Logos calls from the barque of Peter
Before meeting his first disciples, Jesus was teaching by the Lake of Gennesaret, and “the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God.” Jesus the Word was bringing the Word of God to the people of Israel. There were two idle boats nearby while the fishermen washed and repaired their nets. Our Lord asks Simon to take him a short distance from shore. Using the natural amplifying qualities of the calm waters of the lake, Jesus sat down and taught the people from the boat. The image is fraught with meaning. One can easily see that St. Luke has an artist’s eye.
The barque of Peter makes its first appearance in the Gospel of Luke as Jesus is instructing the people hungry to hear the truth. Just as it had happened at the beginning of the world, God’s word is creating a new reality. The boat, the fishermen, and the people will become the Church, instructed by God. We can affirm that the essential elements of that scene never really changed. As a Church, we are still at the edge of the water, listening to Jesus’ voice.
Go out into the deep
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’”
Why go out to the deep part of the lake? Biblically speaking, the deep is where the enemies of God reside. The universe belongs to the Logos. He is the Creator and everything belongs to Him but he comes to visit those living in the darkness of sin to conquer them for His kingdom.
We’ve worked hard all night for naught
Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’”
Peter obeys Our Lord and they sail on. Notice that the night is over, it is early in the morning. The lack of a catch is likely to have happened by divine design. The Logos is there to teach a lesson and all the elements of that story will become a living parable. Jesus shows up on the beach as the sun rises illuminating a new day. Israel is again waiting by the shore, just like their ancestors had arrived at the edge of the Red Sea before crossing on their way to the Promised Land. The Spirit hovers over the water, preparing to renew the world one more time. Peter’s barque begins its long trip that will last centuries, the lake will become the whole world and the catch will be a new race of men from all nations and from every age of human history.
Lord, I am a sinful man
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’”
Jesus is taking Peter and his associates to their limits. They will go far from home to the very edges of the known world, to the deep where the enemies of God live. They will snatch living souls from the depths of darkness and bring them ashore under the morning sun. In the process, the whole enterprise begun by the Logos will take the Church to the point of breaking. Peter knows intuitively that he is being called into something he cannot handle with his own strength. The old fisherman sees the signs of God acting, entering his simple reality through Jesus. Just like Isaiah the prophet, Peter knows he is a flawed man, not worthy of the miracle he is experiencing:
‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’” (Isaiah 6:5 NIV)
The signs are making Peter and his men afraid. Under them is the dark depth of the sea, the place they visit often to make a living. Ahead of them is the depth of history, a story we are all familiar with: the little band of brothers that walked away from their ancestral home to take Jesus message to distant lands. The cruel persecutions that followed. The inexplicable growth of their work on country after country perhaps reminded them of those nets filled with fish. To us, living twenty centuries later, the state of the Church reminds us of those boats barely able to float, in danger of sinking, loaded as they are with an impossible catch!
They followed him
“For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’ So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:1-11 NIV)
Peter, Andrew, James, and John are afraid perhaps for the first time in their lives. Jesus has arrived in their little world and they know very well that nothing will be the same again. Now that the adventure is afoot, their hearts, like the heart of Isaiah, know very well they are not up to the task. Little do they know that the man before them is the Logos Incarnate. He says to them “Do not be afraid” but the voice speaking those words is the same voice that created the world. On account of His creative power they were made fearless by His word. So they pulled their boats ashore and followed Him without reserve to many distant places, from the depths of the human condition all the way to the very heights of Heaven.
Consider not only that God your benefactor is present but also that He acts continuously in all His creatures. And for whom is this continual action, this work of God in nature? For you. Thus, He lights you by the light of day; He nourishes you with the productions of the earth; in a word, He serves you by each one of the creatures that you use; so that it is true to say that at every moment the bounty, the wisdom and the power of God are at your service and are exercised in the world for your wants or pleasures. This conduct of God toward man should be the model of your conduct toward God. You see that the presence of God in His creatures is never idle; it acts incessantly, it preserves, it governs. Beware, then, of stopping at a sterile contemplation of God present in yourself. Add action to contemplation; to the sight of the Divine presence add the faithful accomplishment of the Divine will.” (Spiritual Exercises — St. Ignatius Loyola, p. 182)