"Put out into deep water . . ."
Steer the ship of my life, good Lord, to your quiet harbour, where I can be safe from the storms of sin and conflict. Show me the course I should take. Renew in me the gift of discernment, so that I can always see the right direction in which I should go. And give me the strength and the courage to choose the right course, even when the sea is rough and the waves are high, knowing that through enduring hardship and danger we shall find comfort and peace.
St. Basil of Caesarea
Is 6: 1-2a, 3-8
1 Cor 15: 1-11
Lk 5: 1-11
Fishing was a popular vacation pass time I remember well from growing up in the Midwest. We took many family vacations to northern Wisconsin and settled in a resort cabins along one of the many inland lakes found nestled in the wooded low rolling hills of the central states. Between boating, water skiing, and fishing the summer vacation days were filled.
The fish were plentiful and delicious. Everything from bluegill, sunfish, northern pike, largemouth bass and walleye, these fresh water fish are common in those lakes. However, the fishing method was vastly different than the fishermen we hear of in the Gospel this Sunday (Lk 5: 1-11). We used rod and reel with lures or live bait. They used nets; large, roped nets that would be thrown out over the water with the hope that when hauled in, many fish would be caught. But something was about to change in their routine lives.
“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” (Lk 5: 4) said Jesus to Simon as he sat in his boat and taught the crowds on the shore of Lake Galilee. It was not a particularly profound statement for many along that shore may have said the same as good fishing advice. Maybe they knew of a place where the fish were more likely to be found.
But from Jesus it had a deeper meaning; almost an invitation. And so Simon had two choices – to do what Jesus had requested or to dismiss his advice as coming from a naïve preacher who knew little about the finer points of the fishing trade.
One could hear a certain respect in the voice of Simon as he answered Jesus: “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets . . .” (Lk 5: 5). Command? Was it the tone of Jesus’ voice or a deeper awareness in Simon that heard in Jesus’ advice a word to obey?
Despite his own experience of failed fishing all night long, Simon does what Jesus suggests and orders the nets to be thrown over the water along the boat and to sink into the dark waves. “I’ll show him he’s wrong just to prove my point. What does this preacher know about fishing anyway?” Simon may have thought. But then a new life began for Simon and his fishing buddies.
So many fish were caught in the nets where Jesus had ordered that the boats were near sinking. The reaction of Simon? “. . . he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.’” (Lk 5: 8). Simon recognizes in Jesus that he wasn’t dealing with just any preacher, however well meaning. This was someone whose command brought results and Simon recognized his own unworthiness in the presence of such greatness. This act of faith would serve Simon well despite his occasional failings. Jesus would not forget Simon’s (Peter) insight from the beginning as to who he was. This preacher would be the God without limits who gives in abundance if we only follow his call.
As we approach this Sunday, so close to our holy season of Lent, where may our Lord be inviting us to “put out into deep water” and you find yourself resisting the suggestion – or command?
Fishing is slow going. One never knows whether a catch will be found or we might be “hard at it all night” with nothing to show. Is that time to give up? We turn to prayer but do we truly believe that nothing is impossible with God or do we bargain over or limit the possibilities? “Master, we’ve been hard at it all night long . . .”
In the first reading from Isaiah 6 the prophet is eager to answer the invitation of the Lord: “Here I am, send me!” No hesitation in throwing out his net. No bargain or limit to what Isaiah responds. He’s ready to go.
Whenever we hear the invitation of the Spirit, the great saints tell us to stop what we are doing and put out into deep water. Have you ever had the urge to pray and just said, “I’m too busy right now.” Has someone invited you to read a particular spiritual book or look up a certain scripture passage to pray over and you never did so? Has the call to service to assist at a food bank, or help to tutor children in school, or to make amends with someone who has hurt you found an eager response on your part?
It is a God without limits who calls us to trust but waits patiently for our response. Why do we wait?
More to come . . .