In a dream, an angel utters this to Jonas, the main character in the short film, Ichthus.
He awakens and begins searching in his native country of the Philippines, among a small fishing community in the town of Lingayen. He comes across many people, asking them where the Ichthus is, trying to discover its significance, believing it will reveal to him a miracle.
This is a spiritual journey mirroring that of many Christians, including the first-century believers who used the symbol of the Ichthus to secretly represent Jesus Christ in times of intense persecution. The fish that Jonas seeks is no mere fish; it is a miraculous one, expected to give him answers to life’s most perplexing questions. It is a symbol for something divine, something universal. Like Jonas’s search for the fish, the quest for the divine will necessarily lead us throughout our world, allowing us to discover that God is truly universal, that His presence can really be felt by every man.
Jonas finds the fish at the bustling market near the village. It is the Kera-Kera’y Dios, which means “God-given portion.” It has many different names across the world – sole, plaice, halibut, flounder. Here, he has found evidence of God’s universality as He reaches all people in the curious form of a half-fish.
But it leads Jonas to question: if God is here, why are the people so poor? If the fish is their “God-given portion,” why do they still live such a meager existence? He addresses God directly in a lamentation. “Your children remain poor…” The scene cuts to rain falling in darkness. “There is no ICHTHUS.”
The conclusion drawn by many throughout the world who know abject misery firsthand is that there must not be a God. If there were, why would He allow poverty, hunger, suffering? Why doesn’t He always provide?
How could the Ichthus, the God-given portion, be so little?
The film tells a version of a story from the Gospel of John, especially relevant to this community which depends on fish for sustenance:
Fisher folk gathered around Jesus one day. Soon enough, they were famished. “Who has food to share?” Jesus asked.
A small boy had a small fish. Immediately, he offered it to Jesus. Jesus took the fish and thanked Heaven. He then divided the fish into two equal parts. One of the halves, he multiplied…7 baskets full. Everyone had more than enough.
The other half he blessed, “I offer this back to the sea in memory of a boy, and his miracle of sharing. May it multiply so that the next generation will have a meal to share.”
Multiply, the fish did…and all its offspring took the form of a half-fish. In due course, the poor had Kera-Kera’y Dios to catch. It is their God-given portion.
There is a reason the Kera-Kera’y Dios, the Ichthus, appears to be a half-fish. Another person Jonas encounters tells him the “Ichthus is half a miracle. We are the other half. And a little child will lead us.”
In being tempted to say there is no God, for God would not allow such a pain-filled world to exist, we forget that He allows life to exist – that He created life in the first place. The provision of plenty, of sustenance and salvation from suffering, is only half of the miracle He has wrought in shaping this world. The other half is life itself. By the end of the film, Jonas realizes that the existence of human life is a miracle and a provision from God.
And what does it mean that a little child will lead us?
Jesus honored the young boy’s selfless act of sharing his fish by splitting the miracle between His provision and our existence. We who have enough to share can do so and thus experience the divine. This is the fulfillment of God’s miracle-to take on the spirit of giving. We can take part in God’s promise of provision by giving to others.
First-century Christians suffered greatly under oppressive Roman rule. Yet they believed, as one poor widow in the film states, that “the holder of the other half of the fish will be true to His word, for He is God.” We can trust that while we hold our half – to feed ourselves, to give to our families, or to share with strangers – God is there, and has never reneged on His promise of provision.
1. Ichthus is a short film by Ton Sison, professor of Theology and Film at the Catholic Theological Union (CTU) in Chicago. It was produced on a shoestring budget of $75.
Ann Chao ’08 is a Social Studies and East Asian Studies concentrator in Currier House.