What were you looking for, Peter? That day out there on the lake, what were you hoping to find? You were a fisherman searching for fish. You worked all night, dropping nets into the dark, hoping to find something you couldn’t see. Every time you threw that net over the side of the boat you knew there was a good chance it would come back empty. We do not control fish, and we do not control the world. We live our lives under the constant threat of pain and death, fighting with sweat on our brow just to keep the wolf from the door. We need food for our stomachs and money for the tax collector. We need a roof over our heads and clothing for our backs. We look for these things, fishing in the dark, no guarantee that we will ever find them.
And if the nets come back full, what then? They might be full to bursting, success beyond our wildest dreams! And yet, life continues, and a new problem presents itself. You had caught fish before, but the hunger always returned. You paid the tax collector before, but he always returned too. We are perpetually dissatisfied, casting our nets out into the dark, hoping to find some good thing to fill our hearts, but never finding enough. Caught in the world with no way out, we scrape out a living and wait for the end. What were you looking for, Peter?
And then a voice broke in and said something unexpected: “put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch!” (Lk 5:4). God calls to you and promises something more. Go further. Go deeper. Keep seeking. It is hard not to be incredulous when we hear this voice, like Sarah laughing in her tent. Why bother? After all, you had tried everything already, so you doubted the value of trying again. You did not see that anything had changed, so your first reply is one of doubt: “master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” (Lk 5:5). The world doesn’t work that way, you think. It is naive to expect a miracle. You have to be tough, face facts, and simply accept that life is wrought with disappointment.
And yet… something in his tone. Something in his eyes. Something in the novelty of the command. You paused and considered, shrugged your shoulders, and decided to trust this strange man who took interest in you. Not pretending to understand, you make your first act of faith and say, “at your word I will let down the nets” (Lk 5:5).
Before you know it, the nets are bursting. You found all that you wanted and more. A miracle has taken place before your very eyes, and your material needs have been met.
Who, you wonder, could possibly possess such remarkable power? Only a very holy man. You would like to ask him to stay, to keep helping you fish, to follow you and give you everything you need to live your life happily in security. It would be a great relief to have this man around, and yet, you know (again in faith) that this must be a Godly man, and your many sins come sadly to mind. You suddenly see your life for what it truly is: an endless trek in search of dust. Ashes destined for ashes! You have been going nowhere. Something is missing in your life. Some key ingredient is missing, and the evidence is in your actions. The idolatry, the impiety, and disregard for the Sabbath. Impatience with your mother-in-law, violent anger toward the Romans, and lust in your heart. You are a thief and a liar, envious and covetous. It all comes crashing down upon you at once, and you realize in contrast with the purity of the one who stands before you, that your simple fisherman’s life is quite a mess. That which looked innocent, responsible, and necessary now looks shallow, prideful, and meaningless. All appears loathsome in your soul, so you hide yourself in shame: “depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Lk 5:8).
In this, the first step is complete. You have repented from your sins, and he, always a step ahead, does one more thing you did not expect. He sees right through you, but he does not walk away. Indeed, he saw you before he approached you. Before you were formed in the womb he knew you. And despite your ignorance of these things and the weakness of your will, he tells you to follow him, and it appears you have been caught.