I can just see the exasperation on the face of Jesus as he is having this dialogue with his friends. He wants to go out fishing with them, but they have been out all night and did not catch a thing. He tells them to push out into the deep and let down their nets. Peter (who is called Simon in this passage) tells him that they had in fact been out all night and were not able to catch anything. Based on the response Peter gives, “but at your word I will let down the nets” I can only imagine the look on the face of Jesus. When they had done this, Scripture tells us, the nets were so full they afraid they were going to break, they had to ask for help to haul in all of the fish and the boats looked like they would sink. Peter, being Peter, overreacts and tells Jesus to depart from him for he is not worthy, but Jesus tells him not to be afraid that from this point forward he will become a Fisher of Men.
One of the first things I notice is that the Apostles did not give up their day jobs. Sure they traveled around with Jesus but they also had families to support and they needed to work. They were usually close to home so they could go back and attend to their businesses. It is not clear from history, but more than likely they had others working for them, other family members perhaps, that would fish in their absence.
The second thing I notice is that Jesus is a much better fisherman than Peter and the others. They had been out all night and caught nothing. Jesus says, “go over there and try again” and the get the biggest haul of their life. Jesus was tuned into the “fish finder in the sky” and the Apostles were trying to do it on their own. Let’s stick a pin in that one for a minute and come back to it.
The third thing I notice is that regardless of the state of Peter, he tells Jesus he is a sinner, like Jesus does not already know this, Jesus tells him that it is okay, and he has a job for him but not the same job and certainly not doing it the same way. Jesus was about to show them a different way to not only do church but be a church.
Pope Francis is completing his tour of the United States today. During this visit, and his historic speech to Congress, he has challenged us to take back what is great about America. He challenged us to look again at the words of Abraham Lincoln and his quest for equality of all people. He invoked the words of Dr. Martin Luther King who told us to dream of a nation where everyone would get along no matter the color of our skin or where we were from. He reminded us of the great work of one of my personal heroes Dorothy Day and her foundation of the Catholic Worker Movement and they work with the oppressed and those on the margins of life. And he reminded us of the words of Thomas Merton:
“I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”
What the Pope was calling us to was not a new way of looking at things or even a new way of doing things but he was and is inviting us to look out more than we look in. He is calling us to care for one another more than we care for ourselves. And he reminded us of our responsibility to “do unto others as we would have them do unto us.”
The Pope told us:
“The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us. The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every stage of its development.”
This includes taking care of the stranger, the widow, the orphan, the hungry, the naked, the sick and those on the margins of life. We are called to be the hands and feet of Christ in this world and also the voice of those who have no voice in society. Those who live in the shadows and cannot speak for themselves we have to be their voice because no one else will. We need to stop using them to score political points and start being Christ to all of them!
Jesus told Peter and the others that he was going to make them fishers of people and that when Peter protested that he was a sinner Jesus told him to be not afraid. Sometimes we are so afraid of the complexity of the issue that we just do not know where to start. Sometimes we are so afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing that we do nothing instead. Sometimes we look around and just throw our hands in the air and say it is someone else’s problem, not mine. Jesus is telling us not to be afraid; sure the task is great and impossible for us but with God all things are possible.
They toiled all night and caught nothing but when they put their trust in Jesus, and thus in God, they caught more than they knew what to do with. As soon as they stopped trying to run things and “let go and let God” all things were possible, the door was opened to a new and exciting world.
The message of this passage today, and the message of the Pope’s visit, is just that, stop trying to do it on our own and let God in to help, not just in the good times but in the bad. If we are faithful to our calling to Love God and love our neighbor, and we trust God enough to turn it over to Him, we will have more than we could ever imagine.