1 Samuel 1:1-8
Fish are a central feature in the Christian story. When Jesus feeds the multitude in the wilderness, fish are the entrée. When funds for paying the tax assessment are required, a snagged fish contains just the right coin. When Simon and his companions had worked all night with no results, Jesus instructed them to drop their nets into deep waters where they hauled in such a huge catch of fish that the boat nearly sank. When the morning of resurrection dawned, Jesus prepared and ate grilled fish for breakfast with his weary friends. And as the Gospel text of today explains, when the first disciples were recruited, foremost in their profession resume was their expertise at catching fish.
These aquatic creatures play an important symbolic role in understanding the development of spiritual consciousness. From the perspective of depth psychology, water is the element which represents consciousness and fish symbolize the content of the inner world. Living beneath the surface of water, fish are the contents of consciousness which are usually difficult to see and not easy to apprehend. Yet with patience and skill they can be netted, brought to the surface and eaten for nourishment.
In announcing "the kingdom of God is at hand," Jesus was not referring to a distant geographical location of heaven, but to a proximate reality. The kingdom where Spirit abides is an inner reality within each of us, like fish within water. Elsewhere Jesus explained that it is a great treasure lying buried within the field of our body-psyche. We access the hidden treasure of the kingdom by expanding our consciousness.
What usually dominates our consciousness is not the expansiveness of the kingdom, but the contracted murmuring ego with all of its petty demands of craving and aversion. The task of Christian discipleship is to engage in the often exasperating and exhausting labor of catching those inner-fish lurking beneath the surface of ego-consciousness in order to snag the rich harvest of the inner world. Once netted, the inner-fish can provide for the individual ego the nourishment necessary for it to become a radiant manifestation of Spirit.
Fr. Joe Mitchell, CP is the director of the Passionist Earth & Spirit Center in Louisville, KY. See his website: www.earthandspiritcenter.org