How and where do I find life? How do I live the life I have been given? These are perennial questions and for our purpose here at this university Newman Center these are the questions that many in our community are being called to take up and begin to wrestle with, perhaps for the first time. The questions can be summarized in our Lord’s invitation to Simon Peter, “Put out into deep water…”
This invitation and the questions are daunting and even frightening. There are many voices in our world that continually encourage us to stay on the shore, to ignore the invitation to set out into the deep water. This encouragement comes in a variety of forms: to live a distracted existence focused solely on self and ones own entertainment, to not question too deeply or to only question in an approved manner, to silence ones conscience and only live within the bubble of ones own ego. These voices call to us continually – subtle and not so subtle. They have a surface appeal but in the end they are deadening.
Our Lord invites Simon Peter (and us) to “put out into the deep water” exactly because he knows the depth of being that resides within every man and woman. Christ will not let us sell ourselves short in contrast to the voices that encourage us to stay on the shore. Our Lord knows that deep calls upon deep and that an isolated, self-absorbed existence is an impoverished existence.
Yet, not only does our Lord invite, he also empowers and this is the good news proclaimed for us today. In today’s gospel (Lk. 5:1-11) we find the means given by which we might set out into the deep.
The first is that we are never alone. We are not orphans left to our own devices in a senseless world. There is a creator, there is a purpose for creation and there is a purpose for each of our lives. Not only this but God walks with us. That day, Jesus came to the Lake of Gennesaret – to where Peter, James and John were – and when he instructs them to “put out into the deep water” he is in the boat with them. God never abandons us. As we put out into the deep of our lives we must continually trust that God is with us.
This leads us to the second means given us by God. The Lord’s instruction to Peter to put out into the deep comes after the Lord’s proclamation and teaching to the crowds from the boat. This is not incidental. We have been given the gospels and all the scripture as a means by which to live our lives and to set out into the deep waters and navigate these waters. We must develop the discipline of turning again and again to God’s word, especially the gospels, in order to truly live the life we each have been given.
The final means given us by God in this gospel passage is mercy and forgiveness. Peter’s immediate reaction upon the great catch of fish demonstrates our common human condition, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” We all know our weaknesses, we all know our sins and our failings but that does not mean we have to remain in them and we do not have to let them dictate who we can ultimately become. It is worthy to note that Christ does not depart. He remains and in his love and mercy patiently given he offers Peter a different vision for his life, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Do not deny the forgiveness and mercy of God.
When Simon Peter and the others answered and obeyed the Lord’s invitation and instruction they made a great haul of fish. Here, I will not go down the road of the gospel of success and its error of material blessings for a life of faith. Rather, I interpret the great haul of fish as a life well lived which is abundant in joy, relationships, integrity and love.
“Put out into the deep water” instructs our Lord. Develop the means given and know a life well lived.