Pastoral Message – February 6, 2022
I am a terrible fisherman. I have no patience, no confidence, no skill and no desire. The only joy I have ever gotten out of fishing was when my son was young and he would get so excited when he would catch even the smallest or ugliest fish. Each time he would eagerly ask me if we could get the fish mounted like the fish that his great grandfather had caught many years before. Being frugal and practical, I never said yes to his request. This weekend, our Gospel story inspires us to say, “Yes” to God even when we think that we have a better answer.
Peter had been fishing all night with no success. He is tired and discouraged. He simply wants to clean his nets, go home and get some sleep. So it must have seemed a bit of an imposition when Jesus got into Peter’s boat and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Nevertheless, Peter was willing to let Jesus use his fishing boat as a floating pulpit. Perhaps it was because Jesus had already been to his home in Capernaum where he had miraculously healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Peter may have felt like he owed Jesus this small favor. After a little preaching, he could bring the boat back to shore and head home to sleep.
However, Jesus had other plans for that morning. When He finishes preaching, Jesus tells Peter to put out into the deep water and let down his nets for a catch. Peter initially objects because he believes this will be a futile exercise. Peter’s initial resistance to Jesus’ instructions to go out into the deep waters and let down the nets arises because he believes that he knows much more about fishing than Jesus does. After all, Peter was a professional fisherman, Jesus was a carpenter. Yet, despite the fact that it had been a long, tough night with terrible results, Peter cooperates with Jesus’ instructions. “At Your word I will let down the net.” This was Simon Peter’s great statement of faith and trust in Jesus. Even though he thought that continuing to fish made no sense, he did what Jesus asked because he believed in Jesus, not because the circumstances seemed right.
Each day we are invited to live with this confidence in the word of Jesus. Peter had hardly met Jesus, yet he was willing to surrender himself to Him. His encounter with Jesus completely reorients his life. Like Peter, we often think that we know what is best for ourselves and our families even if God is offering conflicting advice. How often do we resist Jesus because what he is calling us to do seems too crazy, too impractical? How often do we avoid following Jesus because we are convinced that we will not see any results? What might it mean for us to trust and follow Jesus outside our comfort zones, to let go of our certainties, to have our lives radically reoriented?
In Peter’s case, his faith is immediately rewarded. The nets are so full of fish that they begin to break. Peter is both amazed and frightened. As an experienced fisherman he knew how unfavorable the conditions were and he knew all the more what a great miracle this was. He has encountered someone of great power who changes everything. Yet, he also knew how unworthy he was to be in the presence of such great power. He responds by falling down at Jesus’ knees and begging him, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Peter’s prayer was good, but there is even a better prayer for all of us to pray: “Come nearer to me, for I am a sinful man!” Our faith is rewarded and our lives are immeasurably improved when we acknowledge that Jesus is Lord and we are merely sinful people; when we recognize that God calls us despite our sinfulness; when we are humble enough to listen to God’s call, to follow His instructions, and to orient our lives to Him.
When God calls each of us, He meets us exactly where we are and then challenges us to follow Him down a path that will certainly improve our lives. Even though, like Peter, we may be initially skeptical of following God’s instructions, we must allow Him to enter into our utterly normal, mundane lives so that He can change everything. Jesus calls Peter and his partners as they are. Peter is acutely aware of his unworthiness, but this doesn’t stop Jesus from pursuing him. He doesn’t ask Peter to follow him after he cleans up his life. Rather, Jesus encounters him as he is, tells him not to be afraid, and calls him to a new mission of catching people. Human sin, failure, and inadequacy are no obstacles to God’s call. God calls imperfect people to do God’s work, people who are aware of their unworthiness and are often doubting and resistant to God’s call. God doesn’t wait for them to shape up. God calls them as they are and then works on shaping them into faithful servants.
We all are called by virtue of our baptism to participate in God’s mission to the world, to reorient our priorities to align with God’s priorities, to use God’s gifts in service to others, and to share His Good News in word and deed. We can’t wait until we think we are ready. We are called right now, in spite of our frailty, failures, and doubts, even in the midst of our ordinary, busy, complicated lives. Jesus tells Peter and all of us, “Do not be afraid.” We must trust that Jesus will keep working with us and through us so that we may “catch” others as he has caught us — in the deep, wide net of God’s mercy and love. God desires that the net will be bursting.