“Put out into deep water”

Today’s reading is from Luke 5:1-11. It’s the story of Jesus’ recruitment of Simon Peter, James, and John into His ministry. But it can be more than that.

While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening
to the word of God,
he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.
He saw two boats there alongside the lake;
the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets.
Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon,
he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore.
Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon,
Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
Simon said in reply,
“Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,
but at your command I will lower the nets.”
When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish
and their nets were tearing.
They signaled to their partners in the other boat
to come to help them.
They came and filled both boats
so that the boats were in danger of sinking.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said,
“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him
and all those with him,
and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee,
who were partners of Simon.
Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid;
from now on you will be catching men.”
When they brought their boats to the shore,
they left everything and followed him.

A couple of lines from this reading struck me. First was that line, “Put out into deep water.” Another was, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” And still another was, “Do not be afraid.”

These were words to Simon, soon to become Peter, in their first encounter. They may also apply to others who have their first encounter with Jesus the Christ. Jesus says, “Dig deep!” They counter, “You don’t want me, I’m a sinner.” Jesus reassures them, “Don’t be afraid.”

They are also words to those of us who have met Jesus on our journey through life before. We may rejoice with him in good times or turn to him in times of need. But sometimes we think we are in so deep, into such terrible trouble or in such a deep hole, that no one can help us, not even Jesus the Christ. Perhaps we have given up hope, or our futures if not for our souls. And to us, Jesus says, “Dig deep. Don’t be afraid.”

Perhaps this is an apt reading as many of us face the season of Lent. It can be a time of self-denial, self-sacrifice. We give up things we like and we end up craving them and often end up giving in to the cravings. Or we take on monumental efforts on behalf of God, like helping others or improving our relationships with others or not being the sinful person we were, often as equally difficult as giving up chocolate or snacks or coffee or cigarettes. And consoling us through that journey, Jesus loves us for the effort and says, “Dig deep. Don’t be afraid.”

Jesus spent 40 days in the desert denying himself. He knows what it means to be human. He lived among us for 33-plus years and he knows we are frail and that sometimes we falter. But He also knows that making the journey is often the point rather than simply making the target. Go forward. Go deep and be not afraid, for Jesus is with us and loves us. Happy Lent.

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