2/10/13, Put Out Into the Deep

Isaiah 6:1-8, I Cor. 15:1-11, Luke 5:1-11

Close your eyes for a few moments and imagine yourself in Simon Peter’s sandals. The sun is up and getting hotter, but he’s cold and wet.  He’s bone-tired.  Rather than having a good night’s sleep, he’s spent a long evening in a creaky boat out on a chilly lake with several other disillusioned men.  Along with his fishing buddies, he’s exceedingly grumpy because all of that work brought in no fish.   Yet, he’s got to clean and fold those nets in spite of his exhaustion.  It’s no fun either to anticipate going home to a hungry family, where he’ll have to explain to his wife why he has no fish for breakfast. 

             At little ways up the shore stands a man surrounded by many people who are clamoring to hear what he has to say.  Pressed to the edge of the water, this man has the audacity to walk over to Simon’s boat, step into it and ask him to row out a little from shore.  Seriously??? And then this guy calmly sits there in his boat and preaches a sermon while Simon wonders when his nets are going to get cleaned and what he’s going to say to his wife.

             Although Simon thinks this Jesus-guy has a lot of nerve, he remembers that this is the same man who had not too long before been responsible for healing his mother-in-law in a rather miraculous way.  Maybe he thought he owed Jesus a favor, so he held his complaint until Jesus said, “Pull out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”  Then he had to make a decision.  Do something that made no sense, or take a chance and just do it…

            If you were Simon, what would have been your response?

            I imagine that through Simon’s mind flashed all the reasons to tell Jesus that his suggestion was pointless.  Being an experienced fisherman, not only did Simon know that the fish were not in that area, but that it wasn’t a good time of the day to fish. Maybe he was even calling himself a bad fisherman and thinking maybe he should just find some other kind  of work. At this moment though, he just wanted to go home and sleep.

            Nevertheless, for reasons not made clear to us, Simon did do what Jesus asked.  He mustered up his last bit of strength, rowed out into the deep, let down his nets, and found himself pulling up an amazingly large catch. 

            This is a story of vocation.  It’s a story of how God calls ordinary people to discipleship and mission.  It’s a story of how Spirit enters into the everyday, mundane existence of people who are just going about their daily responsibilities. They hear an invitation to leave all that they have known as familiar and safe and they surprise themselves as they follow a new, unknown and unpredictable path with a person who promises them that the Kingdom of God has arrived, and that they are its citizens.

As we move towards Lent, our readings have invited us to consider for ourselves the nature of and response to God’s call.  The church year begins with the story of Jesus’ birth and moves quickly through his years of growth. As an adult, he is baptized in the Jordan, where he recognizes God’s call.  We hear stories then of his first ministry efforts: some teaching, some healing and other miracles, some experiences of rejection by his own family and friends.  And then today, just before we step into Lent we see him calling others to join him in ministry.   He invites these ordinary folk, these uneducated manual laborers to be with him on an extraordinary journey with God, a journey that will challenge social injustices and religious traditions and transcend individual limitations.

There are many reasons that Simon, James and John could have said, “Thanks, but no thanks.”  They could have echoed the voices of the Old Testament prophets we have read in the past few weeks, saying, “I’m too young!  I can’t speak. I am a sinner with unclean lips!” But when Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid” they left everything and followed him.

Think of it: they left huge catch of fish, which was an indication that they had finally been successful at their profession. They could provide for their families, and be seen as respectable men in the community.  Their wives would finally approve of their fishing!  But no-  as first century Jews, common everyday people, they left it all behind and followed Jesus. 

Lent will lead us along the way of what it means to follow that call to discipleship.  What does responding to Jesus’ invitation to life as a citizen in the Kingdom of God require of us as  21st century Catholics?  Although the specific circumstances will look different, like the disciples we ordinary people are invited to be on an extraordinary journey with God. This journey does not ask us to conform to a past religious identity or system of rules. Rather, it is a journey that challenges social injustices and religious traditions and transcends personal limitations. 

In every era of faith life, this has been so.  Consider people who started out as ordinary folks and became our models of faith.  People like Mary of Nazareth and her son Jesus, and St. Francis of Assisi, and Martin Luther and Mother Teresa and Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. 

 How does the fish story that we hear today speak to us, individually and corporately?  Tired of the struggle to change the church without seeing positive results, discouraged at not being able to feed our own families with faith that nourishes, embarrassed that perhaps we have been trying to preserve a way of life that just doesn’t fit us… Jesus asks us to pull out into the deep water.  As he asks us to row out and let down the nets one more time, do we offer our excuses and resistance, or do we just take a deep breath and make one more effort?                  

By Sandi DeMaster