St Peter and fishing and Lent



The day after Jesus was baptized (literally the first full day of his preaching ministry), he met several of the apostles.  That was quick!  The first chapter of John’s gospel says that Jesus walked near John the Baptist that day and John proclaimed the words we hear at every Mass “Behold the Lamb of God”.  Andrew heard these words – he went and found his brother Simon Peter to bring him to Jesus.  The next day Philip and Nathanael joined Jesus.  John 1:43 may indicate that it was with these four that Jesus started his preaching in Galilee.  Jesus invites them to follow him.

It is this initial meeting when Jesus changes Simon’s name to Cephas or Peter.  In the Bible, when God changes somebody’s name it is always an important moment and that means the invitation to “follow” was also a serious invitation.

Now fast forward a little.  All three synoptic gospels record another invitation from Jesus to Simon Peter (and James and John, too) to follow him.  This time Jesus invites them to become “fishers of men”.  Luke 5 records quite a bit of detail.

While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.

He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets.  Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.  After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”  Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.”  When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing.  They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that they were in danger of sinking.  When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”  For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. 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.    Luke 5:1-11

Simon Peter’s odd reaction to Jesus’ miracle

Why would Simon Peter tell Jesus to leave “for I am a sinful man”?  That’s sort of an odd reaction after Jesus delivers all those fish, isn’t it?

My guess (and it’s actually the only explanation I can think of…) is that between the first meeting in John chapter 1 and this meeting in Luke chapter 5, Simon Peter has stopped following Jesus, despite the endorsement he heard from John the Baptist.  Peter is ashamed and a little scared that he had in some sense abandoned Jesus – now when he sees an undeniable display of God-like power, his first reaction is to just want Jesus to leave because of his sin.  So I’m thinking the situation is just like it looks in Luke 5.  Simon Peter left Jesus and went back to his fishing business.

This also makes sense out of why Jesus makes such an extravagant show of generosity and power.  He wants to prove to Simon Peter and the others that if they follow him, they are not risking starvation or bankruptcy.  One way or another (and the way will be chosen by Jesus and will always be according to God’s will), they will be able to live if they choose Jesus.

The reaction of these men who will one day be the Lord’s apostles on whom he will found his church (Rev. 21:14) is exactly the right reaction.  This time, they left everything and followed him.

Wouldn’t it be great if Jesus would make our living for us?

So if I’m reading this thing correctly, Jesus has proven with an extravagant gesture that he can take care of these men on a fulltime basis.  What do you think?  Wouldn’t it be great if Jesus would just dump a huge pile of fish on us (figuratively speaking, of course!!), so we would know our living is taken care of?

In a way, he actually does promise to do that.

The thing to remember is that the vocation to which he was calling these men was a special one, that of apostleship.  He must have them fulltime, so he shows his power to provide.  And they leave everything to follow him.  They accept the vocation.

The matter of vocation is critical here.  Jesus hasn’t called you or me to be apostles.

More than likely, he has called us either to married life or single life as a faithful Christian.  A description of our role in the “living” we make to feed and support ourselves is this:

Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.    I Thessalonians 4:11,12

This meshes perfectly with what Jesus promises in the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus tells us (the ones called to the vocations of married life and single life) that God will take care of us, too.  He says he will take care of us the way he does birds and grass.  Birds have to fly around and get food, sometimes they have to migrate, maybe they eat different things at different times.  But it’s not like birds just sit on a branch and God has worms delivered each day.  The birds have to participate in God’s nature.  Grass is the same way – the grass has a role to play in its livelihood, too.  Here is how he puts it:

Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not worth much more than they?  …Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil, nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these.     Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.    Matthew 6:26,28,29

So the bottom line is that Simon Peter and the other apostles got the support they needed to be apostles.  And we get the support we need to carry out the vocations to which we are called.  Jesus promises it.

What in the world does this have to do with Lent?

Just this.  Lent calls us to renounce self and follow Jesus.  We are called to trust him by yielding our life to him.  But a reason some people refuse to do that is money.  Despite what Jesus says about birds and grass, the thing they want is a big 401(k), and a lovely house, and nice shopping and all the rest of the things you see in ads.  They spend their life’s energy pursuing money and what it can buy and almost none of their time dedicating themselves to Jesus.  An hour at Mass once a week is what Jesus gets.  Maybe a prayer every so often while doing something else at the same time.  Rather than maximize their dedication to God’s righteousness like Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, they maximize their income.

But if we Christians will just do what Jesus says to do – “seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness” – then he will take care of our physical needs as we “attend to our business and work with our hands” like St. Paul commands.  No particular reason to expect to be rich, but if I really love God and his righteousness with all my being, then “rich” has nothing to do with money.  “Rich” has everything to do with knowing Jesus.

God will take care of us like he did Peter and James and John.  I should renounce myself and trust God.

 If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. 

But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare

 and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.

I Timothy 6:8,9