Reflection 2/8: A Fishy Meditation
Dear Beloved Community of St. John’s,
There is nothing special about the fish in the Sea of Galilee. In fact, even we today can buy it at the fish counter of any grocery store.
That is because the fish the apostles caught was what we call tilapia. Interestingly this variety of fish is also called St. Peter’s fish. It doesn’t have much to brag about. It doesn’t have much taste, and at eight to twelve inches long, it’s not even a hearty meal. However, it was plentiful, and it has been a staple of the local diet for millennia.
It is still fished from little boats, probably almost like the ones in the bible, and just as in the bible, fishermen fish at night and return at daybreak to sell their catch right from their boats. One of the touristy things to do when you tour the Holy Land is to eat a fish meal in one of the numerous fish restaurants around Galilee. It is prepared simply—gutted and served with the head on. You are warned to be careful of the bones. Ironically, it’s often served with french fries. Ironic because potatoes were introduced to Israel only in the last few centuries. In its own way, it’s like eating Middle Eastern fish and chips. (Another fish caught in plentiful supply is what we call sardines. You can read more and see pictures at https://ferrelljenkins.blog/2014/12/01/fish-of-the-sea-of-galilee/)
Plain and common—and essential to ancient peoples who lived typically at the edge of starvation. It was a household disaster when fishermen arrived back at home having caught nothing the night before.
The gospel story on Sunday taps into this cadence of familiar reality. When Jesus tapped fishermen to be the core of his apostles, there was nothing exalted about it. Most fishermen felt pressured and under-employed, and eager to do almost anything else. A fisherman’s life was relentless, and repeated daily over a lifetime (except Sabbath) because it was the only way to get food and money—both in constant short supply. Jesus’ miracle of telling the fisherman who’d caught nothing the night before to row out and drop their nets again was in some ways a great display of meeting the fundamental needs of a Jewish peasant.
However, metaphorically, the way that I’d like to see these stories is that Jesus displayed that he was also the Savior of second chances. We can appreciate that still.