DiscussionsOn The Fishing Accounts
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A. J. Fecko

There are three Gospel accounts involving the act of fishing. In antiquity, both among Jews and Gentiles, fishing was seen as in some ways different than animal slaughter. And no doubt, generally speaking, the actions involving the killing of mammals and birds cause more misery than fishing. The fishing accounts are often used as an endorsement for all kinds of animal exploitation. In what follows, I give a rough translation of the fishing accounts; followed by my thoughts on each.

"After that Jesus showed himself again at the sea of Tiberias. And on this wise showed he himself. There were together Simon Peter and Thomas, which is called Twin: and Nathanael of Cana a city of Galilee, and those of Zebedee, and two other of the disciples, Simon Peter said unto them: I go a fishing. They said unto him: we also will go with thee. They went their way and entered into a ship straightway, and that night caught they nothing. When the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore, Nevertheless the disciples knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus said unto them: Little boys, have you no food? They answered him no. And he said unto them: Throw out your net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find. Therefore they threw and not as yet were they able to have dragged it off from the multitude of fishes. Then said the disciple whom Jesus loved unto Peter: It is the Lord. When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he gird his mantle to him (for he was naked) and sprang into the sea. The other disciples came by ship: For they were not far from land, but as it were two hundred cubits, And they dragged the net with fishes. As soon as they were come to land, they saw hot coals laid and preserves laid there on, and bread. Jesus said unto them: bring of the preserves which ye have now caught. Simon Peter stepped forth and dragged the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty three. And for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken. Jesus said unto them: come and dine. And none of the disciples dare ask him: who are you? For they knew that it was the Lord. Jesus then came and took bread, and gave them, and the preserves likewise. And this is now the third time that Jesus appeared to his disciples, after that he was risen again from death. When they had dined, Jesus said to Simon Peter: Simon of John, do you love me more than these? He said unto him: yes Lord, you know that I love you. He said unto him: Graze My lambkins. He said to him again the second time: Simon of John, do you love me? He said unto him: Yes Lord you know that I love you. He said unto him: Shepherd My sheep. He said unto him the third time: Simon of John, do you love me? Peter sorrowed because he said to him the third time, do you love me, and said unto him: Lord, you know all things, you know that I love you. Jesus said unto him: Graze My little sheep."
~ John 21:1-19.

In this case the account seems to indicate that the fish materialized. There's already preserved fish [opsarion] cooking on land when the apostles come to shore, and the Lord refers to their catch as "Opsarion" [pickled or salted fish]. Also, the question "do you love me more than these?" likely asks if Peter cares more for Christ or his old profession.

"24. And they having come into Capernaum, those receiving the didrachmas came to Peter and said, Does your teacher not pay the didrachmas? 

25. He said, Yes. And when he entered into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth receive customs or tribute? From their sons or from strangers? 

26. Peter said to Him, From strangers. Jesus said to him, Then truly the sons are free. 

27. But that we may not snare them, having gone to the sea, casting a hook and the fish that has come up first you take up and having opened its mouth, you will find a stater. Taking that, give to them instead of you and Me. 
~ Matt. 17:24-27.

This account of the Temple tax raises many questions. Is this another case of a fish materializing? Origen commenting on this passage writes of a net, instead of a hook. Are there variants of this passage now lost?  Why does Peter need to get the stater from a fish, when there is no indication from the account that there was a lack of money, only a lack of obligation? Also, why do only the Lord and Peter need a coin and not the other disciples? Is this really a miracle the Lord is purposing, or is He speaking a parable? In other Gospel accounts of our Lord giving instructions for a miracle, the miracle is included in the account, but not in this account. From early times some thought our Lord was possibly speaking allegorically to Peter. One possibility may be that the fish signifies a convert since they are "fishers of men" Matt. 4:19. Since Matthew joined the disciples after they crossed the sea, perhaps Matthew is the convert. Maybe Matthew, as a former publican, might have some way to handle any requirements with the Temple tax. It's speculative, but so are all commentaries on this passage.

"It came to pass as the people pressed upon him, to hear the word of God, that he stood by the lake of Genazareth: and saw two ships stand by the lakeside, for the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets. Jesus entered into one of the ships, which was Simon's, He asks him to be backing up slightly from the land. And he sat down and taught the people out of the ship. When he had left speaking, he said unto Simon: Carry us into the deep, and let slip thy net to make a haul. And Simon answered, and said to him: Master we have labored all night, and have taken nothing. Yet now at your word I will loose forth the net. And when they had so done, they enclosed a great multitude of fishes. Yet their nets tore through: and they made signs to their fellows which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and they filled both the ships, so that they were submerged. When Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus' knees saying: Lord go from me, for I am a sinful man. He was utterly astonished, and all that were with him at the haul of fish that they had grasped: and so was also James and John, the sons of Zebedee; which were mates with Simon. Jesus said unto Simon: "Fear not! From now on men you shall be catching alive!" And they brought the ships to land, and forsook all, and followed him."
~ Luke 5:1-11.

It seems to me that this likely is a lost catch and a description of the destruction of their fishing equipment. The fishing accounts are not just idyllic descriptions of life on the sea, but have deep lessons for our spiritual growth.

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