It is said that a picture can paint a thousand words, and the fresco in the Italian Spoleto Cathedral above does just that.
As we travel along on the Path to Pentecost, reflecting on the power and might God the Father displayed in the resurrection of Jesus, we have yet another reporting of the risen Christ.
He appeared to his disciples by the Sea of Galilee and performs an astonishing miracle, which doubled up as a vision of the establishment of the early Church. John 21:1-9
In this miracle, Jesus appears to his disciples who have been up all night attempting to fish on the Sea of Galilee, but none have been caught.
Then at the break of dawn, they saw a lone figure on the shoreline who tells them a better way to catch fish. ‘Throw the net off the right side of the boat’, the stranger shouts out.
As soon as they did what he told them to do, they caught so many fish that it was difficult to pull the nets in.
Then Peter realised it was the risen Christ who had told (a carpenter telling seasoned fishermen) the best way to catch an abundance of fish.
Peter immediately jumped into the water to pay his Lord and God homage. We do not know what was going through Peter’s mind at this moment but he was obviously profoundly moved.
Possibly by something that he sensed but did not yet fully understand?
The Picture That Paints a Thousand Words
Theologians have interpreted the miracle catch of fishes as increasing the disciples’ faith and helping to prepare them for their leading role as apostles (particularly Peter) in the Church.
The picture being painted is of the sea, being the world. Of the fish being humankind. The boat in which they were travelling was the Church which the disciples were to establish.
The point is that by their own efforts, the disciples did not achieve anything worthwhile, but when they followed Jesus’ advice, they caught a multitude of fish.
So too, the Church was to be built on the sound foundation of Christ’s teachings, and the prophesies he fulfilled from the Old Testament of being the long-awaited Messiah.
The disciples were to fish in the sea of the world for the souls of humankind. This is what Jesus meant when he told his disciples, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people’. Matthew 4:19.
They would fish from a boat called the Church and bring thousands aboard, starting a movement that today includes over two billion souls, approximately 30% of the world’s population.
Although Jesus is the cornerstone of the Church, Peter was to be the rock upon which the Church was built. He would be the Captain and steer the boat, and the other disciples would be his first in line of command, working together as they did as fishermen to fish for men.
They would build the Church by preaching all that Jesus had taught them and offer Holy Baptism for those who accepted Jesus as their Saviour.
The oil painting above depicts Peter’s complete submission to the ways and teachings of the risen Christ. The disciples are shown busily saving souls for the Church as they pull the fish onto the boat.
Today We Continue to Live in Faith – and Can Only Imagine the Outcome
It’s interesting to note that in many older churches in the UK, the ceiling of the Nave area (which is where the congregation sit) is shaped like an upside-down boat with wooden rafters crafted to the shape of the inside of a fishing boat.
This serves to remind Christians that we are all in the boat (Church) together and to carry on bringing more fish aboard (saving souls) by telling of our journeys of faith and experiences.
We do this by sharing what other Christians have taught us about the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection, which offers a better life today and, ultimately, eternal life. Reaching out with our words and actions we can only imagine what eternal life will be like because it is beyond human comprehension today.
But we can live in hope of something that makes all the struggles we experience in our lives worthwhile when like the first disciples, we stay true to Christ’s teachings and share what we know with others.