Opening the Word: Bountiful nets

The call of Simon in the Gospel of Luke is a fitting text as the Church prepares to celebrate the holy days of Lent. This reading begins with Jesus’ focus upon the crowd gathered at the Lake of Gennesaret and concludes with a personal encounter between Jesus and Simon Peter. The drama increases as Jesus gets into one of the boats of the fisherman, Simon. God’s power is already at work, for no action of Jesus is mere happenstance. Then, Jesus addresses Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch” (Lk 5:4). Simon contests that he and his fellow fishermen have worked all night at catching fish, only to arrive back at the shores of the lake empty-handed. But, through Jesus’ mighty power, a night of futility becomes the dawn of bounty.

Simon Peter provides an icon of discipleship.

Like the prophet Isaiah, he recognizes that he is in the presence of the Holy One: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts! All the earth is filled with his glory!” (Is 6:3). He acknowledges his own creaturely sinfulness to Jesus, his unworthiness to respond with right thanks to God’s abundant gratuity. And still, Jesus calls Simon: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men” (Lk 5:10). The self-identified sinner, along with James and John, are to become apostles — those who are to hand onto the entire human race what they have received (cf. 1 Cor 15:3): “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day” (1 Cor 15:3-4).

As Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, we, like Peter, are to acknowledge before the living God the pattern of sin that has marked our lives. Perhaps, we too, like Peter, have lowered our nets, catching nothing. In Lent, Jesus comes to ask us to lower our nets once more, to let God’s graciousness transform our empty nets into an immeasurable bounty. This bounty will take many forms. For some, it will be a renewed love of the hidden Christ made manifest in the lives of the poor. For others, it will be a delight in contemplating the presence of the risen Lord in the Scriptures. For still others, it will be a growing detachment from the idols that obscure our vision of Christ’s self-giving love in family life and work. The practices of fasting, almsgiving and prayer during Lent are intended precisely to let God’s gratuity fill up our empty nets.

And like Peter, the encounter is not finished when the risen Lord returns to us an unimaginable bounty of divine love infusing our hearts. Each of us is called to take up the apostolic vocation to pass on what we have received. While most of us are not ordained as successors of the apostles, everyone is called to invite others to the great banquet that is the life of the Church. To tell the world that we have encountered the risen Lord, who has transformed our empty nets of self-hatred, of addiction, of idolatry and worldliness of all sorts into a bountiful catch.

The Father is still acting in his risen Son. The Spirit still transforms a wayward heart into a place where the fullness of God dwells. In Lent, like Peter, let us lower our nets once more, discovering once again the gracious love of our savior, Jesus, meant to be shared with the world. In light of this bountiful catch already received, how can we not proclaim: “In the sight of the angels, I will sing your praises, Lord” (Ps 138:1b)?

Timothy P. O’Malley is the director of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy.