The encounter between Jesus and Simon Peter in today’s Gospel reading is a nice story, but I think it goes deeper than that. In this encounter, we see five very important principles of the life of a disciple. So I would like to address these reflections to our catechumens and candidates for full communion with the Church this morning. I do that because, as you continue your journey to become one with us, you may very well see some of these things happening in your own lives, and I want you to know that these things are okay, that they are good, and that they are part of God’s plan for your life. Now, having said that, the rest of you aren’t off the hook here. These things really apply to all of us, because we are constantly growing in our discipleship, and conversion is an ongoing thing for all of us. That’s why all of our RCIA rituals take place here at Mass and not in private. We all have to learn from them the way to conversion.
And so, let’s dive into these five principles. The first principle of the disciple’s life is that we don’t choose God; God chooses us. Simon Peter didn’t put out an invitation to Jesus to join him in the boat. He probably didn’t even want the company, to be honest. He was washing his nets and cleaning up the boat after a very long, and very unproductive night of fishing. They’d been up all night, they were frustrated, and they probably just wanted to be left alone. But Jesus gets into Simon’s boat without even asking if he can come aboard, sits down, and tells him to put out a short distance from shore so he can teach the people from that boat-pulpit. If we think we are all here today because we chose to be here, chose to be God’s people, then we’ve gotten it all wrong. God chose us to be here, and we might not even know why, but God does, and he will reveal it in his own time.
The second principle of the disciple’s life is that it’s not about what we can do. As I’ve pointed out, Simon and his co-workers had a very unproductive night. And that’s horrible for them because this is their livelihood. They weren’t out for a relaxing night of fishing, they were out for fish to sell at market to feed their families, and they’ve caught nothing. It wasn’t just that they caught very little; we are told that they’ve caught nothing – zero fish, or at least nothing they could sell or eat. And that’s not unusual. Whenever you see Peter and the others fishing in the Gospel, they are always catching nothing when they are on their own. Try it – go through the Gospel and look for those stores, you’ll see. So it might seem strange that Jesus would call fishermen to be his Apostles, but it almost seems like fiduciary misconduct to pick fishermen who were complete failures at their craft. In fact we are told that the only really qualified guy he chose was Judas Iscariot, and we all know what became of him, don’t we? It’s not about what we can do, how successful we are, what personal gifts we have. God has something special in mind for us, and he can call anyone he wants. And he does.
The third principle follows from the second, and that is that it is always God who does the really great things that we seem to accomplish. For Peter and the others, we see it very simply … Jesus tells them to put out into the deep water, and despite their utter exhaustion and their better judgment, they do so, they lower the nets, and they can hardly bring the huge catch of fish in to land. They are extremely successful, but only because they have relied on God’s grace for their success. If we are serious about our success, either in our business or in our discipleship, then we too have to be ready to give it over to God’s grace. It’s hard because that involves letting go, giving God control, taking the good with the bad, constantly seeking God’s will. But that is our call, fellow disciples, that’s what we do.
The fourth principle is extremely important for us to get, because this is so insidious. This principle tells us that we are completely unworthy of such grace in the face of how awesome God is. And it’s true, none of us is worthy of the calling we have received. I’m not worthy to be a priest, you may not be worthy to be a parent, perhaps you’re not worthy of the work you’ve been called to do. But God has called us to do all of this anyway. Yes, we’re sinful, and perhaps like Peter we’d like to say “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man” or woman. Perhaps like Isaiah in our first reading, we find that we are men or women of unclean lips living among people of unclean lips. Who are we to proclaim the Gospel? Who are we to lead others? And Satan especially would love for us to give in to this. Because if we are caught up in our unworthiness, we can never be used to accomplish God’s will. But, unworthy as we are, it’s not about us, it’s about God and what God can do in us, so we have to seek forgiveness, pursue conversion, and then do what God asks of us. We must remember that forgiveness and conversion, like every other gift, is never meant just for us, it’s meant for us to share, and the way that we share that is to do God’s work in whatever way He’s called us to do it.
And the fifth principle is that God always sees better stuff in us than we see in ourselves. Jesus saw past Peter’s inadequacies as a fisherman and saw that he would be really great as an Apostle to bring people to the kingdom. He saw past Isaiah’s vulgarity to know that he would be just the person to speak his word. God knows that our sins do not define who we are; having created us, he alone knows of what we are capable, and he gives us a commission that goes beyond what we think we can do. He asks just one thing of us: “Do not be afraid.” This past summer, I saw the movie, “Julie and Julia.” Being a foodie, I loved it, but I also loved that Julia Child had learned the lesson Jesus always wants his disciples to hear … she always said “Don’t be afraid.” For her that meant she could cook anything. For us it means we can do anything God calls us to do. Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching people.
Lent is coming. For our catechumens and candidates, that means formation will kick up to a fever pitch. God will be doing amazing things in you. Satan will be working hard to put a stop to it. But don’t be afraid, God knows of what you are capable and he will give you the grace to accomplish it. For the rest of us, this coming Lent will be a call to conversion, re-conversion, and growth in discipleship. We would do well to remind ourselves yet again this Lent that it is God who chooses us, that it’s not about what we can do, that it’s always God who gives us the grace to do truly great things, that our unworthiness does not define us in the eyes of God, and that God knows of what we are capable and sees great things in us. Maybe Lent can find us putting aside whatever fears keep us from answering God’s call and instead allow ourselves to be truly changed, truly used by God to do great things. Do not be afraid.