Thu, September 6, 2018 - A Casual Vocation
While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch." Simon said in reply, "Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets." When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that the boats were in danger of sinking.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men." When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.
The few hours described in today’s gospel passage were a turning point in Peter’s life. When asked about his vocation, he would likely tell this day’s events. We can imagine how he would marvel in hindsight at how events had unfolded. At first, he had just been one among the crowd. Due to a practical need, his boat then had become the stage for Jesus to preach to the eager audience lining the shore; during that time, Peter had gotten to be quite close to the Rabbi and probably exchanged a few words with Him here or there. Then, just when Peter had thought that the time with Him would have come to an end, Jesus had fixed His eyes on the fisherman. What had followed was difficult to fathom in hindsight: a hesitant exchange, a miraculous catch, an outburst of joy, the frightening realization of this Jesus’ holiness and Peter’s own fragility, and finally that enigmatically casual calling. Something unfathomable had unfolded in just a few hours, so that, “when they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.” Can a vocation really happen so casually?
Sometimes life flows calmly like a shallow creek. But in other cases its torrential speed entrains us to the point of losing a clear grasp on what is happening. The fact that Peter’s calling seemed to have taken place in such a torrential moment of his life can teach us to pay close attention to such phenomena in our own lives. Both rhythms - slow and controlled, or rapid and overwhelming - have their value and God works in them. The slow times give us the chance to catch our breath, to contemplate, and to calibrate. The torrential moments, on the other hand, allow God to take things into His own hands. As a matter of fact, despite all the lack of control, we often marvel in hindsight at the fruits of such times. Just like Peter when looking back at that day on the lake.
When Jesus caused the miraculous catch, the three fishermen recognized His power over nature. Peter witnessed how Jesus was ruling powerfully over the elements. His first reaction was to withdraw himself from within the radius of that power. He was afraid. But Jesus was not really interested in working miracles over the elements; He hadn’t set out to comand fish to jump into their nets; He had set out to work miracles in the fishermen’s hearts. Whereas, at first glance, the miracles had happened in the depth of the lake, a closer look shows that the true miracle took place in the depth of Peter’s heart. As a matter of fact, what had made Peter’s day so torrential were not merely the things he had witnessed, but the things that had happened to him.
God works in our hearts. Whenever we look back and contemplate what has happened to us in the last few months or weeks or days or even minutes, we can probably find changes in our hearts. God wants to be the protagonist of these changes. When we let God into our boat, His presence will immediately start shaping our lives. Herein lies the key to following Jesus. If God is allowed to shape our hearts, His specific calling will come as naturally and almost casually as in today’s gospel. Your personal vocation is no mysterious treasure hunt; it simply is the consensus to let God take control.