I saw all the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world, and I said groaning, ‘What can get through from such snares?’ Then I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Humility’. ~ St. Anthony Abbot
Anyone who enters into the Sansevero Chapel in Naples and sees the statue of the Veiled Christ is amazed by the light delicacy of the veil that covers the body of Christ, carved masterfully upon the marble surface. It inspires a sense of peace and tranquility, despite the tragic nature of the scene. But raising one’s gaze to the other sculptures that adorn the Chapel, we find the figure of a man tangled in a net, trying to free himself from the cords that imprison him. This piece is known as Release from Deception.
The veil and the net, the divine and the human, the victory over death and the struggle for life… The veil and the net are like two metaphors for life, two ways to be covered by this life: that of he who does not allow himself to be crushed under its weight and, on the other hand, that of he who struggles to free himself from it.
The net is a powerful symbol that has many meanings: the net allows the fisherman to capture the fish or the soccer player to score a goal, but the net is also where we can become entangled or the place where we can get in contact with others. A net is always ambiguous: the internet allows us to broaden our awareness, but sometimes it also leads us to waste time.
Even the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, according to this passage from the Gospel, has something to do with nets and therefore with the ambiguity of life.
The timing of the scene is punctuated by the action of the nets. Jesus reaches the sea and calls the first disciples precisely as they are casting their nets, and therefore in the evening, then later he calls again as other disciples are mending their nets, meaning in the morning, at the end of their work. Thus the passage presents us an image of Jesus who spends all night on the shore, never ceasing to call for disciples!
The sea and the night are two elements that bring about feelings of fear. The sea, for an Israelite, is a place of death, a place where you are always at risk of losing your life. The night is the time of darkness, when you are vulnerable to being assaulted, when we cannot see well. The sea and the night are thus the place and the time when Jesus calls us. When we are afraid and cannot see well, the word of Jesus comes to calm the heart and illuminate the mind.
The disciples’ gestures are described with two significant verbs: the first disciples cast the nets, meaning that they are fishing in a way that can still be seen today without distancing themselves far from the shore. This is the way of life of he who never leaves the shallows, without ever taking a risk.
The second pair of disciples mend their nets, meaning that they sew the broken parts back together, like those who can’t seem to let go of something that no longer works, even though every time they try to catch a fish, it has a good chance of breaking free from the worn out net.
These are two modes of living that Jesus tries to reach out to, two attitudes that Jesus wants to free us from: superficiality and obsession. Jesus calls us in order to free us from those nets that trap us in the shallows of life and from those that we can’t leave behind even though they don’t work anymore. The encounter with Jesus is always a liberating encounter. Jesus saves us from the entanglements that prevent us from living life to the fullest.
It’s not so much about abandoning the nets entirely, but about learning to use them in a new way. Jesus doesn’t disparage the profession of these men. He does not ask them to change. They are fishermen and fishermen they will remain. God does not want to destroy what we are; He is not saying that we are not okay: “You will be fishers of men” means that you will continue to be what you are, but in a new way, for a new purpose, to the service of a higher ideal. Jesus does not destroy, but enhances what we are.
Once again, we find a dark word in the Gospel, a word that was not clear for the disciples either but that had spurred them on their way because it intrigued and fascinated. It is always this way with God. It is never clear in the beginning, but His word attracts us and ignites our hearts. He who does not have the courage to take a risk will never be able to leave his dear old nets behind, but will stay in the shallows of life, trying again and again to fix something that doesn’t work.
After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God: “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
As he passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Then they abandoned their nets and followed him. He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.
They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.
The Gospel of the Lord
Featured image: Fredrik Ohlander / unsplash
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