John, the evangelist narrates another manifestation of the Risen Lord to his disciples and this episode is full of symbolisms.
There are seven occupants in the boat. This number represents perfection, completeness. Peter and the other six represent all the disciples who make up the entire Christian community. The symbolism could go even further to seize the identity of those disciples, an image of the various types of Christians who, despite their limitations and their faults, have still the right to be part of the Church: those who have difficulty to believe (Thomas); those who are a bit of a “fanatic” (the two sons of Zebedee, who wanted to call down fire of heaven against the opponents; Luke 9:54); those who denied the Master (Peter); those tied to the traditions of the past, but honest and open to the signs of the times (Nathaniel); and also the anonymous Christians who are not known by anyone (the two unnamed disciples).
The sea, we have often noted, was, among the Israelites, the symbol of all the forces hostile to humanity. If being underwater means being at the mercy of evil, to fish, then, means to pull out of this condition of “non-life,” to free from evil forces that keep people in death situations. Think of all the slavery that keep us from living with joy, from smiling: the greed of money, grudges, unruly passions, drugs, pornography, anxiety, haste, remorse, fear….
Now it is clear what Jesus meant when he told his disciples: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people” (Mark 1:17). In fact, here they are at work. Peter is back to do his job, material fishing, but in the theological language of the evangelist, it indicates the apostolic mission of the Church committed to the liberation of people.
The darkness that accompanies the night has also a negative meaning. “Those who walk at night stumble” (John 11:10), “the one who follows me will not walk in darkness” (John 8:12)—Jesus said. Without light, the “fishing” of the disciples cannot get any results.
Not only light is lacking, but also Jesus, indeed—according to the symbolism of the Evangelist John—there is no light because there is no Jesus, “the light of the world” (John 8:12). Peter and others are committed to the utmost in the mission that has been entrusted to them, but do not get anything. They could have guessed the reason of their failure had they remembered the Master’s words: “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
They are alone, maybe they also feel abandoned in the midst of dangers and difficulties. They think they have to carry out their mission as “fishers of people” relying solely on their ability and their strength. They do not see Jesus; they do not perceive his presence because they look tarnished by lack of faith.
The Lord is not in the boat—it is true—he is ashore; he has already reached the mainland, that is, the final condition of the resurrected. It is this land that the disciples are invited to go.
• Father Fernando Armellini CMF
Father John Ledesma SDB
Abridged by Father Jijo Kandamkulathy CMF