Faith in the word of Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish
The call of the first disciples
1. OPENING PRAYER
Father, now Your Word has come! It has appeared like the sun after a dark night, empty and solitary. When Your Word is not present, it is always thus, I know. Grant me the soft breeze from the sea of Your Holy Spirit and may it gather me, walk with me towards Christ, Your living Word to whom I wish to listen. I shall not move from this shore, where He teaches and speaks, but I shall stay here until such time as He takes me with Him. Then I shall follow Him wherever He takes me.
a) Placing the passage in its context:
This passage, full of great theological intensity, comes at the center of a journey of faith and of meeting with the Lord Jesus, who leads us from deafness to being able to hear, from the most paralysing sickness to the saving healing that makes us capable of helping our brothers and sisters to be reborn with us. Jesus has begun His preaching in the synagogue of Nazareth, giving sense and light to the words in the scroll of the Torah (4:16). He has defeated sin (4:31-37) and sickness (4:38-41), driving them away from the heart of human beings and He has announced the mysterious force that sent Him to us and by which He moves, running like a giant who reaches every corner of the earth. It is at this point that we hear the answer that is the beginning of what follows, that is, the obedience of faith. It is at this point that the Church and a new people are born, those able to hear and respond with a yes.
b) To help us with the reading of the passage:
vv. 1-3: Jesus is on the shore of Lake Gennesaret and before Him is a large crowd of people, eager to listen to the Word of God. He goes into a boat and pushes off a little. As teacher and guide, He sits on the waters and teaches them, and from there He offers salvation to those who listen to and welcome the Word of God.
vv. 4-6: Jesus invites some to go fishing and Peter trusts Him, believes in the Word of the Master. In faith he launches into the deep and casts his nets. Because of his faith, the catch is over-abundant; it is miraculous.
v.7: Meeting Jesus is never a closed matter. The meeting always leads to communication and sharing. Indeed, the gift is too great and cannot be held by one person. Peter calls his friends in another boat and the gift is doubled and grows continually.
vv. 8-11: Peter kneels before Jesus, adores Him and recognizes his sinfulness, his nothingness, but Jesus calls him with the same authority that made so many seas obey Him throughout scripture: “Fear not!” God reveals Himself and becomes the companion of men and women. Peter accepts the mission of delivering men and women, his brothers and sisters, from the waters of the world and of sin, just as he was delivered. He leaves his boat, his nets, the fish and follows Jesus.
c) The text:
While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch." Simon said in reply, "Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets." When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that the boats were in danger of sinking. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men." When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.
3. A MOMENT OF PRAYERFUL SILENCE
During this time of silence and solitude accorded to me so that I can stay with Him, I go away from the shore a little way, take to the deep and, trusting in the Lord, I cast the net into the deep and I wait…
4. SOME QUESTIONS
a) “He sat down and taught the people from the boat”. Jesus comes down, sits and takes up His abode among us. He bends down even to touching our earth and from this smallness He offers us His teaching, His Word of salvation. Jesus offers me time, space, full availability to meet Him and know Him, but do I know how to pause, to stay, to take root in Him and before Him?
b) “He asked him to put out a little from the land”. The Lord’s request is gradual. In fact, after this first putting out from the land, He asks him to launch into the deep. “Put out into the deep!” - an invitation addressed to every man and woman. Do I have faith, trust and confidence in Him to let go of my concerns? Do I look at myself sincerely and seriously? Where do the treasures of my life lie?
c) “I will let down the nets”. Peter gives us a brilliant example of faith in the Word of Jesus. In this passage, the verb “let down” occurs twice: the first time it refers to the nets and the second to the person of Peter. The significance is clear: before the Lord we can let down our whole being. We let down, but He gathers, always and with an absolute and infallible faithfulness. Do I feel like taking my life, today, just as it is, and letting it down at the feet of Jesus, in Him, so that He, once more, may gather me, heal and save me, making of me a new person?
d) “They beckoned to their partners in the other boat”. Again Peter becomes a guide on my journey and shows me how to be open to others, to share, because it is not possible to remain isolated and closed in the Church. We are all sent: “Go to my brethren and say to them” (Jn 20:17). Am I able to bring my boat close to that of others? Am I able to share with my brothers and sisters the gifts and riches the Lord has given me to hold in trust?
5. A KEY TO THE READING
* The sea and the theme of the exodus:
Jesus is standing by the seashore. He stands above the dark, menacing and unknown tides of the sea and of life. He stands before this crowd of people gathered, ready to listen to Him and ready for the journey, He who is the Good Shepherd with the staff of His Word. He wishes to take us across the seas and oceans of this world on a journey of salvation that brings us before Him, as had already happened at the Red Sea (Ex 14: 21-23) and on the banks of the Jordan (Jn 3:14-17). Even the sea of sand in the desert is overcome by the power of His Word and opens up, becoming a garden, a level and passable road (Isa 43:16-21) for those who decide to go on the return journey to God and allow themselves to be guided by Him. In these few verses of the Gospel, the Lord once more prepares for us the great miracle of the exodus, of the coming out of the darkness of death through the saving crossing to the green pastures of friendship with Him and the listening to His voice. All is ready: our name has been called with infinite love by the Good Shepherd, who knows us from all eternity and who guides us for all eternity, never allowing us to fall from His hand.
* Listening in faith that leads to obedience:
This passage from Luke is the second concerning the glorious journey that the Lord Jesus presents to us. The crowd gathers closely around Jesus, driven by the intimate desire to “hear the Word of God”; this is the answer to the constant invitation of the Father, which we find throughout the scriptures: “Hear, O Israel!” (Deut 6:4) and “If only my people would hear me!” (Ps 80:14). It is as if the crowd were saying, “Yes, I will hear what God proclaims, the Lord” (Ps 85:9). But the kind of hearing that is mentioned and suggested is complete, not superficial, it is alive and life-giving, not dead; it is the hearing of faith, not of incredulity and of hardness of heart. It is the hearing that says, “Yes, Lord, at Your word I will let down my nets”. The call addressed to us just now is the call to faith, to trust in Him and in every word that comes from His lips, certain that whatever He says will come true. As God said to Abraham, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” (Gen 18:14) or to Jeremiah, “Is anything impossible to Me?” (Jer 32:27); cf. also Zech 8:6. Or as it was said to Mary, “Nothing is impossible for God” (Lk 1:37), and she replied, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to Your word”. That is the point we must reach; like Mary, like Peter. We cannot be just hearers, otherwise we would be deceiving ourselves, as James says (1:19-25); we would continue to be deceived by forgetfulness and we would be lost. The Word must be actualized, put into practice, fulfilled. Great is the ruin of the one who hears the Word but does not put it into practice; we must dig deep and lay foundations on the rock, that is, faith in practice (cf. Lk 6:46-49).
* Fishing as the mission of the Church:
Fidelity to hearing and to faith leads to mission, that is, to enter into that society that Jesus instituted for the spreading of the Kingdom. It seems that Luke, in this passage, wishes to present the Church living the post-paschal experience of the encounter with the risen Jesus. We note, in fact, the many allusions to the passage in Jn 21:1-8. Jesus chooses a boat and chooses Peter and, from the boat, He calls men and women, sons and daughters, to carry on His mission. We note that the verb “put out into the deep” is in the singular, referring to Peter who is given the task of guide, but the act of fishing is in the plural: “let down your nets”, referring to all those who wish to adhere to and participate in the mission. This one mission and common task of all is beautiful and sparkling; it is joyful! It is the apostolic mission, which begins now, in obedience to the Word of the Lord and that will reach the deep, even to the ends of the earth (cf. Mt 28:19; Acts 1:8; Mk 16:15; 13:10; Lk 24:45-48).
It is interesting to note the word that Luke uses to point out the mission given by Jesus to Peter, and to all of us, when He says: “Do not be afraid, henceforth you shall catch men”. Here we do not come across the term found in Mt 4:18 ff., and in Mk 1:16 or even in this passage in v.2, which is simply fishing; here we find a new word, which appears only twice in the whole of the New Testament and which derives from the verb “to capture”, in the sense of “taking alive and keeping alive”. Indeed, the fishing people of the Lord, let down their nets into the sea of the world to offer to people life, to rescue them from the abyss and make them come back to true life. Peter and the others, we and our sailing partners in this world, can continue, if we wish, wherever we are, His wonderful mission as sent by the Father “to save what was lost” (Lk 19: 10).
6. A TIME OF PRAYER: PSALM 66
A hymn of praise to the Lord,
who has opened our hearts to faith.
My strength and my song is the Lord; He has saved me!
Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;
sing the glory of His name;
give to Him glorious praise!
Say to God, "How awesome are Your deeds!
All the earth worships You; they sing praises to You,
sing praises to Your name.
Come and see what God has done:
He is terrible in His deeds among men.
He turned the sea into dry land;
men passed through the river on foot.
There did we rejoice in Him.
Bless our God, O peoples,
let the sound of His praise be heard,
who has kept us among the living,
and has not let our feet slip.
For You, O God, have tested us;
You have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net;
we went through fire and through water;
yet You have brought us forth to a spacious place.
Come and hear, all you who fear God,
and I will tell what He has done for me.
I cried aloud to Him,
and He was extolled with my tongue.
But truly God has listened;
He has given heed to the voice of my prayer.
Blessed be God,
because He has not rejected my prayer
or removed His steadfast love from me!
7. CLOSING PRAYER
Lord, You opened the sea and came to me; You split the night and began a new day in my life! You spoke Your Word to me and touched my heart; You made me go with You into the boat and brought me to the deep. Lord, You have done great things! I praise You, I bless You and thank You, in Your Word, in Your Son Jesus and in the Holy Spirit. Always take me into the deep with You, I in You and You in me, so that I may let down many nets of love, friendship, sharing and seeking Your face and Your kingdom here on earth. Lord, I am a sinner, I know! But for this too I thank You, because You did not come to call the just but sinners and I hear Your voice and follow You. Behold, Father, I leave everything and go with You…