Why does Jesus tell the disciples to cast their net on the right-hand side of the boat? Well, the right-hand side is synonymous with God’s rule over all creation, and with both witnessing to and participating in that rule. So, Psalm 110—a psalm Jesus himself cites—proclaims, ‘The LORD says to my lord, “Sit at My right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”’ And in his old age the disciple John will see a vision of Jesus holding seven stars in his right hand, the seven angels sent to carry his words to the seven churches. So, when Jesus tells these experienced fishermen to cast their net on the right-hand side of the boat, he is instructing them to act not in their own power but with the authority of heaven. When they do, not fully knowing why, perhaps trusting on a memory (Luke records that there was a miraculous catch of fish the day Jesus first called Simon Peter to follow him; Matthew, Mark, and John do not) something miraculous happens. But the miracle does not bypass the time-consuming work of turning fish into fish relish, or of mixing flour and yeast and water and oil to make bread. John’s Gospel ends with Jesus symbolically giving the Church authority over the nations; but it is a call to simple, even domestic, activities transformed by resurrection, of life where there was no evidence of life. It is small acts, done with great love, that will overthrow the empire.
Why does Simon Peter cast himself into the sea? After all, it really isn’t where he is supposed to be. He is neither a fish nor a net. On one occasion, Jesus was teaching his disciples that stumbling in faith was inevitable, but that causing your sisters and brothers to stumble was a source of woe, of pain so great that it would be better to have a millstone tied around you and be thrown into the sea. Such a one must be rebuked, and, if they repent, forgiven, restored. Why does Simon Peter cast himself into the sea, having first put on his outer garment, guaranteed to make swimming harder and sinking easier? Well, it is possible that he was overcome with remorse, at having denied knowing Jesus three times. But on another occasion, Jesus had claimed that mustard seed faith could tell Mount Zion, on which the temple stood, to throw itself into the sea, and it would. That if the religious leaders would voluntarily throw the mountain of meeting God into the midst of the surrounding nations it would stand there as solid ground; but if they refused, it would in any case be overwhelmed by the rising waves of Rome. And thus, it would turn out. But perhaps Simon Peter, Petros, the Rock on which Jesus claimed he would build his Church, chooses, voluntarily, to do what the leaders of the people would not. Again, John’s Gospel ends with Jesus symbolically giving the Church authority over the nations; not through might but by a stubborn subversive growth none could effectively root out.
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