In Sunday’s Gospel passage, the eager response of the crowd presents a nice counterpoint to the rejection Jesus had just experienced in his hometown of Nazareth (last Sunday’s Gospel).
The passage at hand finds Jesus by the Lake of Gennesaret (another name for the Sea of Galilee). He gets into Simon Peter’s boat and continues speaking to the crowd. When he finished speaking to them, Jesus said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing but at your command I will lower the nets”.
The words of Jesus contain both a command and a promise. It’s not as if Jesus is saying, “Let’s go out into deep water, put down the nets, and we’ll see what happens.” Jesus is saying to Peter, if you do as I say, you will catch fish. After a long night of fruitless fishing, this must have been hard to believe; nonetheless, Peter said, “I will lower the nets.”
When they did so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So, they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord; for I am a sinful man!”
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” “When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him”.
It is notable that Jesus seems to ignore Peter’s confession of unworthiness. But Jesus knows the truth about Peter, and he knew it all along. What matters is that Peter now knows the truth about himself.
Once Peter realized who Jesus really was, he saw himself in a new light. To “see” God is to see ourselves as we really are. And sometimes the vision is too much for us to handle. No one ever meets Jesus and stays the way they were before. In Peter’s case, his confession became part of his testimony. He knew he was a sinner and was not too proud to admit it.
For Peter and the others, following Jesus meant leaving behind their old life; their boats, nets, – their livelihood, and following him into an unknown future. Letting go must always come first. Anything that hinders our walk with Christ must go. Even some good things must go in order that better things may follow.
In the Second Reading from 1 Corinthians, Paul pronounces himself “the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the assembly of God.”
Like Paul, both Isaiah in the First Reading and Peter in the Gospel, feel the magnitude of their unworthiness in the presence of the holy. Both declare their unworthiness. A seraph cleanses the lips of Isaiah with a burning coal and Jesus gives liberating words to Peter…
…and to us!