When you were a child did you ever play the “what would you do” game? It wasn’t necessarily a formal game, just part of a passing conversation. You and some friends would be walking in the woods, and someone would say, “what would you do if a bear jumped out right now?”. Or you would see something, like a fender bender at an intersection and someone in your car would say, “what would you do it you were in a car accident?’. Both the scenarios and the responses were usually bigger than life.
“What would you do if gravity stopped, and you found your self floating in space?” “I would hold my breath, take off my belt, throw it at the sun and the resulting reaction would send me hurdling back to earth where I would land in a lake, and I would swim to shore”. Hmmmmm, maybe not but that is the great thing about the “what would you do” game you don’t have to come up with the right answer because the other players don’t get to question the answer. They don’t get to say things like, “if there were no gravity then why are you falling back to earth anyway” or “if you were in space you would freeze to death long before you got your belt off, so then what?” In the game you just have to answer the question.
When reading today’s gospel, I heard the perfect “what would you do?” scenario. What would you do if you met Jesus?” Not in the ethereal sense, not in the snow fields to the west, or in the winter night sky, or in the red of a cardinal on the white snow, but the person of Jesus Christ. Sure, I know that we meet Jesus every day in the people around us but what if you were walking around town, coming home from work, shoveling snow on the walk, and Jesus walked up to you got in your boat, down at the boat ramp and asked for a ride.
“While Jesus was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, many people pushed to get near Him. They wanted to hear the Word of God. Jesus saw two boats on the shore. The fishermen were not there because they were washing their nets. Jesus got into a boat which belonged to Simon. Jesus asked him to push it out a little way from land. Then He sat down and taught the people from the boat.”
Now that would be the ultimate “what would you do” scenario. No doubt Peter knew who Jesus was, he had probably heard people talking about him. Granted, this was at the beginning of his ministry, but the reading starts with the fact that there was a crowd of people pressing in on Jesus wanting to hear what he had to say. As a matter o fact, there we so many people that he got into Peter’s boat so that he could go out into this little alcove and preach to the people on the shore.
When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Push out into the deep water. Let down your nets for some fish.” Simon said to Him, “Teacher, we have worked all night and we have caught nothing. But because You told me to, I will let the net down.”
Again, great scenario for the “what would you do game”. You had just been out all-night fishing and you didn’t catch anything. Here this teacher comes along, probably knows nothing about fishing and tells you to put your nets down. No offence, but I would probably say something like, “Listen, it’s late, we’re tired, your talk was awesome, but we are all need a little rest. So, let’s go home?”
But no, Peter decides to let the nets down. And what happens? “When they had done this, they caught so many fish, their net started to break. They called to their friends working in the other boat to come and help them. They came and both boats were so full of fish they began to sink.”
While I was in college, I paid my way by working as a merchant marine during the summers. You know, the big ships that go across the ocean carrying stuff. Two of the most amazing things about the people that worked on these ships were, one, the diversity of the seamen, they were from all walks of life, ethnicity, and educational background, and two, almost to a man, they could not swim. They could not swim, they did not want to swim, and they had no desire to have anything to do with the ocean other than to sit in a steel bathtub and work on it. You would think that if you were going to make your living on the water you would at least learn to swim. Most of these guys were deathly afraid of the water. So, imaging putting them in this gospel story.
They would see their boat sinking, see the other boat sinking and you would not have to wait long for an answer to the “what would you do” game, they would immediately start looking for a way out that did not involve getting wet. Where is the lifeboat, where were the life jackets, how far is the land?
What has always amazed me about the story is that Peter does not look for a way out. He sees all that is going on around him and “he got down at the feet of Jesus. [and says] “Go away from me, Lord, because I am a sinful man.”
What happened to “save us the boat is sinking?” Or, “How about a few less fish?” He could have easily taken a line from the first reading, “Woe is me, I am doomed!”
This is an amazing story, not because of the fish but because of Peter. Previously I have mentioned how Peter is one of my favorite apostles. Not because of his holiness but because of his humanness. More often than not Peter is the one in the stories that says or does something wrong. He is the one that speaks out of turn, he is usually the last one to get the point, and he was the one that denied Jesus when he needed him most. But here, in this story, he totally gets it. He sees the ultimate reality of the situation and he got down at the feet of Jesus. He said, “Go away from me, Lord, because I am a sinful man.” He sees the reality and truth as to who Jesus is, and in that clarity he only sees repentance. Not the fish, not the water, not the sinking just eternity. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will fish for men.”
So many times, in the scripture, Jesus tells us of what is to come. We are to drink from this water and never thirst again. We will be comforted, we will inherit the earth, we will be given the kingdom of God. Here Peter is clearly seeing what is to come. He chooses not to see the catastrophe happening in the world around him, he sees only salvation and sees how his past has interfered with his attaining eternity with God.
In the second reading St. Paul puts it into very clear terms:
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins [and] that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
The boat doesn’t sink, everyone gets to shore. St. Matthew also writes about this event in chapter 4 verse 18, although in a much shorter version, all that he says is that “at once they left their nets and followed him”. That’s it, nine words and there is the answer to their “what would you do” question. But it still begs the question of us. In a similar situation would we cut the nets, let some fish go, run for the life jackets, push a few friends overboard (the best swimmers of course). At the end of the second reading, we heard:
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying,
“Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?”
He is saying “what would you do?” and how do we answer,
“Here I am,” [we] said; “send me!”
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.
February 6, 2022
February 6, 2022