Feb 9, 2019

5th Sunday: "So many fish"

"Put out into deep water and lower your nets"

Luke 5: 1-11

If the fishing story in the Gospel this Sunday impresses you, just press your finger to your wrist or neck.  The unconscious beat of our heart goes on and on pumping blood rich with oxygen throughout our body.  It is miraculous when you think about it.  God breathes his life into us and the heart continuously pumps day in day out for years whether we are awake or asleep.  Without it, we could not live. Such miracles of life happen right before our eyes and we’re completely unaware of it.

Our readings this Sunday present the miraculous to us in the call of Isaiah the prophet and the call of the disciples on the Sea.  While Isaiah’s mystical experience in the Temple is personal to him alone God unexpectedly intervenes in this new prophets life and Isaiah willingly answers the call:  Here I am; send me!”

Along the Sea of Galilee Luke tells us in the Gospel that Jesus was already engaged in his teaching ministry.  The crowds were enthralled by this young rabbi who taught with a certain authority, charisma, and presence they had never experienced before.  They were “pressing in” and “listening to the word of God spoken by Jesus. Whether they simply wanted to hear better in the midst of the crowd or were deeply impressed by Jesus’ teaching, as is indicated many other places, our Lord recognized that he needed to do something. 

Certainly the fishermen, Simon (Peter), James and John as well as others, must have heard something of what Jesus was saying but they were engaged in their work and maybe didn’t pay much attention.  Other teachers had done the same in the past so this man was likely just another.

At one point, Jesus asks Simon as he boards his boat, to push out a short distance.  Notice, he simply made the move without an invitation from Simon. Like God who appears to Isaiah unexpectedly, Jesus commands Simon to push out. Practically in that further location he would avoid being crushed by the crowds and with the natural effect of the water and the surrounding hills, his voice would travel more effectively. But there is much more.

So, Simon follows Jesus’ request.  Soon our Lord tells Simon to “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”  Go out farther beyond your comfort zone and beyond what seems reasonable. Simon protests and says that they’ve been doing so all night in a futile attempt to catch anything.  He knows, this is his trade and he’s done so for a long time.  The fish just aren’t there right now. He doesn’t dismiss Jesus' command he wonders how anything different will happen. After all, what does this preacher from Nazareth know about fishing – yet he does what Jesus tells him to do. It is somewhat reminiscent of his first miracle at Cana when Mary says: “Do whatever he tells you.”  Isn't that key to discipleship.

So, Simon puts out and lowers the nets once more. To his astonishment and that of his fishing companions, “they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing . . . they filled both boats so that the boats were in danger of sinking.”  Symbolic of the future ministry of the Apostles and the many who will come to believe in Christ through them, with awestruck humility Simon addresses Jesus: “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”  He may be speaking about all his fish mates who feel the same in the face of Jesus’ miraculous power. Before God we stand in awe.  Our heartbeat was begun in the womb not of our own volition.

Simply at Jesus command, at his mere word, abundance appears.  Jesus uses this event to call his disciples with the familiar turn of phrase: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” These now dubbed “fishers of men” leave behind the familiar and with adventure they follow Jesus into the unknown.  Into the uncharted waters as it were to engage themselves in this mission of Christ.  Jesus does not dispute Simon’s claim that they are sinful men but calls them all the same and recognizes their potential if they continue to do whatever he tells them in trust. Grace comes to us not because we deserve it but because we are loved. Great things will happen if we partner with Christ who works even through our feebleness.

Other confirmations stand clear in the Gospels.  The Angel Gabriel assures Mary: “All things are possible with God.” Mary says to the servers: “Do whatever he tells you.” Jesus asks the disciples to give him the small portion of fish and bread to feed more than 5,000 hungry souls. He asks those who seek healing if they have faith in him. The same is true for us.  

To be a Christian a Catholic is not just a name or a title.  It means to continue the mission Jesus’ established in his Church. If we immerse ourselves in the promise of Jesus that if we keep God the absolute center of my life and I use that relationship to measure all things, then who knows what God will work through us. It is not what we do on our own but what we allow Christ to do in and through us but it demands that we “put out into deep water.” This was a favorite phrase of Pope St. John Paul II but it’s not a promise of success or an easy life.  It’s hard to be a disciple of the Lord and includes a trust in him as well as carrying our cross with him.

Still, like our unconscious heartbeat, let’s not think that Christ has not already called us and worked through us. It may not be impressive and grand miraculous events.  But it may be the grace of his presence in our lives.  Take a moment and look back on your life journey so far to moments that now show you God’s work.

A loving parent and faithful husband and wife live out their vocation in holiness or a priest who commits himself to faithfully carry out his ministry. It may be a faith that has grown and matured over the years.  It may be a wonderful family or a satisfying and fulfilling ministry, yet not at all without challenges.  We can never second guess what God will do for those who trust in his word and put out in the uncharted waters.

We know that his sacramental presence in the Holy Eucharist is miraculous and far more than we can imagine as he feeds us with this bread of life, this food for the journey. 

Take some time to reflect on the abundance in your life.  How and where has our Lord shown you that he is present to you?  Where do you feel called to do more with him? Am I satisfied with what I have or am I constantly seeking more, in competition with others, jealous of what they have and what I feel I don’t have?  Go fishing!

Open our eyes
to the needs of our brothers and sisters;
inspire in us words and actions
to comfort those who labor and are burdened.
Make us serve them truly, after the example of Christ 
and at his command.

(Eucharistic Prayer for various needs IV)

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