This time of year—in the final days before Lent—food establishments across the country will begin advertising fish specials. For many people, especially Roman Catholics, fish and Lent go hand in hand.
There are various stories as to how these two became intertwined, but none of them are nearly as satisfying (or humorous) as Gaffigan’s explanation.
For me, it has never really mattered how or why fish became associated with this time of year as much as it mattered that fish and Jesus always seemed to go hand in hand. Jesus’ ministry base was in a fishing village, several of his disciples were fisherman by trade, he multiplied fish for food… twice, he pulled taxes from a fish’s mouth, he called his followers to be “fishers of people,” he used Jonah’s great fish as a prophecy for himself, he had a habit of miraculously filling nets with fish, and… well… you get the picture.
Perhaps my favorite fishy-moment, though, is a quiet one on the lakeside just before he leaves his disciples for home at the end of the book of John.
Several of the disciples were out in their boat fishing, but they caught nothing all night (which always seemed to be their lot in the presence of Jesus). At dawn Jesus was standing on the beach, but the disciples couldn’t see who he was. He called out, “Fellows, have you caught any fish?” “No,” they replied. Then he said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!” So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it. Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, “It’s the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his tunic (for he had stripped for work), jumped into the water, and headed to shore. The others stayed with the boat and pulled the loaded net to the shore, for they were only about a hundred yards from shore. When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them—fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread.
— JOHN 21
I love this story because they recognize Jesus in the presence of fish. It was a sign that they could not miss!
What must it have been like to have Jesus make a meal for you? I imagine, the fish was pretty good… Gaffigan’s truth notwithstanding.
As for me, no matter the reason, I think I’ll eat a bit of fish during Lent and use it as a reminder of Jesus.