19th Sunday after Pentecost
The Gospel reading for this Sunday is one with which many of us might be quite familiar… Our Lord Jesus Christ is preaching to the multitudes from a boat just off the shore of Lake Gennesaret. When He had finished His teaching, He asked the Apostle Peter to launch them out into the deeper parts of the lake and instructed him to let down his nets to catch fish.
Peter, who was an experienced fisherman, informed the Lord that they had been fishing all night and had caught nothing… now that the sun was high, there was no chance of catching any fish. ‘Nevertheless’, Peter exclaimed, ‘at Thy word, I will let down the net.’
The Gospel tells us that the nets became so full of fish that they could hardly bring them into the boat. They called to the other fisherman to quickly bring their boats over to help them bring in this miraculous haul of fish.
And then an interesting thing is noted… When Peter saw what was happening, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying: ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’ Peter was astonished at the obvious miracle and at the generosity of God. And, clearly perceiving and feeling the abundant grace of God before him, he witnessed his unworthiness to be in such Divine presence.
Standing in the presence of holiness and grace can be an unsettling thing. Yet Jesus comforts and strengthens Peter, saying: ‘Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.’
I would like to draw forth three things from this reading… first is regarding the discernment of and the submission to the will of God; second is the effect of the light of Grace showing us our sins; and third is the encouragement of Christ that we need not be afraid.
As the example of Apostle Peter shows us, his earthly understanding and experience knew that to cast out his nets in the heat of the day was a futile effort. Yet he submitted his will to the will of God, saying: ‘at Thy word, I will let down the net’. And, of course, the results were an abundance of reward… the boat practically sank due to the weight of all the fish they caught!
What does it mean to discern and submit to the will of God? So often we think of discerning the will of God in our lives as a way of trying to make a decision about alternate possibilities. Should I do this or should I do that? Certainly, we should pray and desire for the circumstances of our lives to be in harmony with the will of God. But more specifically, what is the will of God for us? Apostle Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians encapsulates it in these few words: ‘For this is the will of God: your sanctification.’
God’s concern is for our healing and salvation. That is primarily an interior process which can occur in a variety of external circumstances. As one person put it… ‘it is not so much what you are doing, as it is how you are doing it.’
If we understand that the primary concern of God’s will for our life is our sanctification, then this can focus us on that most important task and the consequent incidents of our life may then fall into that context. As the Gospels tell us: ‘Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all things will be added unto you.’
Apostle Peter’s choice to submit to Christ’s instruction to let down his nets was not so much a decision about what he should do as it was a decision of how he should be. He prioritized his love and trust of Jesus Christ over his own will and understanding. This is precisely the process of salvation… we relinquish that throne of our ego and we invite Christ our Lord to sit upon it, as is His proper place.
And then what may happen? When we draw open the curtains of our darkened life and allow the light of Christ to shine upon us, we may recoil from the clearer visibility of our sins. Christ’s glory was manifested in the miracle of the catch of fish, and Apostle Peter fell at the feet of Christ exclaiming: ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’
What a heart-wrenching scene! Apostle Peter stands in the presence of God, in the brightness of Christ’s divinity, and Peter feels deeply how unworthy he is to be there.
Why is it that some of the greatest saints are so insistent that they are the worst of sinners? I think it is because they perceive with greater clarity the effulgence of the light of God and can therefore see the contrast of that brilliance with their own nature. If we are in a filthy room with the light turned off, we don’t really see how dirty it is. But as the light grows brighter and brighter, we can then see how much needs picking up. And after picking up the most obvious garbage, then the light grows ever brighter… now we can see the dust in the corners, the cobwebs, etc. And so, those saints who stood in the splendor of God’s light, truly could see all the details of the dirt remaining in the room of their being.
But this perception should not lead to discouragement! What does Christ say to Peter who has fallen before His feet? ‘Do not be afraid.’ Christ encourages and strengthens the Christian who struggles along the way of his sanctification. The realization of our weakness must not be a source of despair… for the obstinate and rigid hand cannot be moved and guided, but the trusting and yielding hand can perform the works of God Himself.
May God grant us the wisdom which the world calls foolishness, and the strength which the world calls weakness. May we strive to conform ourselves to God’s good and holy will, which is none other than the salvation of our souls.