The gospel reading from this past Sunday (the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time) describes a watershed moment for St. Peter as he is called upon by the Lord to transform his life’s profession from a fisherman to a fisher of men. The call comes after Peter witnesses a miraculous catch of fish.
When Jesus suggested that he take out the boat again for a catch, Peter replied that they had worked all night with no success. He had no qualms about being honest with the Lord. Still, he did what Jesus asked of him. His response after the enormous catch of fish: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
Jesus showered Peter and his fellow fishermen with a big catch. That act of generosity served as a spotlight, revealing to Peter the state of his soul. He became frightened as he perceived the dark and small nature of his life in contrast to the magnificence and power of Jesus. In an instant Peter’s pride melted away into humility, allowing him to be brutally honest about who and what he was.
Jesus did not dwell upon Peter’s sinfulness but rather his fear. Sensing fear as the enemy, he enjoined Peter not to be afraid even as He laid out the prospect of a radically new life. Inspired to trust Jesus, Peter chose on the spot to leave behind his old life and follow the Lord.
Peter’s impetuousness and candor served him well as in this case. He would lay everything on the line even if it caused him to make mistakes or sound foolish. At times it got him into trouble, sometimes earning rebukes from the Lord.
Fear however would haunt him, causing him to sink in the water even as he was walking upon it. At the most critical moment he denied his Lord three times out of fear. What saved him was an honest assessment of his failure and the humility to accept forgiveness from Jesus.
St. Peter is one of my favorite saints because of his impetuousness and honesty. Those traits signal to me a largeness of heart, willing to be open to the Lord. Although fear often got the better of him, he would still try; when he failed he would confess it, get up, and try again. He had one motivation for all he did: his love for the Lord.
I look at my own life in light of St. Peter and find that I share honesty in common with him. I am well aware of my sin and the many ways in which I fail the Lord. I do not share his impulsiveness that made him willing to step out even if the effort ended in failure. As proof of my love for Jesus, am I willing risk failure? Or does pride get in the way? Is it because of pride that I am fearful of taking chances?
Peter understood that he had a safety net in the Lord. Jesus would not prevent him from sinking into the water after losing faith, nor would He spare Peter the tremendous pain and guilt of denying Him three times. But, after the failure, His hand would grasp the fisherman’s, drawing him out of the stormy sea. He would offer peace to that tortured soul, bestowing His forgiveness and still relying upon Peter as the rock where He would establish His Church.
Jesus has called me and I have answered with a “yes.” He knows that I will make many mistakes along the way and that my failings will result from pride and fear. In imitation of St. Peter, can I learn to rely upon the safety net of my Lord’s love just as he did? Surely, the Lord never abandoned Peter and He will not abandon me.
It’s time to step out in faith.
Copyright 2019 Susan W. Bailey