“Put out into the deep water and pay out your nets for a catch” (Luke 5: 4)
The Gospel Reading of this Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C presents to us Jesus’ call of His first set of disciples Simon, James and John (Luke does not include Andrew, the brother of Simon here as Matthew and Mark do). The call to discipleship or what I choose to caption “Call to Adventure” is the theme that runs through all the Readings at the Mass of this Sunday. The story of the call of the first disciples of Jesus is very interesting in so many ways. Can you put yourself in the situation of these men for a moment and sincerely open your heart to how you would feel and react if you were Simon, or James, or John? It was after a long wasted night of exposure to the dangers of the sea, the cold, the waves and all that can be imagined. And they “caught nothing.” In exhaustion and frustration, they decided to call it quit for the night. So they were out washing their nets, about to go home empty-handed. Then “this man”, who they did not know, came around, entered Simon’s boat and asked him to put it out a little from the shore. In your disappointment, exhaustion and frustration over the wastefulness of the night, what would you do to this man? How would you feel about his rather “rude” and “impolite” action?
For me, that’s the first test or requisite of a true disciple – docility. One who is docile is obedient and can be easily managed, pliable, tractable and teachable. This is what Jesus saw in these men on this occasion. We see this quality in Isaiah in the First Reading (Isaiah 6: 1-8) and in Paul in the Second Reading (1 Corinthians 15: 3-8, 11). Isaiah is called by God, he makes an excuse, which God responded with a cleansing action. Then he immediately offered himself in response to God on a mission to the unknown, which is why I call it an adventure. Similarly, Paul recapped a summary of his call referring to the fact that what he teaches is what he himself has been taught. To be a true disciple, we have to heed the call and respond accordingly without doubtful questions. And be ready to bend and be mended as the needs demand. A disciple speaks only what he has been taught to teach as Jesus would tell us: “My teaching is not Mine, but His Who sent Me …” (John 7: 16; 12: 49).
“Master, we worked hard all night long and we caught nothing, but if you say so, I will pay out the nets” (Luke 5: 5): After Jesus had finished teaching the people, He said to Simon: “Push out into the deep water and pay out your nets for a catch” (Luke 5: 4). The response of Simon is both sincere and submissive. Sincerely he told Jesus of their fruitless ordeal. But then he submitted to the demand of Jesus. Simon did not allow his immediate disappointment to cause him to doubt the power of the man he just listened to. Remember Simon had been there all along listening to all that Jesus was saying to the crowd. He must have been broken by the power of Jesus’ words, trapped by the love that exuded from the words that pierced his ears and captured by the compassion that filled every nuance of the spoken word of Jesus. One has to open not only his ears but his heart to be so captured. And here is the second requisite for discipleship – submission to the will of the one who calls. Isaiah responded: “Here I am, send me” (Isaiah 6:8). Paul abandoned his mission as a persecutor of the Church to become an apostle. Jesus gives us an excellent example in His words: “My food is to do the will of Him Who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” (John 4: 34). A true disciple must be able to abandon himself and his desires to satisfy the will of the One Who calls – even when that Will is against his own will, as the case of Simon here.
“Leave me Lord, I am a sinful man” (Luke 5: 8): At the miracle of the hauling of the “huge number of fish” Simon knew he was in the presence of “The Holy of Holies” and like Isaiah in the First Reading [(“I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6: 5)], he acknowledged his unworthiness. This is another requisite to the call – acknowledgement of one’s own unworthiness. This is exactly what we see in Paul when he said: “I am the least of the apostles; in fact, since I persecuted the Church of God, I hardly deserve the name apostle …” (1 Corinthians 15: 9). One who is able to accept his weaknesses and limitations is ready to submit, seek forgiveness/cleansing and rely on the grace of God, like Paul. Each of us has to acknowledge our sinfulness and trustingly know that “where sin abound, grace abounds even more” (Romans 5: 20). And be willing to submit to that grace that God offers in abundance.
“Do not be afraid from now on it is men you will catch” (Luke 5: 10): God’s call is always for a mission. He called Isaiah to be a “Messenger”; Paul an “Apostle to the Gentiles” (Ephesians 3: 7) and Simon, James and John, Christ called to be “Fishers of men.” God never calls anyone to idleness. We can identify this in many of the recorded occasions of the call of men and women in the Bible. Today Jesus called His first disciples at their duty post, for they were fishermen. God needs us no matter how low our occupations are. It is not what we do but what we are capable of doing when we cooperate with the grace of God.
“Then bringing their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him” (Luke 5: 5: 11): The response of the apostles was immediate and radical. They made no excuses; they considered nothing else, for nothing else matters than the joy of following the Lord. The call requires such radical response that is expressed in detachment and willingness to embrace a new way of life. Each of us has been called in our uniqueness. How have we responded? What has prevented us from a generous response to that call?
The call of the prophet Isaiah, Paul and the three apostles today is a metaphor for our personal calling by God. God does not call us because we are worthy and qualified. He calls us because He needs us. But He does not compel us in any way. He invites us to journey with Him on a mission. The nitty-gritty of the call and the final destination is not known. All we need is to offer ourselves in complete surrender and trust to the loving providence of the One Who calls. We follow like the blind and go where He leads. It is in fact and indeed a call to an adventure. Or in the words of the Danish Philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, it is a “leap of faith.”