Fishers of People- Luke 5:1-11

10 Mar

Fisherman’s Prayer:

I pray that I may live to fish
Until my dying day,
And when it comes to my last cast,
Then I most humbly pray;
When in the Lord’s great landing net
And peacefully asleep,
That in His mercy I be judged
Big enough to keep.

I recall being fond of this prayer, which hung on the wall, ever since I was a very small child. My father has long enjoyed fishing, and he introduced me to this pastime when I was still too young to remember. Therefore the framed cross-stitched Fisherman’s Prayer in our home accurately conveyed Dad’s love for fishing and love for the Lord, both of which he has imparted to me.

The Fisherman’s Prayer refers to our ultimate calling: to return to Our Father in Heaven. God fishes for us daily. Sometimes we test His patience when He works hard all night and catches nothing. Our Lord enlists our help to reel in this catch, even though we feel inadequate for the task. Thus we must initially respond to God’s call to discipleship, as Simon, James, and John did in Luke’s Gospel. Then God will make us fit for our final home.

Much of my last reflection on the Gospel of Luke on this blog centered on discipleship. Three points on this topic stood out. Firstly, we recognize our faults as followers of Jesus and we ask for His forgiveness and for His strength. Secondly, we know that discipleship is God’s great call to us, followed by our small response to Him. God wants us to follow Him and to become no longer slaves, but His friends. (cf. John 15:15) Thirdly, the way to respond to Our Lord is by love and by complete surrender.

God continually teaches us how to love Him. In the meantime, we recognize, especially through prayer, how small we are before God and how much we require His constant help, and also how much God loves us all anyway, despite our frailty.

I become aware of such weakness within myself whenever I become frustrated or angry, which I admit occurs too often. One such occurrence was on a fishing trip with Dad two years ago. We had canoed onto the small lake just after sunrise, when the water was at its most still and the fish were at their most active. For most of that fishing trip, I had struggled with a reel that periodically jammed. Many fish were biting, but I was unable to keep them on the line. I became disappointed and was complaining bitterly. It got to the point where I’m sure I was very unpleasant to be around. Dad eventually gave me one of his rods with an open reel that worked much better. I caught some fish, as shown in one of the pictures I’ve included with this post.

Prior to switching fishing rods, I was in a similar situation to that of Simon in Luke’s Gospel. However, Simon’s predicament was much more serious- he fished for his livelihood, whereas I was fishing for sport. It must have been terribly disheartening when he and the other fishermen had returned to the shore of the lake of Gennesaret having caught nothing for a night’s labour.

There, on the lakeshore, stood Our Lord Jesus Christ. St. Luke writes that “the crowd was pressing in on Him to hear the word of God.” (Luke 5:1) As noted in previous posts here, according to Luke, Jesus’ fame and authority had been steadily increasing since he had begun His ministry. St. Matthew and St. Mark both place Jesus’ ministry much earlier than does St. Luke; Christ is not shown in Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospel to have been as well-known when He chose His first Apostles. (cf. Matthew 4:18-23, Mark 1:16-20)

By Luke’s account, the crowds followed and closed in on Jesus wherever he went, such that Jesus needed to find quiet places where he could rest and pray, (cf. Luke 4:42, 5:16) yet He bore this burden with the greatest patience. On the lake of Gennesaret, Jesus retreated into the boat owned by Simon, (cf. Luke 5:3) who disappointedly had returned from washing his empty nets on the shore. Our Lord “taught the crowds from the boat” (Luke 5:3), but then He became focused on Simon. The Apostolic mission began with Christ instructing the upset fisherman:

“Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” (Luke 5:4)

“Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5)

Simon was likely wondering why Jesus would ask him to lower the nets. After all, he had had the nets in the water fruitlessly all night and had just finished washing them. Simon would need to clean his dirty nets again, catch or no catch, if he were to cast them into the water again. But Simon had faith in Jesus and did as he was told by casting the nets into the deep water where he couldn’t see whether there were any fish. Jesus didn’t disappoint: “They caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.” (Luke 5:6)

God revealed His miraculous power to Simon, a poor fisherman, as He had to the great prophet Elijah. God had provided the latter with sustenance during drought. Elijah then became God’s instrument to spare the widow at Zarephath from the same drought. The prophet then cried out to God to save the widow’s son, and God listened to Elijah. (cf. 1 Kings 17). Similarly, Elisha had been sent to a widow who was in danger of losing her sons to slavery to pay her late husband’s debts. On request from Elisha, God multiplied the single jar worth of oil that the widow had, so that the oil could be sold to pay the debts. Elisha proceeded to raise a child from death in Shunem, to purify a family’s pot of stew during a famine, and to feed one hundred men. (cf. 2 Kings 4)

St. Luke is particularly fond of miracles like the one on the lake of Gennesaret, but even this Gospel writer warns us not to allow miracles to distract us from the Christian message. According to St. Luke, non-believers are also capable of miraculous deeds. (cf. Luke 11:19, Acts 8:9-11) The focus of miracles ought to be on the word of God that is at their source, rather than upon the works themselves. (cf. 1 Kings 17:1)

The miracle that Jesus performed for Simon and the other fishermen also emphasizes the point of following the Lord instead of becoming too fascinated with the miracle itself. In this case, the catch of fish was so great that two boats were filled to where they began to sink. Simon responded by falling to his knees in fear before Jesus: “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8 )

Troubled by our own inadequacies, we also find it difficult to live in the way Jesus asks us. This is also just as true for those entrusted with special vocations: deacons, priests, bishops, brothers, and sisters. We pray for people whose “dignity”, in the words of Sainte Thérèse de Lisieux (1873-1897), has “raised them above the very angels.” In another quotation from Sainte Thérèse, which was read by her sister Pauline (Sr. Agnes of Jesus, O.C.D.) at Sr. Thérèse’s beatification tribunal, the eventual saint wrote: “Jesus made me a fisher of men. I felt a strong desire to work for the conversion of sinners.” Sainte Thérèse prayed for priests daily, especially two missionaries she corresponded with before her death from tuberculosis at age 24. I will devote (at least) a full post to the life of Sainte Thérèse de Lisieux in the future, though I felt it necessary to share some details of her life that are more closely related to this section of Luke’s Gospel…

Despite his sinfulness, St. Peter was the first to hear: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” (Luke 5:10) Likewise, we shouldn’t be afraid; Jesus is with us always. (cf. Matthew 28:20) Our nets that are the Church must hold those who are strong in their faith and are righteous, as well as those who struggle with temptation and sin. The Church will be sustained as Christ promised. In John’s Gospel we again see the story of the huge catch of fish. There were one-hundred fifty-three fish according to John, to account for the number of known fish species at the time. (cf. John 21:10)

Thus all are welcome into Christ’s embrace that is the Church, even when the nets are about to break or the boats are sinking. At his Papal election, Pope Benedict XVI characterized himself as “a simple, humble worker in the vineyard of the Lord.” The Lord calls many other workers into his vineyard. We pray as Jesus requested for “the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into His harvest.” (Matthew 9:38 ) “For the harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few.” (Matthew 9:37) With our prayers, more people will leave their boats on the shore and everything earthbound they own and follow Him. (cf. Luke 5:11)

Lord, we pray that you send out labourers into your harvest. May those who characterize themselves as lowly be raised up to your service, and may those who are rich be humbled in order to give themselves to you as your earthly instruments. Lord, make us fishers of people. Amen.


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