Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C

Paul Galetto, O.S.A.
Villanova University

Isa 6: 1-2, 3-8
Psalm 138: 1-2, 2-3, 4-5, 7-8
1 Cor 15: 1-11
Luke 5: 1-11

Peter had been at it all night long. It was one of those nights when nothing seemed to work. He would row to the usual spot; arduously coordinate the casting of the nets with his brother Andrew’s boat and then nothing. In the darkness he could hear the success of other fishermen who found where the school of fish was swimming. Being a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee was part skill and part luck; there was no luck tonight as there had been no luck on the last several nights. What was he going to tell his wife when he got home? His mother-in-law already felt that he wasn’t good enough for her daughter. “You’re going to WHAT? Marry a fisherman? Are you crazy?” His mother-in-law wouldn’t have to say anything; the stares, grunts and groans would speak volumes of the lack of faith she had in him.

With sunrise the normal night of fishing came to an end. They rowed back to shore and to an uncertain future. How was he going to pay the bills? What would he and his family do for food? His employees were thinking of leaving and going to other boats; he couldn’t blame them. He felt that the whole world was conspiring against him.

 As he reached the shore, he began the tedious task of storing the nets. It always seemed to take forever and God knows if you don’t do it right you will have a mess on your hands. There is nothing worse for a fisherman than to have tangled nets. It is tedious and troublesome but worth the extra time. As Peter is focused on storing the nets as well as the anger and disappointment that awaited him at home, along comes this preacher with a crowd in tow. He stops by Peter’s boat and tells him to put out to sea. Peter obliges if for no other reason than to avoid the inevitable confrontation that awaits him with his wife and mother-in-law.

Peter is exhausted, frustrated, impatient, tired and edgy. At first having the preacher on board is okay but the guy keeps going on and on. Peter tries to give Jesus a hint. He doesn’t have a watch to look at (yes, sometimes we preachers see you looking at your watches or cell phones trying to give us a message) so he starts flailing his arms acting like a sundial to give Jesus the impression that he has had enough of the preaching and really needs to get home and get some rest.

In the Gospel today, Luke puts it so nicely when Jesus and Peter talk: Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch. Simon said in reply, “Master we have worked hard at it all night and have caught nothing, but at your command, I will lower the nets.” This is not the Peter that you and I know – the impetuous Peter, the one with the quick temper, the one who is quick to say what is on his mind. I imagine the conversation went something like this:

Jesus: Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.

Peter: Are you out of your mind? Here you are a carpenter telling me how to fish! You don’t know anything about the sea. I’m tired and I want to go home. Get out of my boat now!

Jesus: Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.

Peter: What don’t you get about what I just said? There are no fish out there; I spent all night trying to find them. Besides the fish dive to the bottom of the sea during the daylight and any chance we had of catching them evaporated two hours ago before you started yacking away. The adage is: sun’s up fish down; sun’s down, fish are up. What don’t you get about that, carpenter-boy?

Jesus: Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.

Peter: Fine! Let me show you what a fool you are. Never mind that I just wasted my night. Never mind that I just put all the nets in order. Never mind that I had to listen to you going on and on for the last two hours. Sure, let’s go out a few hundred feet and see what we find! Let’s see who looks the fool after we cast the nets again.

The rest of the story you just heard now. Peter realized several important things that day. First, sometimes the things of man and the things of God operate on different plains. What makes sense to man does not make sense in the world of God. When the world tells us to hate and be angry; God tells us to throw the nets overboard and that now it is time for healing and forgiveness. When the world tells us no, God tells us yes. As St. Augustine notes, God is so much more willing to give than we are to receive.

Second, he came to learn that the failure and disappointment of not catching fish the last few nights became the opportunity for grace. God works miracles when we are disposed to receive them. Sometimes we have to hit bottom before we allow the grace and mystery of God to enter our lives.

Lastly, Peter realized that the best response to the presence of God is abandonment; his nets had caught him more than they had caught fish. He lost sight of what he was supposed to be about. It is not until we give ourselves over fully to the will and work of God that we reach fulfillment. We know from reading the Gospels that Peter and the others continued to fish and to work but they were now refocused. They realized that they had a calling and that this calling should be the means by which they interpret their lives. They became fishers of men because they now understood what it meant to be fully alive and to have a purpose that was beyond living day to day.

Today’s Gospel is about our openness to the presence of God in our lives. Now is the time to put our nets overboard and follow the lead of Jesus.