I don't have time to post much this week, but as I am working on my homily, I thought you might like to see my "exegetical notes." One of the ways I prepare a homily is to spend some time doing "exegesis"--i.e., drawing meaning out of the text. What follows may -- or may not -- find its way into my homily for Sunday.
Why did Simon say, "Go away"? What was he afraid of?
He has the startling revelation of who Jesus truly is. Like Isaiah in the first reading, to realize one is in the presence of Almighty God is a terrifying moment; and in the brilliance of God’s own light, the sins we may not have thought much of, stand out as terrible stains.
Simon’s "go away" suggests he does not see himself changing or becoming other than he is, "a sinful man." But the Lord does not "go away"!
What did the great catch of fish mean—why was that frightening?
Simon and his fishermen partners fished all night, the proper time, and failed; Jesus—not a fisherman—fished in the day, the wrong time, and succeeded marvelously and effortlessly.
In the Old Testament, command of the seas and all it contains is seen as something only God has.
Simon first calls Jesus "Master"; after the catch of fish, he addresses Jesus as "Lord," the first person to do that in Luke’s Gospel. (Elizabeth calls him Lord in her dialogue with Mary before their children were born.)
This is where Simon’s name is changed. He will routinely be called "Peter" after this (in Luke, at any rate), until the issue of his denial arises.
While not certain, this may not have been the first time Simon and the Lord met.
The Gospel of John describes the Lord's encounter with Andrew and John, who are followers of the Baptist, when the Baptist says, "Behold the Lamb of God" -- and they leave the Baptist and follow Jesus. Then Andrew brings Simon to the Lord, who says, you will be called Cephas (Aramaic for Rock, akin to Petros, our Peter). If John's Gospel is describing a different incident, then the episode of the great catch could be a subsequent encounter when Simon "gets it" and actually does follow the Lord.
Sometimes Simon Peter and the other disciples are described as "poor." That may be overstating it.
Note it says the boat belonged to Simon, and that he and Andrew were partners with James and John. Matthew tells us they worked with Zebedee, James’ and John’s father; and Mark tells us they had "hired men."
So, we’re talking about a small business. They caught fish, and they sold fish. They might have been poor; they might also have done better than that—something like what we’d later call "middle class."
Sometimes the Apostles will be described as "illiterate." Again, I would question how certainly people say that.
Here’s what we know: the cultures of their time were not pre-literate: both their secular and religious lives involved reading and writing: commerce and government involved keeping accounts and records, same as today; the Gospels mention this, as well as mentioning our Lord standing up to read in the synagogue.
When he does, while it may be that not everyone could read, the passage doesn’t suggest his ability to read made him extraordinary; in fact, it makes the opposite point—the people considered him so much like themselves they were offended by him asserting a greater authority.
(In fact, "books" -- very much as we know them -- existed at this time: words written on paper, bound at the side. Paper was relatively cheap, and therefore, could be much more widely used than scrolls made of animal skins. The New Testament documents were all written on paper, if memory serves, and only later copied onto scrolls, which last longer. Of course, the limitation for books then, until the 1500s, was they had to be hand-copied; but at least they became a lot cheaper. It stands to reason a society that is interested in producing books, is one in which a good number of folks read, as opposed to a mere few.)
Following that thought…as businessmen, selling their wares in the marketplace—either directly to consumers, or perhaps to others who would sell the fish—then they might well interact with a variety of people, both Jews and Gentiles, and very likely, both speakers of Aramaic, and Greek-speakers.
They may well have been bilingual, speaking at least some Greek, in addition to Aramaic. They may even have had a few words of Latin.
After all, look at our world: ordinary people frequently are bilingual or a little trilingual today. Spanish-speaking working people in this country are often bilingual; go overseas, and if you go where lots of tourists go, you’ll find people who speak a fair amount of English, in addition to their native tongue. They often speak it fairly well.
When I was in Korea for a month, as a seminarian, the Korean seminarians I was with spoke a fair amount of English, and they knew a little Chinese. After all, China is their neighbor, with over a billion people!
So, these men, the Apostles, and their lives and world, are more like our own than we may realize.
"Put out into the deep" the Lord says. This is a key phrase.
Why was it necessary for the Lord to say that? It suggests they wouldn’t have tried it, otherwise; or perhaps they’d tried and failed. In any case, you’d think the fishermen would know their business!
Simon let down his net—even though (a) he wasn’t very convinced, and (b), he’d already cleaned his nets—he’d have to do it again. This is an admirable act of submission or obedience.
That Our Lord focused his comments to Simon suggests one or both of two things: he saw Simon as the leader; and it may just be possible that he already was something of a leader in this group.
Our late, beloved holy father, John Paul the Great, used this phrase and image in his letter, Novo Millennio Ineunte -- at the Beginning of the New Millenium, found here.