by: Br. Josh Fernandez, [cjm]
I vividly remember the last question during my first job interview: “What is your goal as well as your expectation in the company?” I couldn’t help but start imagining pleasurable and wonderful things like a nice house, cars, savings and even a holiday trip to Europe. I was on cloud nine at that moment because it was a dream unfolding before my very eyes. However, six months after taking that job, I felt restless and frustrated thinking that my goal and expectations would never come to pass. In my deep desire to search for “greener pastures,” I quit my first job and transferred to another company which offered me a much better compensation package – with good pay and better perks. After working hard and putting a tremendous effort into my second job, I felt just the same: frustrated and unfulfilled. I had worked with two companies within a span of one year, still feeling that my star was very much unreachable. I asked myself what was wrong. Was it a matter of contentment or was my expectation in life too big to be attained? Just like Simon Peter in today’s gospel passage, I caught nothing after fishing all night.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus emphasizes the core of discipleship. The net symbolizes the Word of God, and the deep sea water is the world out there, while all of us represent the catch of fish. Down in the sea, no one can see the fathomless bottom and no one knows what kinds of fishes are present. The fisherman does not know what kinds of fishes he would be able to catch. It looked like that night, Simon Peter’s expectation was to have a big catch but he ended up with nothing. In our life, we like to dream big and to aim high. The expectations from family and peers are both challenging and inevitable. Competition is present everywhere: school, job, church, politics, business, etc. Everyone always wants to be the best and be ahead of everyone else. Many times, those expectations become the way we measure our goals rather than just focusing on doing our best and working hard. Failure has no place in our life. The harder we try, the bigger our expectations are. But more often than not, failure is inevitable.
Jesus commanded Simon, “Lower your nets for a catch.” The word of Jesus is direct and clear; no amount of explanation is needed in obeying that simple instruction. Down in the deep sea water are the different kinds of fishes. When Simon Peter and the disciples obeyed, they caught a great number of fish and their nets almost tore. The catch was abundant but if we try to select only the finest and the biggest ones, perhaps the catch will sometimes end up in failure. Being a fisher of men and women requires hard work and patience and should never be exclusive; that is, choosing only the best and rejecting the ones with impairment, disability or unsuitability to our selective taste. The Word of God must be for all and not only for those people which we would choose. When Jesus said, “Lower your nets for a catch”, he meant that we are to exercise humility and surrender of our lofty expectations in life. Working hard, practicing humility and submitting to God’s expectation of us are worthy of emulation in our ministry. Through this, we can say that the fulfillment of our goal is spiritual contentment and not material happiness. We might encounter several difficulties at every step of the way in our life but the most important thing is to focus on being faithful stewards of the gifts we have rather than expecting bigger results which sometimes end up in frustration.
When Simon Peter saw what Jesus did, he was overwhelmed. He too had been caught up in the net from the deep sea water and was brought into the light of Jesus. However, realizing his own unworthiness, Simon Peter told Jesus to go away as he was a sinful man! Peter is right because he is the kind of fish who chooses to stay at the bottom and far from the light. On the other hand, Jesus is neither exclusive nor selective. His expectation is not based on human ways. Jesus loves and wants Simon Peter to do the same. The story of Isaiah’s being set apart and called is a parallel account. In our first reading, Isaiah had the same reaction as Peter when he saw the throne of God and the angels flying about. “Woe to me, for I am a man of unclean lips.” God purified Isaiah’s lips so he could speak the prophetic message that God revealed to him.
When we come to the realization that we fall short of the glory of God and that our obedience to God is weak, we are overwhelmed with grief and despair. But God purifies us as we are drawn into his presence. His word to us is forgiveness; it gives us a new life, a new reason for living instead of staying in the bottom of the deep water and lingering in the dark, far from the light.
As we lower our nets, we should also lower ourselves and bow down in humility before the Lord who calls and leads us. The miracle of bringing in the miraculous catch of fish is also the miracle of making the unworthy sinner fit to be an instrument of our holy God.