Updated: Feb 28, 2022
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE].
Our gospel passage presents us with a very beautiful conversion story which speaks for itself. But I’d like to draw your attention to three particular considerations, and invite you to reflect upon them with respect to your own situation: First, Simon’s anonymity; then, Simon’s return to the depths; and finally, Simon’s conversion.
We’ll begin with his anonymity...
Have you ever had a front row seat at an amazing performance or at a talk by a famous speaker? Some people get the best seat at events not from a place of privilege, but rather from a place of responsibility.
I have a relative who used to work at Germaine’s Luau many years ago. Not only did he have the best view of the stage, he had to watch the performances—closely—it was part of his job. He worked lights; lights in general, and the spotlights.
In our gospel passage, we hear about a man named Simon who’s also in that kind of position. He has the best seat because he's part of the production.
His day had gone like this: on a particular day, after working an entire night shift in the fishing industry, while washing his nets, an itinerant prophet comes by and requests the use of Simon’s boat.
Leading up to that moment, this prophet had been speaking to a crowd, which had been increasing in size. And in order to address everyone gathering there, it required that he pull back a certain distance. Hence, the need for a boat, and a boatman.
This traveling prophet was someone already known to Simon to some degree. He was acquaintances with his brother, Andrew. And he even cured his mother-in-law. And so, the least that Simon can do is to let him use the boat. From there the man speaks to the crowds, while Simon works quietly in the background. He can’t help but overhear the words from the Master.
Maybe that’s exactly what Simon needed in that moment. Under the pretense of steadying the boat, Simon can hear the prophet’s every word. And he’s able to ponder those words, deliberately and slowly; and most importantly—anonymously, while the prophet commands everyone’s attention. After a night of failure, that would be a welcome retreat. A time to decompress in the aftermath of that devastating disappointment of laboring all night while catching nothing.
In our own lives, maybe this is also what we need; to listen to Jesus from a place of anonymity, by perhaps reading the scriptures on our own, or by watching or listening to something online that speaks truly about the faith, or even under the pretense of accompanying someone we love to Mass.
Secondly, we come to Simon’s return to the depths. After the Master finishes speaking to the crowds, he then turns his attention to Simon directly. His time for anonymous listening is over.
In actuality, the man had been addressing Simon the entire time under the pretense of speaking to the crowds. His words were always meant for the heart of Simon. At least, that’s what our gospel seems to insinuate, since it makes no mention of Christ’s actual teachings in that moment.
And then, rather than directing Simon to return to shore—that place of safety—he commands Simon to go in the opposite direction, to revisit that place of failure. And I can only imagine Jesus speaking those words with perfect warmth and compassion: “Put out into deep water, and lower your nets for a catch.”
We can almost sense Simon’s resignation and recollection of defeat in his response: “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.”
In darkness, Simon—and all others—had failed. The reality of their inadequacy was painfully recent. Jesus commands Simon to return there, not out of mockery or to tempt him toward despair, but rather so Simon can see those depths in a new light; literally, in the light of day, and in the presence of he who is the Light of the World, because it’s in that encounter with weakness that Christ’s power is revealed. “My power is made perfect in weakness,” says the Lord. And so, at Christ’s word, Simon lowers his nets. And they are filled to overflowing.
In our own lives, after listening to the Master, we too are challenged to return to that place of failure, and to see it in a new light—in the light of Christ, which illuminates everything anew.
Finally, we speak of Simon’s conversion. It’s there, amidst deep waters, where Simon will make his great conversion: When Simon Peter saw this [that abundant catch of fish], he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man”.
Three remarkable details in his brief response: first, he fell to his knees. Who else falls to their knees? The leper, the man who had been possessed by a demon, the synagogue leader, the woman with the hemorrhage, the woman who wept at his feet and anointed them—they all fall to their knees at the point of conversion. At long last, Simon falls to his knees.
Secondly, Simon calls Jesus Lord. Earlier in this episode, Simon had addressed Jesus as, Master. This entire experience was the evolution of Simon’s regard for Jesus moving from Master to Lord. It's become personal.
Lastly, for the first time in the entire gospel according to Luke, Simon is revealed to the reader as Simon Peter: That Peter, the first Pope, the first and only to his name; the Vicar of Christ, the Prince of the Apostles, the Servant of the Servants of God.
Even though there was an abundant catch of fish, this was never about making Simon a better fisherman. This was about preparing Simon to become Peter: “From now on, you will be catching men.”
When Jesus says this to a fisherman, he’s not simply making a play on words. He reveals to him the internal harmony between his former way of life, and the life to which he’s calling him. There’s consistency between authentic human tasks like catching fish, and tasks of God like catching men. Simon had been faithful in small matters; as Peter, he will be entrusted with great matters.
Ultimately this gospel passage is the story of Saint Peter’s vocation—his calling to leave everything behind and radically follow Jesus. We all have that vocation to be true disciples of Christ. And we are far past the point of anonymous watching. We’re called to action. We’re called to launch out into the deep. This was Peter’s vocation story. What’s yours?