We are starting a new series today – one that I have been planning to share with you here for a long time. If you have ever read children’s magazines to your young ones, you are sure to have seen exercises in comparison, where you are presented with two seemingly identical pictures and have to find the differences between them. In almost the same way, we can compare two similar scenes in Scripture, except that in this case, we can be certain that the differing details will always point to some spiritual truth. For me personally, it is always a very profound and enriching experience to study the differing details in seemingly similar scenes.
Next time, we are going to apply this tool to the texts of the Torah, and we will be able to draw some very profound spiritual lessons from this comparison. Today, however, in order to show you how I use this tool, I will give you a simple example from New Testament texts.
You probably remember that there are two very similar descriptions of supernatural fishing with Jesus in the gospels: the first one is in Luke 5, the second one in John 21. Let us read both Scriptures:
When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish which they had taken.
They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing. But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus…. And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” Now when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his outer garment (for he had removed it), and plunged into the sea…. Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish, one hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not broken. Jesus said to them, “Come and eat breakfast.”
There are many details here that are very similar in both texts (I underlined them): in both stories, the fishermen had been fishing for the whole night before Jesus commanded them to throw the net, and in both stories they caught nothing. In both stories, He commands them to cast the net and gives a detailed instruction as to where to cast it. In both stories, they obey: In both stories, they do as He says and cast the net again, after the whole night of catching nothing. And in both stories, the result is overwhelming: They caught a great number of fish, in Luke 5, and they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish in John 21. There is only one striking difference in the result though: the net! The net was broken in the first scene: “Their net was breaking” – while “the net was not broken” in the second. This seemingly technical detail carries an enormous spiritual load and conveys the very message of these stories. What does it mean then, this broken net, and why did it happen?
In order to understand the message of this comparison, let us try to see whether there were any more different details in the stories themselves. The only additional difference that we can find between the pictures has to do with Peter’s behavior: what kind of move do we see in each story? In the first scene, Peter is saying: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” He is trying to move away from Jesus – and In this case, we read that their net was breaking. In the second, Peter plunged into the sea, trying to come to Jesus closer and faster – and here, the net was not broken.
These are the conclusions that I believe the New Testament wants us to arrive at. One becomes broken when he is moving away from Jesus – when his heart is preoccupied with self: how weak and sinful he is and how unworthy of Jesus being with him. One never breaks when one thinks of Jesus, instead of self, and is ready to plunge right into the depths just to be closer to Him – seeking his strength and righteousness in Him. Even though in Luke 5, Peter is already a follower of Jesus, he is still too preoccupied with himself and his own problems. One might think that in John 21, after his betrayal, Peter would have been even more aware of how weak and sinful he was; nevertheless, he just plunged into the sea, he just wanted to be with Jesus because at this point he knew full well that forgiveness, healing, and righteousness can only be found in Him and through Him. Different movement of the heart produces completely different results in the midst of the very same circumstances – and this is the profound lesson of this comparison.
As I mentioned already, in the next couple of articles, we will compare some stories from the Hebrew Bible – and you will see for yourself the deep spiritual lessons that can be uncovered by comparisons such as these.
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