Fisher of Men



“It was indeed an exciting adventure. The crews shouted to each other, they congratulated one another, they calculated the value of their capture; in all their experience such a haul had never been made before. In the excitement of the moment they never thought of Him, their Benefactor, who sat back in the stern looking at them, loving them, glad that they were glad, suffering Himself to be ignored; in moments of excitement and prosperity Jesus of Nazareth is easily ignored. He sat back and looked at them; He would let them have their pleasure to the full; the day would come when they would better understand the significance of what had just happened; Jesus preaching from the bark of Peter, Jesus present in the boat while the crew of Peter labored, Jesus giving orders and Peter blindly obeying, Jesus in a moment rewarding the fruitless toil of a weary, dark night. It was the first of those prophetic miracles performed for the training of His own.


“But soon, while the noise and rejoicing continued, on one man in the ship the truth began to dawn. Simon all the time had been at the helm, in the stern behind the Master. He had steered the ship from the shore; he had directed the casting of the nets; as fold after fold was gathered in, and the fish came leaping in a ceaseless stream into the vessel, it grew upon him that this was no mere fortunate coincidence. He knew every inch of that water; he knew besides that at this time of the day the fish were usually shy; in any case never had so great a shoal been found so near the shore. It was the Master who had done this thing, the Master seated there below him; silently, spontaneously, unobtrusively, generously He had done it. It was possible that the men to whom this draught of fish had been given might never recognize the hand from which it came, might never think of thanking Him, and yet He would not mind. It might be the same as it had been at the marriage feast of Cana, as it had been with the cripple at Jerusalem; He might just be content to do good, and slip away, and be ignored.


“This was not to be endured. Jesus must be thanked; and the responsibility for that, Simon quickly saw, rested with himself. It was his ship that Jesus had chosen; to him He had given the order, under his direction the men had worked; this was but a further proof of His special favor, after the calling of a few weeks before. Simon looked back and saw what was happening. He recalled the first meeting by the Jordan in Judea, when Jesus had greeted him and said that one day he would be called the Rock; he remembered the favor that had been done in the house of his relatives at Capharnaum; he put it all together, from the first day to this, and saw beyond a doubt that it portended something momentous in the future.


“But how could he dare to face it? Think who this Jesus was, and who was he himself. The more he had seen of Him, the more he had been filled with awe and reverence. He had watched Him from the first, keenly he had studied His every gesture; long since he had discovered, what others had not discovered, the deep beyond deep of transparent truth, and understanding, and insight, and love of men, and love of God, and at the same time the strength, the independence, the utter selflessness, the single-minded motive, that lay hidden beneath the rough, outward garb of this Man from Nazareth. He had listened to His words, and none more than he had discerned their plain sincerity and self-confident conviction, their authority and force, the vision they raised of ideals never before imagined, the yearning they instilled to high aspirations and endeavor; to listen to this Man was light and life, and longing desire, and joy in the glory of sacrifice. He had watched all this, he had listened to it all, he had drunk it all in; he had seen it all confirmed by deeds beyond explanation. He who could turn one thing into another, He who could make devils shriek in fear as He passed them by, He who with the simple touch of His hand could cure every manner of disease, what was there He would not do? What was there He might not be? What might not be contained beneath that word of John the Baptist: ‘Behold the Lamb of God?’


“And on the other side was himself. Simon knew himself, only too well; spontaneous, generous, eager, devoted, with a strong man’s power to command and win allegiance; indeed, he knew this well enough. But there were the other things; his impetuosity and lack of thought, his foolish extravagance in word and deed, making him say that which a moment’s reflection would never have permitted, making him do things of which he was everlastingly ashamed, always sanguine, always making others sanguine, but always failing everybody, always in the end disappointing everybody, and himself most of all. He could be so brave, yet at unexpected moments what a coward he could be! How could he ever trust himself? How could he allow anyone else to trust him? Above all this splendid, glorious, confiding, loving and lovable Jesus of Nazareth!


“No, it was not to be permitted. Simon’s great heart was full to bursting and he must speak. The nets had at last been drawn in, the two little boats would hold no more; the fishermen were standing over their haul, their noisy congratulation turning to astonished silence; on them too the truth was beginning to dawn. Suddenly, with his usual spontaneity, Simon rose from his place beside the helm. Jesus was close by; Simon turned to Him. His eyes glistened bright, he wanted to be grateful, he longed to make Him some return, but he was afraid. All this was in his voice, and his words and his actions, as he fell down before the feet of Jesus, and placed his joined hands upon His knees, and looked up like a child into His face, and cried with a child’s cry of mingled joy and sorrow, great hope and shivering fear: ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’


“The scene drew the eyes of all upon the two. Simon’s words brought home to them what had been done; at last they realized the miracle, and the honor bestowed on Simon first of all, and then on themselves as his fellow-laborers. James and John, standing in the other ship alongside, understood more than the rest. Their thoughts, too, went back down the line of events to the first meeting by the Jordan, and in this preference of Simon they saw the beginning of fulfillment of that first prophecy of Jesus. They looked at Simon kneeling at His feet, oblivious to all else, expressing in his eyes his utter soul; when the months passed on, and Simon became Peter, when the years followed, and Peter still was at the helm, they never forgot that first attitude of homage and humility.


“Neither did Jesus forget it. He looked down on Simon and was satisfied. As with a certain Maid at Nazareth, great things had been done to him, and it had only made him realize the more his own unfitness. He had discovered himself and owned it; the rest was assured. True, he would yet make blunders, he would have many falls; with all his generosity, and desire to do great things, Simon would still be Simon. But Jesus would endure all that; He would wait for him in patience till he learnt; patient waiting was a marked feature in Him; He knew that in the end Simon would not fail Him. He looked gently on Simon; He put His hands on the hands clinging to His knees; the words came sweet as honey from His mouth: ‘Fear not; from henceforth you shall catch men,’ and the courage that passed into Simon with the words made him long to follow to the end of the world. (Archbishop Goodier, The Public Life of Our Lord Jesus Christ, vol. 1)



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