to the poor
● to proclaim release to the captives
● to proclaim recovery of sight to the blind
● to let the oppressed go free
● to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit
The Ichthus symbol remains discreetly unnoticed in the pebble mosaic of the former church courtyard in Kaş (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
Luke 5: 1-11 (NRSVA):
1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ 5 Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
Liturgical Colour: Green
you know us to be set
in the midst of so many and great dangers,
that by reason of the frailty of our nature
we cannot always stand upright:
Grant to us such strength and protection
as may support us in all dangers
and carry us through all temptations;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Post-Communion Prayer:
God of tender care,
in this Eucharist we celebrate your love for us and for all people.
May we show your love in our lives
and know its fulfilment in your presence.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.
321, Holy, holy, holy! Lord God almighty (CD 19)
358, King of glory, King of peace (CD 21)
395, When Jesus taught by Galilee (CD 48)
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org