Fishers of Men

At that time, as Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left their boat and their father, and followed him. And he went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and preaching the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every infirmity among the people.

Matthew 4.18-23, today’s reading in the Greek Orthodox lectionary.

Once I got home today, I happened to see a nice travel show about the Cinque Terra region of Italy, five little towns hugging the coast in the northwest of the country, their multistoried pastel buildings seeming to tumble eagerly down the slopes to the sea. One interesting thing that they showed, which took on new importance to me having heard today’s Gospel reading, was the anchovy fishing of Vernazza, one of the five towns.

First, you should know that the inhabitants of these towns number in the hundreds, not thousands, and their families date back centuries, and some families or groups have developed specialties through the centuries. So, I don’t know if it’s one family that does the anchovy fishing or several, but it’s an organized cooperative effort of a small group of men in Vernazza.

Anchovy fishing is done at night, when everyone else is asleep. There are several small boats used, each with a light at the bow. The small boats, with their lights, row hither and thither, seemingly aimlessly, attracting schools of anchovies with their lights. Then, slowly but surely, the small boats head together toward one spot, leading all the schools of anchovies together, and attracting even more when their several bow lights brought together into one spot become one bright light. While the small boats are attracting the anchovies, a larger boat has spread a net, and once all the small boats have gathered all the anchovies into one area, the large boat starts to close the net, and then everyone scoops up anchovies with other nets into the boats.

Amazing, isn’t it? And there’s precisely a lesson in there related to the Gospel for today, wherein Jesus told Peter and Andrew, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” See, we do manage to collect a few souls as individuals by our light. But the real success comes when our lights are combined, working together as we should, is a shining beacon which draws those looking for light to it while the rest of the world is asleep, enjoying the darkness.

So, just remember that the next time you think, “Anchovies? Ech!”

And get fishing!


  1. Indeed. It would be very interesting to know what fishing was like on the Sea of Galilee way back then. Understanding what it is to be a fisherman now, even there, is no doubt quite a bit different than it was to Peter and Andrew and the Zebedee family.

    That “Jesus boat” that they dug up a few years ago is good information, and hooks, net weights, quays and breakwaters have been found related to the Galilee’s first century fishing industry, but that’s just material. Perhaps some ethnographic studies of Galilee fishing in the nineteenth century would be helpful, for the times before modern boats with engines and such things came to be used. Some time I’ll look around for that.

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