Fifth Sunday, Year C Lectio divina on Lk 5,1-11
In Luke’s gospel, the call of the first disciples comes a bit later than in Mark. Luke does not present it as the first thing Jesus did. In Mark, discipleship was introduced while Jesus was evangelizing the people. According to Luke, Jesus was preaching and he needed a boat to serve as a pulpit. Before the disciples were called to follow Jesus, they had to hear how he preached to the crowd, and see for themselves the tremendous power he had to attract a crowd. Before being called, the disciple was one of the listeners in the crowd. Before giving his life to serve Jesus, he had to lend Jesus his instrument of work, his boat. Before becoming a fisher of men, he had to see that catching fish was of little importance.
This text does not record Jesus’ first meeting with Simon Peter, the disciple who was later to become the rock of the Christian community.
Peter’s life underwent a radical change that day. Jesus gave him a new job – he was no longer to spend his time catching fish, but catching men for God. This new job of promoting the Kingdom among people was entrusted to a fisherman, who just happened to meet Jesus, a complete unknown until that day when Jesus approached him and asked him to pull his boat out a bit from the shore, so that he might be better able to preach to the crowd gathered at the lakeside. Now that he had met Jesus, he never wanted to leave him.
At that time: 1 While the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret. 2 And he saw two boats by the lake; but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, 7 they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
I. Read: understand what the text is saying paying attention to how it says it.
Luke’s account of the first call differs notably from that given in his source (Mk 1,16-20). Jesus is fully engaged in the work of evangelization. Luke has a good reason for not following his source in this instance, because he has a particular understanding, all his own, of what it means to be a disciple.
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is still unknown when he calls his first disciples. In Luke, however, the people already know Jesus (Lk 4,16-30). His fame as a wonder-worker is already recognised (Lk 4,38-42). In Mark, the people called, the two sets of brothers, did not want to go with Jesus. But according to Luke, before Jesus called Simon Peter, he had already been a guest in his house and had healed his mother-in-law (Lk 4,38-39).
In this way, Luke did not want to portray a vocation as the beginning of a relationship that would develop into sharing the life and mission of Jesus (Mk 3,13-19). The call presupposes prior knowledge and an experience that has already begun. Therefore:
• Before being called by Jesus, the disciple had to be a useful collaborator in evangelization (Lk 5,3). He had seen Jesus preaching to the crowd from his boat and had experienced the power he had over the people who heard him.
• Before being called, the disciple must go wherever the Master sends him, even out into the sea, from which he might return empty-handed (Lk 5,5). This act of obedience, seemingly pointless, prepares the disciple to follow Jesus and will make him stronger in his mission.
• And when the gift is so abundant that it places his life in danger, he will know whom it is he is following, and will feel unworthy to remain in his presence (Lk 5,8). So when he was called, before he followed Jesus, Simon had a powerful experience alongside the Master.
• Sharing life with the Master prepares the disciple for the call. Anyone who has not served Jesus, even for a short time, will not fear him. Anyone who does not fear him, has never been close to him. Anyone who has never been close to him, will not be called to follow him. Anyone who does not follow him and him alone, will not abandon everything.
There is sound pedagogy in this vocational itinerary, but it applies to a different type of vocation. It is easy to see the process: a command that goes against one’s own experience, obedience to the command, a miraculous catch, so big that it endangers one’s life, and then safety. The miracle leads Simon to recognise Jesus as Lord, and to acknowledge that he is not worthy to remain in his presence. This confession of his sinfulness leads to a new mission.
II. Meditation: apply what the text says to life
Luke places the call of the first disciples much later than Mark does, when Jesus had already begin his public ministry, with some success. The disciple must go where the Master sends him, even out to sea, from which he might return empty-handed.
This apparently pointless act of obedience prepares the disciple to follow him, and so the Master lets him witness some miracles. And when the gift is so abundant that it places his life in danger, he will know whom it is he is following, and will feel unworthy to remain in his presence. So when he was called, Simon had to have a powerful experience alongside the Master. Sharing life with the Master prepares the disciple to follow him. Anyone who does not fear him, has never been close to him. Anyone who has never been close to him, will not be called to follow him.
It all begins with a small service, which Peter did as a favour to Jesus. Of all the fishermen who were washing their nets, Peter was the one who helped to ensure that the word of God was heard.
When he finished his discourse, Jesus wanted to reward Peter’s gesture and the time he had taken, so he sent Peter back out to sea to start fishing. It was a strange situation. Peter was an expert fisherman and he knew that the time for fishing was the night. He knew well, therefore, that what Jesus was telling him to do was a waste of time. However, despite his experience and his recent lack of success, he agreed and put out into the deep. He caught so many fish that the boat almost capsized. He was nearly shipwrecked in the deep sea that, just a short while previously, had yielded no fish. This miraculous event was enough for Peter to discover that Jesus was more than a simple preacher.
He was amazed and he feared for his life. A miracle occurred, completely unforeseen and contrary to all expectations, because he had obeyed a strange command, in which he had no faith and no confidence. He realized that he was unworthy to be in the presence and company of Jesus, or in the same boat … when the Lord called him to serve him, he gave him a new kind of work and obliged him to leave his occupation.
This episode shows us how Jesus acts when he approaches someone and decides to make him his disciple. Reflecting on this incident will help us to imagine what kind of conditions Jesus would use today to preach about his Kingdom, in a way that would make people accept it. If we discover that, it will help us to become his disciples.
There are three stages to note. While Jesus is preaching, he needs people who will offer him some small service, and he chooses them by asking a favour of them. This is his gentle, almost imperceptible, way of entering into communication with us, without requiring too much effort from us. Jesus gets in contact with anyone among us he chooses, asking us to give him a short space of time, and to put at his disposal our talents and the things we possess. Only if we do that, without making it seem too difficult, will he give of his time and power to let us have what we are unable to achieve on our own.
If we pay a lot more attention to him when he asks us for something, and when he has need of us, he will come to our assistance and save us from our helplessness. As in the case of Peter, it is not enough for us to know our job and to do all in our power to succeed. What we were unable to obtain in a whole night’s work, he will give us as soon as we enter his company, and do him the favour he asks of us. If we stay with him, and accept his word, we will receive what we could never achieve through our own knowledge and efforts.
The order to ‘put out into the deep’ was the last thing Peter wanted to hear in that situation. After a hard night’s work and the disappointment of catching nothing, going against all he had learnt from his experience, at a time when his companions were getting ready for rest, he was being asked to put his trust in a total stranger and return to work, heading back out to the sea he had just come from with an empty boat.
Jesus comes to the people he loves, and makes strange and unusual requests of them. But it is only when they overcome their amazement at the strange command, which goes against all their knowledge and everyday experience, that the miracle happens. No effort is required except the effort to overcome their incredulity. By trusting totally in Jesus, they will see, as Peter did, the outcome they had worked so hard for, obtaining more than they had ever imagined.
The ‘put out into the deep’ that Jesus addressed to Peter should be enough to convince us that, if we want to see miracles, we have to obey as Peter did, and have the same trust. Anyone who puts into practice the words of Jesus, no matter what he says, will see miracles without having to give up the things he always does, without leaving his occupation and his boat as Peter did that day.
‘Put out into the deep’ is a constant invitation to risk letting go of our everyday experience -what we have always known and done, what we do as our work for our own welfare – and put our trust only in the words of Jesus. We will come to realize that Jesus does not demand of us more than we are able to do. He merely wants us to do what he asks of us, even if it goes against our experience and we do not feel like it.
It is easy to understand how Peter, in the presence of such a miraculous event, should be deeply touched and feel the distance between him and Jesus. It was the goodness of Jesus that showed Peter how sinful he was, and when he realized his sinfulness, he obeyed the Lord’s command and agreed to share in the Lord’s work. Jesus accepts as companion in his mission one who feels unworthy even to be near him.
Strange, but that is how it is! Peter was called only after he declared his unworthiness to be in the Lord’s company. It was enough for Peter to be near the Lord for him to feel how greatly inferior he was, and to think of himself as not good enough.
Unfortunately, we do not trust Jesus because we do not see miracles. We do not feel good because we do not give him total trust.
Anyone who comes to Jesus and does not feel unworthy of him, will not be invited to remain with him. Anyone who does not acknowledge that he is unworthy to be in the presence of Jesus, is not worthy to follow him, to continue his work and to represent him among people. Strange as it may seem, we are not worthy of Jesus’ call, if we think we are worthy. We lose out on what is best, because we think we are good.
And so it is for us: not only will we not get what we ask for, but we will not even get the invitation from Jesus to be near him.