What Does a Modern Peter Look Like and Why Didn’t He Take a Selfie with All the Fish He Caught? (Lk 5:1-11)
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One of the best ways to enrich your experience at Sunday Mass is to pray the gospel reading personally. A great way of doing this is using the “Lectio Divina”; this is a powerful method which we explain here. The following is the Sunday gospel reading with a reflection that is especially aimed at youth.
We hope that it helps you in your personal prayer and that it serves as a resource that you can share with your apostolate.
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Gospel of the Fith Sunday of Ordinary Time (Lk 5:1-11)
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 the boats 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.
Once again the weight of my failure is waiting for me this morning. I had hoped that it would disolve in the night but it’s still there, waiting for me. It watches me, satisfied, and waits for me to take it up with my usual resignation, just like that old shawl my grandmother draped over her shoulders on damp winter days.
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And as I slowly put things back into place after last night’s confusion I begin to look worriedly at the day ahead of me. The voices floating in from the other room are bothersome and slowly I fall back into that isolation by which I defend myself, remaining concentrated on my failures. Perhaps it is in this very moment of frustration that God will come to visit me!
This is how I imagine a kind of modern Peter: the Gospel portrays him at the start of the day, while he tends to the nets that, the night before, had been useless to him.
A futile night, a night in which he’d caught nothing. The voices from within call him a failure; voices that begin to paint a tragic future of humiliation before those he cares for, before those he is going to have to answer to for his failure. These are the voices that greeted him at the start of the day. Peter doesn’t want to be bothered. Everything annoys him. But it seems that its precisely in moments like that that someone appears who refuses to leave you in peace.
There were two boats, and of course, he had to climb into yours. Perhaps Jesus noticed Peter’s sullen mood and tried not to ask too much. He asks Peter to put out a short distance from the shore so that he could speak to the people with ease. If Jesus had asked for too much, Peter would have had grounds to refuse: it was a bad time! But that short distance was strategic; it was just enough so as to not refuse. But now Jesus is in Peter’s boat, he has taken it and he does not intend to give it up.
Peter has just finished tending the last of his nets, he’s preparing to return home. He’s just waiting for this fool to finish talking so that he can get back to shore and get out of there when a second request is made of him. But this time it’s an exaggerated one, one intended to provoke: put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch. Don’t stay here at the shore, but go back to the deepest part of the lake: go down to the deepest part of the most frustrating parts of your life, do not run from them. Go back to the very place of your failures, where you felt utterly lost, where you felt useless. Go back there and let’s try to read back over together what you’ve lived through.
Yes, these are the moments that seem to never end. Those are the words that make your life story pass before your eyes. You think of everything, and in the end you don’t even realize what you’re doing. You accept it. Perhaps in part because you’re desperate, perhaps in part because you think you have reasons to trust. Peter had already seen Jesus in action. In fact, shortly before Luke told us of how Jesus had entered into Peter’s house and healed his mother-in-law (though we can’t be sure if this made Peter happy or not). But above all it’s probable that the speech Jesus gave from Peter’s boat had reached into the depths of Peter’s heart, as if Jesus had been speaking to him alone. In fact, Peter calls Jesus “master”: I trust in your words, I will risk it, I will face my failures and cast my nets one more time!
Imagine the laughter of the people watching: a carpenter giving fishing advice to a well known fisherman; a fisherman that goes fishing in the middle of the day when he has caught nothing all night. Peter exposes himself to further humiliations from those watching. I envy Peter’s freedom, his ability to listen to Jesus and do as he says without caring what others will say.
Things finally start to work out: the nets swell with fish, but in the middle of the lake, at the deepest point. But something else must have happened also. Rather than express sheer joy at the extraordinary catch on that memorable day, rather than taking a selfie while he dragged the nets or with one of the giant fish, Peter throws himself at Jesus’ feet and begs him to leave him: Peter has gone to the deepest point, not only of the lake but also the deepest part of himself, and he understood the symbolic meaning of that catch.
Jesus is inviting Peter to trust him at all times; he is asking him to trust him with his life every day. He proposes that they face the most difficult and frightening parts of life together. The events and situations we face in life speak far more than words when we are willing to read over them again honestly.
And Jesus confirms Peter’s interpretation of the event but he does so with an enigmatic expression: you will be a fisher of men! It’s a paradoxical and incomprehensible prophecy and yet, within those words, Peter was able to realize something about his life, about his identity – that is, being a fisherman but in a new way: a fisher of men.
Jesus does not want to change Peter’s identity. Peter is fine the way he is. Jesus wants to make the most of what Peter is: a fisherman you are, a fisherman you remain, but you will be so in a new way, in the service of others.
Questions for reflection:
– Are there moments of failure that the Lord is inviting you to revisit with him?
– How is the Lord asking you to make the most of what you are already?