5th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell OP
Simon Peter grouses about his empty nets, Jesus just points to the
water and says, “Try again.” When the nets come up bursting at
the seams with fish, Peter and his helpers are astonished. Peter is
so astonished that he falls to his knees and confesses his
sinfulness! He doesn't praise Jesus or thank him or pepper him with
questions about how he worked this miracle. He confesses. And what
exactly is he confessing? Laziness? Pride? Anger? Matthew doesn't
name Peter's sin, but we can work it out that Peter is confessing to
the sin of anxiety, the sin of faithlessness. He complies with Jesus'
command to throw his nets once more, but he doesn't truly obey; that
is, he doesn't throw his nets b/c he deeply loves his teacher. He
does it more like “sure, whatever you say.” Peter's disobedience
isn't apparent to his helpers, but it's sounding like a fog horn in
his own heart and mind. So, he drops to his knees and confesses.
Christ reveals to Peter and to us that when we, as Christians, work
w/o Christ, we fail. Even if the work gets done, we fail. With
Christ, however, our work is always complete and fruitful. Even if at
first it appears we have failed.
know this gospel scene is about Christ making his apostles “fishers
of men,” those sent out to catch and haul in the souls of men and
women who have seen and heard the Word. But underneath this scene,
animating it from behind-the-scenes is a larger, deeper theological
revelation, one the story itself both reveals and occludes. The story
tells us that when we obey Christ – truly obey, not merely comply
with – our work is abundantly blessed. The evidence is right there
on the shore of the sea – nets bursting with fish when earlier
there were no fish to be found. The story also tells us that our
failures – in ministry, in marriage, in family life, at work –
are almost always rooted in some sin, some species of disobedience.
In Peter's case, his sin is a failure to fully trust the Lord's word.
He complies, but he does so with a kind of despair. Peter believes
that his next attempt to catch some fish will be exactly like all of
his previous attempts – empty. He discounts Christ's presence and
his commanding word. Lastly, the story tells us that we belong to
Christ. When we remember him, when we work along side him, in his
name and for his glory, our work is abundantly fruitful. Why? B/c it
is Christ who does the real work.
this is the truth the story hides. Not hides per se but blurs.
Jesus doesn't cast out or haul in the nets. He doesn't row the boat
or mend the nets. Or, if he does, Matthew leaves that part out!
Christ's work isn't hands-on. In this scene, Jesus is a presence, a
teaching presence. He's there to reveal and instruct. He is a
physical reminder to the fishermen, a prompt that nudges these men to
ask: the Lord is always with me – there he is right now! – but
am I always with the Lord? NB. Peter and his fellow fishermen
catch nothing before the Lord arrives. After he arrives and commands
another attempt, they catch more fish than they can handle. Peter is
repentant b/c he doubted the Lord's word. But he is also aware that
he had forgotten the Lord's promise that he would always be his
brothers and sisters. Even in his absence, he is present. Where two
or more are gathered in my name, I am with you always. True. But
am I always with the Lord? As followers of Christ, heirs to the
Kingdom, brothers and sisters in the Spirit, every word we speak,
every thought we think, every deed we do, is abundantly blessed when
we speak, think, and do, knowing he is with us and we with him.
how do we always stay with the Lord? How do we remain always in his
presence? First, we make it a foundational act of faith that he is
always with us. Not just here in church. Not just when we call his
name. Not just when we might need him. Always. Second,
remember Scripture: we live, move, and have our being in Him. We are
b/c He is. Practice noticing your being; that is, make a habit of
noting that you are alive. Driving, working, exercising, eating –
give Him thanks and praise for your existence. Third, give Him thanks
and praise for the existence of others in your life. Start a circle:
immediate family, then friends, then co-workers, and so on. Name them
and give God thanks for them. Fourth, no work you and I can do is
done outside Christ. We belong to Christ, so everything we do belongs
to Christ. Dedicate your work to his glory. File papers in his name.
Grade exams in his name. Deliver packages in his name. Stock shelves,
teach kids, count money, bag groceries, collect garbage, nurse the
sick, change sheets, wash the dishes in his name and for his glory.
Christ never forgets us. He is with us always. The secret to hauling
in nets bursting with fish is to discipline ourselves in the art of
keeping ourselves always with him.
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