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Jesus in the boat

Jesus made it a point to lead his followers into the depths in order to make a catch and be able to bring home some “fish” for food

I wonder if you have ever seen a pulpit inside an old church that is shaped like a boat? I have seen one in Austria in a church called Traukirchen. That pulpit comes to my mind whenever we read today’s Gospel about the call of the first disciples in Luke Chapter 5.

Luke tells us Jesus “sat down and taught people from the boat.” Meaning, he used a boat literally as a PODIUM for preaching, exactly as priests used pulpits in the pre-modern times when churches had no electronic sound systems yet. You see, pulpits were built in old churches precisely to function like amplifiers that would project the preacher’s voice well.

This must be the reason why the boat has become one of the important images of the Church. Like the boat on the shore, the Church as it were serves as the podium from which Jesus impacts society and the world with his teachings.

The boat on the shore is an image of Jesus in what I call an “alternative synagogue.” I think Jesus was well aware that many people didn’t go to the synagogue, even if they knew the law of Moses about not working on the Sabbath day. It is no different at all from the situation of many Catholics nowadays who don’t really care about going to church on Sundays. Isn’t it interesting that the earliest disciples whom Jesus chose to be his apostles were not even the “church-going” type?

Unlike the other Rabbis who just waited for people to come to the synagogue to listen to God’s Word, Jesus sought them right where they were — on the busy shore where people usually did a lot of trading, buying and selling, commuting, gossipping, etc. He engaged them in conversations that were life-changing. He knew how to find ways and means of getting his message across to them in the most ordinary circumstances, of making his good news of the kingdom heard loudly and clearly.

I think I’ve mentioned to you in one of earlier homilies that Jesus also used the boat as a GET-AWAY vehicle in order to escape from the “crowd.” You see, even when Jesus drew near to people, he also made it a point to maintain some distance from them. He did this especially when the crowds had the tendency to become unruly or even hostile. Remember that scene at Nazareth in Lk 4:29 when people turned into a lynch mob and wanted to push him down the cliff because they felt offended by what he had said?

In last week’s Gospel narrative about Jairus, remember how he got delayed because, as we are told in Mk 5:24, people were “pressing in” to touch Jesus, like that bleeding woman did? In Mk 3:9, we hear that Jesus asked his disciples to prepare a boat for him “so that they would not crush him.”

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Jesus did not always stay on the shore to enjoy the attention of the crowds. Sometimes he deliberately ran away from them in order to go into the depths of solitude, to pray and enter into communion with his Father. I hope you understand therefore why we priests also need to turn off our cell phones sometimes or take a day off from parish work. (It is not for compensating but for consecrating the fruits of our labor.)

Finally, Luke tells us Jesus invited Simon and companions to cast into the deep, in order to catch some fish. I have a feeling that Jesus sensed some regret in Simon and his companions that they had decided to come home too soon. They say fishermen often just play it by ear whether or not to risk going out into the deep. When they want to play safe, they just stay on shallow waters, especially when they sense that a storm might be building up. It’s what prevents them from going out in the deep. Maybe that is why “casting into the deep” has become a metaphor for risking out, for stepping out of one’s comfort zone.

Maybe this is also the challenge of Jesus to Simon and those whom he calls to take part in his mission. The challenge not to stay on shallow waters, to dare to cast into the deep, meaning, to aim for a more profound sense of being, a more serious sense of meaning and purpose. Even in human reflection, don’t we sometimes refer to the need for some “deepening” of one’s awareness about human experience? It is what you are doing right at this moment; you have responded to Jesus’ invitation to go with him in deep waters.

Sometimes, when people are still reeling from the trauma of the consequences of risk-taking, even the most seasoned fishermen would tend to develop a kind of unfounded anxiety or insecurity that would prevent them from going out into the deep again. It goes the same way with our search for wisdom and holiness, our quest for meaning and purpose in life. When we are overtaken by fears of dangers, we tend to get used to the shallow waters of a mediocre existence.

Jesus did not stay in “shallow waters” with those whom he consciously chose to be his coworkers in the mission. He made it a point to lead them into the depths in order to make a catch and be able to bring home some “fish” for food.

In early Christianity, the word itself for fish, ICHTHUS in Greek, became an acronym for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior” — Iesous Christos, Theou Huios, Soter. After Simon goes out into the deep with Jesus and his boat gets filled with fish, he abandons his boat and nets to be with the real Ichthus — Jesus, in whom he has found the Christ, the Son of God, the Savior. He reminds me of that line in the theme song of the old movie Love Story:

“With his first hello
He gave new meaning to this empty world of mine
There’d never be another love, another time
He came into my life and made the living fine
He fills my heart.”

Homily of Bishop Pablo Virgilio David for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time, 06 February 2022, Luke 5:1-11

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