“The Miraculous Draught of Fishes”
Born in France, James Tissot (1836−1902) enjoyed great success as a society painter in Paris and London in the 1870s and 1880s.
While visiting the Church of Saint Sulpice, he experienced a religious vision, after which he abandoned his former subjects and embarked on an ambitious project to illustrate the New Testament.
In preparation for the work, he made expeditions to the Middle East to record the landscape, architecture, and customs of the Holy Land and its people, which he recorded in photographs, notes, and sketches.
Unlike earlier artists, who had often depicted biblical figures anachronistically, Tissot painted his many figures in costumes he believed to be historically authentic, carrying out his series with considerable archaeological exactitude.
Luke 5: 1-11
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 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”.
The famous sheet of water in Galilee is called by three names – the Sea of Galilee, the Sea of Tiberias and the Lake of Gennesaret. It is thirteen miles long by eight miles wide. The Lake is 680 feet below sea level in the earth’s surface, and a popular place for fishing. Nowadays, it is not very populous but in the days of Jesus it had nine townships clustered round its shores, none of them fewer than 15,000 people.
Here, we are confronted with a turning point in the career of Jesus. Last time we heard him preach in the Synagogue, now He is at the lakeside. True, Jesus will be back in the Synagogue again, but the time is coming when the door of the Synagogue will be shut to him, then He will gather his audience by the lakeside and in the open roads. Jesus would go anywhere were men would listen to him. Here his pulpit is a boat.
Teaching the Word of God
One of the primary functions of Jesus during His ministry was preaching and teaching the Word of God. This focus on explaining Scripture allowed him to reveal what living in the light of the Kingdom of God looked like. Such instruction was essential for the Disciples of Jesus since they were going to carry on his Mission, as it is later described in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles.
The Multitude pressed on Him and heard the Word of God
Due to his teaching and miracles, Jesus has gathered quite a large number of followers. However, at the beginning of the second year of his Ministry, as we see in this section of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus began to focus on teaching his followers.
Jesus’ preaching is called here ‘the Word of God’ for the first time. He will describe the Word as a life-giving source for those who receive it in faith. The Ministry of this Word will continue in the Church.
The end of Chapter Four indicated that Jesus intended to teach the Scriptures all over the Region of Galilee. On one such day, the multitudes had gathered to hear Jesus teach the Word of God. This indicates how Jesus not only taught the Scriptures in the Synagogue on the Sabbath, but whenever and wherever the opportunity presented itself.
He saw two boats by the lake
In Mark’s version of the call of the First Disciples, the scene is shared by two sets of brothers. Here, however, the spotlight is on Simon, with his partners in the background.
The fishermen are doing their morning cleaning of the nets. They must be tired and discouraged after a long, fruitless night. They are ready to call it a day. It is time to go home, eat and get some sleep.
He entered into one of the boats, which was Simon’s
But while they are hanging out the nets to dry, Jesus uses Simon’s boat to distance himself from the crowd a little in order to preach.
In Verse 4, the crowd seems to have disappeared. The rest of the scene is an interaction and dialogue between Jesus and Simon. Simon is called to obedience based on faith. Certainly, it was not reason that provoked this fisherman to cast his nets back into the water at the instigation of this carpenter from the inland hills.
We worked all night and took nothing
Fishing was best at night; if nothing had been caught then, daytime fishing was useless. But Simon placed his trust in Jesus: “But at your command, I will lower the nets”.
This obedience in the face of doubt opens the door to the miracle. So with us! Only when we are obedient can we harness Christ’s power and experience his miracles. The result here is a marvellous catch of fish.
Now Simon is called Peter for the first time: “The Rock”, the name he will have as the Leader of the Church. The eyes of Peter are opened through his act of faith, and he falls before Jesus.
Peter is the first person in the public Ministry to call Jesus “Lord” (no longer only “Master” as in verse 5). Suddenly we realise that the story has been more than the initial calling of the fishermen Disciples, it is a profession of faith.
But at your word, I will let down the net
Jesus chooses Simon’s boat, sending him into deep water and calling for a decision based solely on personal faith. The faith of Simon’s response is what makes him The Rock on which the Church is built.
Simon Peter is aware of the distance between himself, a sinner, and the Lord. His natural reaction is to plead unworthiness. The divine holiness is too much for a human to bear. This was also the response of Moses, at the burning bush at his call: “Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God”. However, Jesus has not come to drive sinners from his presence. He rather associates sinful people with himself in his Ministry, if they put their trust in him. They must leave everything (a Lukan stress) and follow him.
The three stories following this one show Jesus “catching men”, involving himself with the outcasts and sinners. Happily, God calls each of us to some important task – often one that seems of no more consequence than letting down the nets one more time. The fishermen who obeyed Jesus that day could not imagine that two thousand years later, we would still be deriving spiritual nourishment from the story of their obedience -but we are.
It matters not whether Christ call us to serve on a faraway mission field or to a far humbler task –ushering, singing in the choir, setting up coffee, visiting a hospital, feeding a hungry person, or giving our last penny-. In Christ’s hands, the modest task becomes a vehicle of epiphany –revelation –discovery–greater faith.
Christ can turn our most humble act of obedience into a net-breaking, boat-sinking miracle of abundance. The outcome of this particular miracle is that the Disciples left everything and followed him!
“We thank You that for every opportunity You give us as a Church, individually and together, to make Christ known. Help us, if we are feeling weary, to carry on. Help us, if we are downcast because
we are not seeing much growth from our efforts,
to keep going and to keep being guided by the Word of God. Help us to leave the outcomes with You
and to depend on Your goodness. We would dearly would love to see many come to Christ,
but if for a time we have ‘caught nothing’, let us not lose heart,
but all the more plead for You to show us Your favour. As sinful men and women, we don’t deserve anything from You. We are not worthy of Your kindnesses. But Lord Jesus, You came into the world to save sinners,
so we turn again to You. May You be gracious to us and encourage us with fruit. We pray this for our good,
but ultimately for Your glory and praise.
· This is a very homely scene to picture: Jesus sitting in the boat and talking to the people. They must have been very taken by his words and message and felt at ease listening to him.
Do you have some of this ease when you are with the Lord in prayer?
· The second half of today’s Gospel tells us how Peter was overcome when seeing what Jesus had done and felt anything but at ease. Yet Jesus invites Peter to feel at ease with me – all is well, from now on he has a new task, he will be catching people.
Let Jesus put you at ease and listen to whatever He may have in store for you.
· ‘Do not be afraid’:
What do I fear at the moment? Speak to Jesus about these fears…
· ‘They left everything and followed him’:
What have I left in order to follow Jesus?
What do I find difficult at the moment to leave in order to follow him more closely?
· Peter recognised who Jesus was and realised that being close to Jesus would make demands on him. Jesus recognised who Peter was and saw that Peter had the capacity to respond to what He might ask of him. Jesus invited Peter to use his practiced skill in a new way, for the good of the Gospel.
I lay my skills and talents before Jesus, asking him to show me how I might use them for good.
 Mark 4:35: “On the evening of that same day Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let us go across to the other side of the lake’.  Luke 8:21: “My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and obey it”. Luke 11:28: “But Jesus answered ‘Rather, how happy are those who hear the word of God and obey it”.  Acts 4:31: “When they finished praying, the place where they were meeting was shaken. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to proclaim God’s message with boldness”.  Luke 6:2: “Some Pharisees asked, ‘Why are you doing what our Law says you cannot do on the Sabbath?’”  Mark 1:16-20: “As Jesus walked along the shore of Lake Galilee, he saw to fishermen, Simon and his brother Andrew, catching fish with a net. Jesus said to them, ‘Come with me, and I will teach you to catch men’. At once they left their nets and went with him. He went a little farther on and saw two other brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They went in their boat getting their nets ready. As soon as Jesus saw them, he called them: they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and went with Jesus”. Matthew 16:18: “And so I tell you, Peter: you are a rock, and on this rock foundation I will build my church, and not even death will ever be able to overcome it” Exodus 20:19: “They said to Moses: ‘If you speak to us, we will listen: but we are afraid that if God speaks to us, we will die’”. Luke 5:28: “And he got up, left everything, and followed him” Mark 4:41: “But they were terribly afraid and said to one another. ‘Who is this man? Even the wind and the waves obey him’”. Matt 8:23-27: “The disciples went to him and woke him up ‘Save us, Lord!’ They said, ‘We are about to die!’ - ‘Why are you so frightened?’ Jesus answered, ‘How little faith you have!’ Then he got up and ordered the winds and the waves to stop, and there was a great calm. Everyone was amazed. ‘What kind of man is this?’ they said. ‘Even the winds and the waves obey him!’