Luke 5: 1-11
1 While the crowd pressed Jesus on all sides and listened to the word of God, and he was standing near the sea of Gennesaret, 2 it happened that he saw two boats standing near the sea and whose fishermen who had gone down washed their nets. 3 When he got into one of the boats, which belonged to Simon, he asked him to go a little way from the shore. Then, sitting down, he taught the crowds in the boat.
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Go away in deep water and throw your nets to fish". 5 Simon answered him, "Master, after having toiled all night, we took nothing. But on your word, I'll throw the nets". 6 After doing this, they seized a very large quantity of fish to the point that their nets were about to be torn apart. 7 And they made a sign to their companions in the other boat to help them. They came and filled the two boats to the point where they almost sank. 8 Seeing this, Simon Peter threw himself at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man. The perplexity had overwhelmed him, and all those who were with him, in front of the fishing they had just done. 10 This was also the case of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were Simon's companions. Jesus then said to Simon, "Stop being afraid! From now on, it is men that you will take". 11 Bringing their boats to the shore and abandoning everything, they began to follow him.
So much to say in order to show the way of life
Gospel commentary - Homily
Every time I hang up the phone on Sunday afternoon after talking to mom, I hear myself saying, "Good! It is done! The next phone can wait two or three weeks". Talking to my old mother who is close to 90 years old is difficult for me: she always repeats the same thing, forgets what she is told, and finding a subject for conversation is more and more painful; confined to her seniors' home, her focus is limited to very few things. Each time I ask myself: what is the purpose of these conversations that go nowhere? However, I know that mom is really expecting these phone calls, but I would have dreamed of something else, conversations like we can have with friends, where we open the heart and talk about the mystery of life. Unfortunately, there is the generation gap, the culture gap, and nothing is no longer possible.
Many will recognize themselves in the situation I have just described as it is happening so often today. It touches the difficulty of communicating, especially when life and events make us take different paths. This is the setting in which I want to reread this passage from Luke's Gospel traditionally called the miraculous catch. Because before talking about fishing, this story is centered on the word of God, on this urgency to communicate.
Luke's story has two stages. The first is centered on the preaching of Jesus: on the shore of the lake he preaches to the crowds who hold him so closely that he has to get into a boat to continue his preaching. The second stage is the one where Jesus asks to go fishing in deep water, which gives extraordinary results and becomes for Jesus the opportunity to invite Peter to follow him in mission to catch men. The cement that keeps these two parts of the story together is the "word": the miraculous catch is of Jesus' preaching to which Peter, James and John will now be associated. In short, this word contains something almost magical, because not only do people stick to Jesus and ask for more, but the abundance of fish symbolizes the success that the disciples of Jesus will have in taking over the proclamation of this word.
This first reading of the Gospel will do very little to move us, because it presents us with a world of wonders, far from ours: good for him if Jesus had success, good for them if Simon, James and John had a successful fish trip. How does this affect us? It is only by reading a little deeper this story that things light up. Have you wondered what Jesus could do to attract the crowds? Teaching morality? Absolutely not. In the previous chapter, Jesus inaugurated his ministry at the synagogue of Nazareth by rereading the prophet Isaiah and saying that the time had just begun when the captives would be delivered, the blind would see, the oppressed would be released, and all would live a year of grace. How would you react when hearing that? You can understand then that eventually people rush to him to bring their sick and their mentally ill people so he could heal and free them. A word that restores life can raise crowds. But now, how a word that gives life again looks like?
Let's continue reading the gospel. You know the scene. Jesus asks Simon to go in deep water to throw the nets. Now, this is exactly what Simon had done all the previous night with his companions, but without success. It is here that a decisive moment occurs. Simon says, "But on your word, I'm going to throw the nets". In other words, Simon says, "My experience tells me it's useless, but since you ask me, and I believe in you, I'm going to do what you ask me". You know the rest. But there is another point to dwell on, Simon's reaction: "Go away from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man". This reaction of Simon is almost incomprehensible if one does not admit like many biblical scholars (see my analysis) that the original context of this story is after Easter, as in John 21, and therefore knowing that Simon has denied three times Jesus. In other words, how me, someone who is the first to lack courage, who is the first to yield to various temptations, in short who does not have the stature of a hero, how can I be called to bring a word that arouses life? And if it was the opposite. Because I made blunders, because I cried, because I regretted, I can now talk about life and have a heart that beats at the same pace as those of others.
After this reading, do we see how we are directly concerned by this story? At the bottom of us, we know what can bring life to others, people who are close to us and those who are less so. Instinctively, we know what people need. The gospel tells us that by doing so we continue the preaching of Jesus. But there is a problem: we do not always see the fruits as if throwing a net into the void; and who am I to compare myself to Jesus, me whose list of errors in life continues to grow? This is a decisive moment for us: are we ready to say like Simon, since you ask me, I will do it; I do not feel I have brought much, but I will continue to keep communication open.
In closing, I would like to go back to my conversations with mom. Just like this net that is thrown on the unknown, it is almost impossible to measure the totality of the fruit of a conversation. Does my word really inspire life? Hard to say. But there is one thing I can be sure of: by accepting this conversation, the word transforms me. One can not bring life without first entering oneself in the life. At least, if I have faith.
-André Gilbert, Gatineau, January 2013