As we look back on our lives, many of us will recognize a particular person who caused us to make a significant change or to go in a different direction. It might have been a parent, a neighbor or teacher, our spouse or a good friend. The change we were influenced to make was good, even though, at first, it made us very uneasy. It caused us to think bigger, do better things, use our talents in ways that we didn’t imagine possible, to live differently.
This is what we hear happen in today’s readings. Isaiah is called by God to be his prophet. Notice how, in the beginning, Isaiah does not feel worthy to be in God’s presence, saying, “Woe is me; I am doomed!” He recognizes that he is living in an evil age; even he has been caught up in it. But, God, in his infinite mercy, purges him of his sinful ways and, by the end of the reading, we hear that Isaiah is ready to do God’s bidding. “Here I am,” he declares, “send me.”
It is a similar experience for Simon in today’s Gospel. In the beginning, Simon and his companions are getting out of their boats and washing their nets, finished for the night. Yet, as a result of their encounter with Jesus, everything has changed. These same fishermen have abandoned their boats, left everything and followed Jesus. What a turnaround!
It is interesting to note how these conversions happened. Sometimes, as we hear from the prophet, Isaiah, it is a single event – in his case, a vision of God in all his majesty. But, often, it is more gradual. In today’s Gospel, for example, we doesn’t start with Jesus asking Simon to follow him. Rather, Jesus begins with something much simpler, something that Peter can do with relative ease: “Put out a short distance.” Now, this may be inconvenient, especially since Simon has been fishing all night. He is tired and just wants to clean up and get ready for tonight’s fishing expedition. But it is doable. And besides, although we don’t hear in today’s gospel passage, Jesus has just cured Simon’s mother-in-law. Simon has seen Jesus’ power at work already and he owes Jesus for this miraculous cure. So, Simon takes the first step – he gets back in the boat, puts out a short distance, and in the process, he is given a front-row seat to hear the Master of all masters speak and teach.
Jesus then asks Simon to take a second step: “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Now this is getting much more inconvenient. You can imagine what Simon is thinking, “I really didn’t want to come out here at all, but I agreed to a short distance. Now you want me to go into deep water? You may be a great preacher but, after all, you’re just a carpenter. What do you know about fishing?”
“Master,” Simon says politely, “we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing. But, at your command I will lower the nets.” A better translation of this last sentence is, “on the power of your word I will lower the nets.” You see, Simon has already experienced the power of Jesus’s word when he cured his mother-in-law, so he agrees, and notice what happens! They catch so many fish that the nets are tearing.
Simon is astonished. By the time they return to shore, the men who had been finishing their work for the day are now beginning new work for their entire lives. They leave everything and follow Jesus.
This encounter applies to our lives as well. Jesus doesn’t necessarily ask us to leave everything right away. Sometimes he comes to us in ways that we can accept, bit by bit. Go just a little further; trust the power of my word. OK, we do. Then, like Simon on the boat, we hear something new, something different. Sometimes, we are privileged to experience God’s miraculous work, too, as we or someone we love is cured of a disease or we get the job we’ve been hoping to land.
It’s easy to forget those moments, however, or to think that these good things happened simply on our merit. We don’t give God the credit that is his due but then we hear him say: “Go a little further.” In other words, trust in him a little more and begin to do his work, not yours. “I’m not so sure Lord, I’ve tried that so many times. But at your word I will.”
And this time things are different, because the work is not our own, but the Lord’s. We have worked, we have worked hard on our own and have caught nothing. Our efforts, alone, are insufficient. We do not feel fulfilled. But at the command of the Lord, at the Lord’s initiative, with his presence, our work is productive, fruitful, in fact, overflowing and our deepest needs are being fulfilled. In today’s second reading, we hear St. Paul say that he has “toiled harder” than any, but he realizes that it is not his work: “not I,” he admits, “but the grace of God that is with me.”
Jesus will meet us where we are. Little by little, he will invite us to take the next step toward becoming faithful disciples. Our efforts without him will fail. We may work hard, but our “catch” will be minimal or nothing. With the Lord, however, saying “yes” little by little, our lives will change. Our efforts will bear fruit. Our “catch” will be overflowing and our lives will be fulfilled in ways we can’t even imagine. What a privilege it is to be followers of our Lord!