The “Fishy” Christ

Published on May 1st, 2019

The accounts surrounding the Christ are quite fishy.  They are “fishy” not in that their validity is to be questioned, but in that the topic of fish arises repeatedly.  Granted, the life of Christ occurred in a fishy region, but there appears to be more to it.  The theme of fish is part of the Christian story.

When Jesus chose His twelve Apostles at least one third of them were full time fishermen.  It is evident from this Sunday’s Gospel that others were at least capable of “professional” fishing as they joined Peter, James and John in this endeavor.  Twice—once at the beginning of His ministry and once after His resurrection—Jesus commanded His boat-floating Apostles to “let down the net” and both times they caught miraculous draughts of fish.  In the initial account Jesus spiritualized the event by declaring, “From now on you will be catching men.” (Luke 5:10b).

Not only do we find fishing magnified, but meals that involve fish are magnified as well.  When Jesus miraculously fed the 5,000 men (plus women and children), the evangelists record this marvelous miracle by employing wording that appears to connect this miracle to the institution of the Lord’s Supper (“blessed” “gave thanks” “broke bread”). Some in the early church perceived this connection, and thus as Oscar Cullman explains, “Early Christian art frequently represents the Lord’s Supper under the form of a meal of fish.”[1]  Consider this Sunday’s Gospel account where Jesus both directs a miraculous catch of fish and shares a meal of fish on the shore of the sea of Tiberias.  In the meal one observes a “communion” with the risen Christ as He eats fish (and bread) with these men.

One must be cautious about spiritualizing these and other such accounts. Yet there appears to be some justification in doing so as Jesus himself spiritualized the catching of fish and the early church saw these real life fishy-meals as being “living parables” teaching greater realities…especially, it seems, concerning the Holy Supper.

Perhaps these many fish accounts are partly why the Greek word for fish became an acronym for the basics of the Christian faith.  The Greek word for fish (IXTHUS) is an acronym for the initial letters of the Greek words for “Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Savior”. This “fish-confession” is basically what the Apostle Peter confessed:  “You are the Christ, the Son of God.” (Mt. 16:16).  Upon this rock Jesus would build His church. Immediately following Peter’s rock-solid confession Jesus explains the “Savior” part of IXTHUS that Peter did not confess:  “From that time Jesus Christ began to show His disciples that He must…suffer many things…and be killed, and be raised on the third day.” (Mt. 16:21).  Indeed Jesus Christ is God’s Son, SAVIOR—the one who saves by dying and rising from the dead.

This work of salvation, founded on the Christ the Son of God, becomes the basis and the net for those laboring as fishers of men. Additionally, this crucified and risen Savior becomes our bread of life, uniquely the food consumed in the Holy Supper, a Supper that wonderfully summarizes and distributes the salvation earned by the “fishy” Christ.

[1] Oscar Cullmann and F. J. Leenhardt, Essays on the Lord’s Supper, (London:  Lutterworth Press, 1958), First Essay:  “The Breaking of Bread  and the Resurrection Appearances,”  10.