Seventy some years after Jesus supposedly died and a few stories of him had already been penned, the writer of the Gospel of John decided to tell his own tale and to make it very clear that Jesus was a god. John tells us that his Jesus even existed before the universe was created and that Jesus himself created our universe.
Wow, what a big fish story!
As the gospel writers tell us, fish were indeed a speciality of Jesus. All the writers share a similar story of Jesus helping his disciples catch fish, and not surprisingly, John’s story is the biggest fish story. Whether these are two different real stories or just a shared myth is debated, but the stories are remarkably similar.
Mark 4:1-2 and Matthew 13:1-3 tell us that Jesus taught from a boat. Luke 5:1-11 uses a boat story to illustrate the calling of some disciples. And Luke adds a miraculous fish catching section to the story so as to teach his readers that Jesus wants his disciples to catch people and not just fish.
John uses the fishing story differently: instead of using it as a literary tool to explain Jesus’ early-career gathering of his disciples and call to missionary work, John’s fish story has Jesus appear to his disciples after his execution. In John’s story Jesus isn’t in the disciples’ boat but yells to them from the shore, “Boys, you haven’t caught any fish yet, have you?” Then, as in Luke’s story, Jesus directs them to throw their net over the right side of the boat and wham!, they catch so many fish (153 to be exact) that they couldn’t haul in the net due to their weight (while Luke has the net break).
In John’s story, the disciples didn’t know who was talking to them until they caught the fish because Jesus was in his newly-resurrect, special celestial body (1 Cor 15: 35-58). But after the miracle, the ever-so-bright Simon Peter wakes up and says, “Duh, it’s our Master!”
OK, I paraphrased John’s story, but I think it is close. But are these stories true? Did the original hearers of the stories even care if they were true? What purpose did the stories fulfill? These exegesis dilemmas are addressed differently by different types of Christians. These are questions any fish story demands.
Speaking of fish stories, yesterday my daughter and I watched and thoroughly enjoyed Tim Burton’s film Big Fish (2003) — based on Dan Wallace’s 1998 fantasy novel. It is a tale about a father tells his life story by weaving together huge, complicated fish stories. These stories estranged the father from his son but though angry at his father, the son returns home when his father is dying, and realizes two important truths:
- Fantastic stories can contain important seeds of truth.
- Sometimes exaggerated stories are fun and help fill both the speaker and the excited audience with a sense of identity better than bland stories.
Though the father’s relentless fictions alienated his continually protesting son, the movie wants us to look down on the son as being cold, literal and unimaginative. Further, the writers clearly want us to forgive the self-centered, grandiose, poor-listening father because of the beautiful things he accomplished in his life, the people he inspired and for the wonderful stories he wove which would survive him. The son realizes that his fathers fantastic stories indeed offer him a sort of immortality.
I enjoyed the film and it made me wonder of some of the strategies of Progressive Christians to redeem the stories of their Jesus. Instead of viewing those strategies with contempt, the Big Fish movie helped me envision them with a little more sympathy. For like most folks, I too love a great story.
I’m trust my readers see all the parallels I am trying to allude to in this poorly woven post.
Also see: my other movie reviews here.