It seems at first glance that this gospel reading is about fishing. In truth it is about no such thing.It is a test of faith. It is about honestly assessing the obstacles and hindrances that are between us and a life that is dedicated to God. What are the obstacles in the way of our complete obedience to Jesus Christ? What are the things that are getting in the way of truly following the Lord?
The disciples (who were not yet disciples) had fished all night long and they caught nothing. That is not a small statement. They were fishermen that didn’t have fish! How would they survive? If they did not catch fish, they had nothing to sell or trade with others. If they had nothing to sell or trade with others then they would be left in a bad situation. How would they feed their families? How would they clothe them? How could a fisherman return to his home after a long night of work with nothing but the sweat of brow to show for it?
You hear that they caught nothing, but do you perceive the significance? It means that the fishermen were on the brink of despair. They didn’t go out and fish for fun, they went out of necessity. But after a long and hard night, their necessities were not met even in the slightest. St. Luke tells us that as Jesus was walking along the shore He saw two boats by the lake and He decided to get into one of the boats while the men were off washing their nets. Our Lord decided that it was time to teach the people who were nearby along the shore. To the fishermen, this act would’ve been seen as bold, perhaps pretentious, but certainly not considerate of what they had gone through. They were tired, grumpy, hungry and thirsty and now an uninvited guest decides to jump into one of their ships to teach the people. That might have been acceptable but then this same guest tells them to go one step further. He tells them to go back to work. They had just finished fishing and were washing their nets, preparing to go to their homes and He tells them to start fishing again!
You see that the Lord was not inconsiderate of their needs, their fears or their desires. He knows that they want rest, food and comfort. But He knows their desire is to catch fish because fishing is their very livelihood. But He knows even more than this. While they think that their deepest desire is for fish. He recognizes that their true desire is to work for something that doesn’t pass away. But the only way He can show them a better path is to first bring them through a fierce trial that will lead them to question everything in their lives. We express awe and wonder that the Lord allowed them to catch such a great number of fish, yet we don’t express the same awe and wonder at the way the Lord prevented these skilled fishermen from catching even one fish that very night! None of this happened by chance. It was all by God’s providence for their benefit.
In the Christian life, we notice that God works in our life in miraculous ways. It seems that this is more so the case when we are pushed to the edge of despair. That is really what this story is all about; grown men who are pushed to the edge of despair. While they are hovering at the brink of total failure…the Lord asks more of them. Go out again, into the depths and let down your nets. Here at this moment, the soon-to-be-disciples are forced to make a difficult decision. They could ignore this man who stood before them or they could obey. Their choice would not guarantee anything at all. But on faith and faith alone, they obeyed. And because they honored the Master with faithfulness, He gave them the honor of becoming His disciples.
The Lord knows your struggles. He knows the struggles of your family. He is not inconsiderate of your needs. He knows our needs intimately, yet He is persistent in the way that He deals with us. He wants us to trust Him with complete obedience as He guides us through these difficulties and tribulations that we face. The Lord asks us over and over again to trust Him more than we despair in our situation. He tells us what He told the disciples “Put out into the deep and let your nets down for a catch.” Sometimes what we feel that we need is something material (money for gas, rent or some new shoes). God will provide these.
But sometimes what we are really fishing for is the thing that will bring meaning and purpose into our lives. For these moments, it is prayer that is our form of fishing and the deep is a reference to the human heart. Most of the time we live and move and act with only a superficial knowledge of what is going on in the heart. The Lord asks the disciples to go deeper. He doesn’t do this because He wants to see them suffer or work hard. He does this out of love for them because He wants them to have a great catch of fish and those fish reside in the deep!
Likewise, He wants us to approach all our work, but especially the task of knowing God, by going deeper. Because there is nothing worth catching in the shallows. But how do we go deeper to fish for God and for His blessings? Start with dedicated quiet time every day. Use some of this quiet time to reflect on your sins and to repent. If possible take that repentance so seriously that you are even moved to tears. This is how we put out into the deep and let our nets down for a catch. We go deep within ourselves and we raise up our hands (along with our petitions) like a net that is seeking to catch the grace of God. If we’ve never felt God’s presence or “caught” His blessings, perhaps it is because we have not gone fishing through prayer. And if we have prayed, perhaps we have not gone deep enough to find the big catch but instead chosen to fish in the shallows.
The Lord is waiting and His sea of compassion is rich with gifts and blessings. He has given us nets, and if we trust Him, He will fill those nets to the brim and give us what we need and an abundance to share with others. Glory be to God forever AMEN.