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The Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C

The Call of Simon Peter 

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And so we have to remember here, on a human level, Simon Peter is a professional fisherman. That might not come through clearly, but it’s really important to notice.  He’s got partners, there are multiple boats; we learn from Mark’s gospel that James and John, their father Zebedee has hired servants to work the boats, so this is a fishing business. This is a fishing enterprise. They’re not just peasants who have nothing to do better than to fish. They’re professionals and so they know what they’re doing, and Jesus by contrast is a tektōn, in Greek he’s a carpenter or a builder. So fishermen do not like carpenters to tell them how to fish. That’s just a basic rule.

And so when Jesus gets into the boat and after teaching tells Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch”, there’s a real test taking place here because as Simon tells him, “Master, we toiled all night and we caught nothing.” So they’ve been out all night long fishing, which is something you’ll see in the gospels frequently, night time fishing. Evidentially that was a plentiful or strategic way to fish; they fish during the night. They fished “all throughout the night”, so it’s morning. So you can imagine, Peter’s probably tired (on a human level), and he’s frustrated from not having caught any fish and this carpenter comes along and says, “Well, hey, did you try the deep water? Go out into the deep water and try and put your nets down and see what happens.” So this is a test. Is Peter going to do the human thing which would be, “I know what I’m doing, thank you very much. We failed. Nothing, caught nothing all night. I’m not about to just go out into the water again and let down a net.” Especially, by the way, if fish don’t like noise, and you’ve got crowds all along the shore and Jesus has been preaching. That’s not really the ideal setting for throwing the nets into the water. And yet, what does Peter say? “At your word, I will let down the nets.”

In this instance, Peter manifests the virtue of humility to Christ. On a human level, Peter’s the expert and Jesus is the non-expert, but as he says to him later on, “Go away from me for I am a sinful man, Lord (Kurios).” He is putting himself in submission to Jesus. He recognizes his unworthiness in the presence of Jesus, so he obeys him. Humility and obedience are the two virtues that Peter shows in this very important story of his call. So they go out and they let down the nets, and they don’t just catch fish, they catch a great shoal of fish, so many that the nets are breaking. They call their partners to come and help them, and when they fill both the boats, there’s so many fish that the boats are starting to sink. Now, I’ve been on good fishing trips before but never have I been on a fishing trip where we had so many fish that the boat started to sink. This is a super abundant catch. This is a miraculous catch. This is an inexplicable event because they’ve been fishing all night and they haven’t caught a single thing. Now Jesus turns everything around, and makes it so super abundant that the boats are starting to sink. When Simon Peter sees this, he recognizes that this is supernatural. He recognizes, “this is a miracle.” He recognizes that only God can make something like this happen, and in the face of the miracle, Peter is struck with awe and fear. We’re going to see this over and over again in the Old Testament as well as in the gospels. Whenever people encounter displays of divine power, they don’t simply say, “wow that’s really cool!” They often respond with fear and trembling, because in the presence of a holy God we recognize our own unworthiness and our own powerlessness, and our own sinfulness, and that’s what Peter says here in these powerful words. “But Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell down to Jesus knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’.”...

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