“The crowd was pressing in on Jesus…” In today’s Gospel (Luke 5:1-11), Jesus is seen preaching along the Lake of Gennesaret, or perhaps better known as the Sea of Galilee. Our initial focus is not so much on the crowd as it is upon the person of Jesus. Even though the crowd is coming to Jesus, it is Jesus who has come to them, who makes himself available to them.
Jesus as God’s Son has ‘gone out’ from his heavenly home to take on our human flesh; he enters the world to meet us. Jesus who grew up in Nazareth has now gone out into the surrounding area of Galilee to preach the word of God and to call others to follow him. From the Sea of Galilee Jesus wades into the sea of humanity to speak to us, to touch our hearts and our flesh, to heal us and lead us to our true home. Even though there are large crowds who come seeking him, Jesus still takes the time to enter into personal relationships, which he does today with his first followers, namely Peter, James and John.
“Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, …” Jesus has literally walked right into the daily reality of Peter. He comes to meet him where he works; the seashore and his own boat from which he makes a living. Jesus in usual fashion does not make a direct request of Peter, other than wishing to use his boat as a podium from which to address the crowd. Yet, as Jesus proceeds to teach, he is most certainly aware of the man in the boat, making a very large impression upon him. We should not think the only place Jesus is present is in the church. He comes to us in our daily lives just as he did Peter.
“Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” After Jesus is done teaching, he turns his attention directly upon Peter. Clearly, Jesus’ teaching has had a strong impact upon Peter, because even though he had been fishing all night and caught nothing, he willingly follows Jesus’ instruction. A miraculous catch of fish is the result.
This teaches us several important realities. First, Jesus’ teaching is powerful and captivating. Second, we, as Peter, do well to follow Jesus’ instructions. Third, the fruit of the actions of Jesus are always abundant.
What follows this miraculous catch is significant, and important for all to understand. Peter’s initial response is to ask Jesus to leave him. Jesus through his preaching and action has revealed his divine power to Peter, and in the presence of Jesus, Peter is painfully aware of his sinfulness; of his unworthiness. It is the same response had by so many in the scriptures, including the Prophet Isaiah in today’s first reading. When the Lord appears to the Prophet in a vision, he responds in similar fashion to Peter: “Woe is me, I am doomed! For I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (See Isaiah 6: 1-8)
In God’s presence, before Jesus, we can only be aware of his holiness and our sinfulness. This is an appropriate initial response. It is good for us to be aware of our humble origins, as we will recall this Wednesday: “we are dust, and to dust we shall return.” At the same time, it is sheer joy to be in the presence of the one who formed us from the dirt of the earth into his own image and likeness. It is the gladness of every human heart to encounter Jesus, the one who comes to redeem us and restore us to the fullness of our human dignity.
Peter, in this encounter with Jesus, discovers the deepest desire of his heart. That is why he can leave behind his boat and nets, family and friends to follow Jesus. It is Jesus who inflames every human heart, and leads each of us to our truest self and most meaningful purpose (in that order.) Being always precedes doing. Relationship with Jesus is what allows our actions to bear any meaningful fruit.
“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Jesus first tends to the human heart, then he helps us identify the gifts he has entrusted to us and how to fruitfully use these gifts in service of God’s family.
Even though today’s Gospel recalls Jesus calling his first apostles, it still has much to teach us about the call of Jesus in every person’s life. All are called to be disciples; to follow Jesus. All of us, particularly the laity, are entrusted with a holy dignity and activity of building up the Body of Christ. Read again the wisdom of some of the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in regard to the role of the laity:
“The laity – no matter who they are – have, as living members, the vocation of applying to the building up of the Church and to its continual sanctification all the powers which they have received from the goodness of the Creator and from the grace of the Redeemer. … The apostolate of the laity is a sharing in the salvific mission of the church. Through Baptism and Confirmation all are appointed to this apostolate by the Lord himself.” (Lumen Gentium #33)
Let there be no doubt; Christ has entered the boat of each of our lives. Christ is calling each of us into a fruitful relationship. Christ calls each of us to follow and serve him in our love for one another. All that seems ‘unfulfilled’ in life finds fulfillment in Christ! To answer Christ’s call is to ‘put out into the deep.’ To follow Christ is to leave all behind, only to discover the abundance of God in return.