The scripture challenges us this weekend on how we perceive God’s ongoing call to service, stepping out of ourselves, and stepping in with Jesus. How do we put out into the deep and let God do the catch? Like Isaiah who says, "Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips" or like Peter, we may be quick to say to God, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” What is your attitude towards God’s call to service?
The liturgical cycle usually focuses our attention on an ongoing call to conversion. They also show the process or stages of conversion. The first stage is the recognition of our sins. We must acknowledge who we truly are. The second stage is the acknowledgment of God’s mercy in our lives. He does not wait until we are perfect but meets us where we are and blesses us anyway. The last stage of conversion is discipleship, being sent out into the world as agents of mercy to others. If we look at the response of Isaiah to God’s call to conversion, we appreciate how we use words that come from our mouth. Do we say words that hurt, that don’t build up and maybe even tear down? Recognizing our faults and failures is the first stage of conversion. Knowing that we are in need of mercy instills in us a certain sense of humility -that God meets us there. Then, we acknowledge God’s grace in our lives. Here, the sacraments help us -Confession, Eucharist. See how God fills the boats daily with fish (abundance of graces) that we are not capable of catching by our efforts?
I am sure that the fishermen in the gospel are surprised at how this scene plays out with Jesus. The gospel narrates, “The fishermen had gone out of the boats and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats – it was Simon’s – and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.” Christ just shows up, surprises these would-be first disciples. Christ does not need your permission if he wants you. He just shows up on your routine, takes on your ordinariness of life to make you know the difference his presence brings. In the case of these disciples, fishing is their regular job or profession. Christ shows up there. He starts from what they know to move them deeper into what they do not know. He takes them from the level of human professionalism to the level of divine mystery/mastery to show that qualifications can be insignificant in God’s service. Do you recognize when Christ shows up? What happens when he shows up?
Jesus invites Simon, “put out a little from the shore.” But Jesus goes off to do something else. Between this time, Jesus gives the impression as if he is not interested in his demand from Simon. He continues teaching the people on the shore while letting Simon contemplate on the invitation. When God makes a demand of you, he lets you deal with your feelings. He waits. Certainly, vocations may delay, responses may slow down, but vocations do not die. They wait. It is called God’s time.
Jesus circles back to Simon, this time, with emphasis, “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” This clarity is important for Simon and his crew for several reasons. First, the time of Jesus’ appearance in their midst is untimely since fishing is rarely done in the daytime. Second, they have been fishing all night and are unable to catch a fish. Third, they are professionals in this area and perhaps should know better. Fourth, they are in the shallow area of the sea and would not expect any sizeable fish within that seashore zone. All these make Simon’s hesitation valid. But none of these matters to Jesus. Simon begins to realize that. What might the Master be asking of him here? Is he letting himself be in the way of a healthy, positive response? Simon is likely taken aback by the surprise request, so he is not totally wrong. Every vocation goes through complex process before it discerns the correct response -reluctance, hesitation, confusion, doubt, then acceptance. Simon goes through all these. Then, he submits to Jesus, “but if you say so, I will put out the nets.”
Let’s put this in our own context. What is God asking of you? Is there a voice asking you to do something for God? Are you hesitating? Does your mind tell you that you are not good enough? Did your initial try not produce expected fruits? I wish to remind you that “Put out into the deep,” is an invitation to take a risk with God. It means, to plunge yourself into the Master’s will. The request to put into the deep has nothing to do with your qualifications or expertise. It is more about your availability, your presence. All God is asking you is to lower your nets. Bring your humanity to him. Make yourself available. God himself does the catch.
There could be a part of the old Simon in us. Most times, our negative self-image focuses on our inadequacies preventing a healthy response. When you hear, “I am not good enough. I cannot do it. I am not qualified,” the devil is trying to steal your opportunity to cast into the deep with God. The devil throws doubts, anxieties, fears, disbelief, despair, hopelessness, and a feeling of unworthiness at you. Letting negative feelings and thoughts hold you down or get the better part of you only creates excuses for what God might be asking you to do.
Simon says to Jesus, “But if you say so.” The expression, “If you say so,” professes openness to God’s grace, a willingness to step in where God wants. It requires faith and trust. The big lesson is that God is not asking for a perfect person but a willing person. God wants our presence, availability, and cooperation, not our perfection. As work-in-progress, Christ understands that we’re sometimes afraid, sometimes discouraged, sometimes overwhelmed, yet he wants to use us. Here is the deal, your “If you say so,” must trump your “We have labored all night.” That way, you stay open to God’s will and invitation. Christ presents the great opportunity to Simon whereas Simon is focusing on his inadequacy. His reaction is, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” Who tells him that Christ does not know all that? Is your default action to go to your negative, your weak spot, your wounding? What holds you back? Do you think that God is ignorant of your weakness? Do you think he is asking you to serve out of your perfection? That is a mistake we make. Christ says to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” We must overcome our fears and anxieties to embrace God’s grace in our vocations.
My friends, Christ says today, “Put out into the deep and lower net for a catch.” Here is an email I received this week from someone who has become my friend recently (with his permission):
Hello Father Vin,
I must share with you something that happened at work this week. A co-worker began to explain to myself and another that he was suffering for years with anxiety and depression and had a recent bout where he just cried all day. My usual reaction is to shy away from this type of person and maybe even joke in private. However, a picture of you instantly came to mind and I pulled this co-worker to a private location. This is where your true inspiration came to me! I listened attentively to his problems, (so out of character for me), and spoke to him. I said at those times he seemed to be in a long dark tunnel however God was with him every step of the way. God was not only the Light at the end of the tunnel... but was in the tunnel with him. He admitted that he did feel trapped in a tunnel at those times. I told him God was watching him and told him he should put one foot in front of the other and he would reach the tunnel's end. At the end of our talk which lasted a good while, he did something I did not expect... He gave me a hug and thanked me for re-assuring him that he was a normal person, and that God was indeed there for him. This gentleman stated he attended a Bible study group the next day and was feeling much better. I feel God worked through you and my Dad to give me the patience and the words to help this person. If that vision of you at the podium did not flash in my mind, I would have probably just made a comment and walked away.
My friends, for this week I want you to discover where God is asking you to “put out into the deep.” What exactly is hindering you? It can be to work on your marriage, to help a colleague at work, to restore a broken family relationship. Is it to volunteer in the church or to give help to someone in need? Vocation is about bearing fruits, and you must put out into the deep to bear fruits. Are you ready to say today, “Here I am?” All God needs is a willing heart and a willing hand. He will get the fish into your net. Have you deferred for long, yet the feelings never go away? Offer your fears or doubts up and tell him, “If you say so…”
Readings: 1st- Is. 6:1-2, 3-8; 2nd- 1 Cor. 15:1-11; Gospel- Lk. 5:1-11