From Despair to Hope

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Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We also will come with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. When it was already dawn, Jesus was standing on the shore; but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

Jesus said to them, “Children, have you caught anything to eat?” They answered him, “No.” So he said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea. The other disciples came in the boat, for they were not far from shore, only about a hundred yards, dragging the net with the fish. When they climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you just caught.” So Simon Peter went over and dragged the net ashore full of one hundred fifty-three large fish. Even though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come, have breakfast.” And none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they realized it was the Lord. Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish. This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to his disciples after being raised from the dead. ~ John 21:1-14 (NAB-RE)

The disciples have just watched as Jesus was scourged, crucified and placed in a tomb. All of their hopes and beliefs from the past several years were suddenly gone. What were they going to do now? Half of them were still shut up in the upper room, full of fear as they hid from the Jews. Emotions were raw. Fear. Anger. Despair. Devastation. Maybe even some numbness. What do you do when you don’t really know what to do next? You go into autopilot and fall back into an activity that is almost a habit. For Simon Peter, that was fishing.

And yet, out on the water, he still couldn’t get away from the memories and the thoughts. He was fishing when he first met Jesus. It was in a tempest-tossed boat that Peter watched Jesus calm the seas. Then Jesus had tested Peter’s faith by telling him to walk on the water. Peter had failed that test. And in his heart he kept hearing Jesus’ voice telling him that he would deny Jesus three times before the cock crowed. His despair, regret and bitter pain over having done just that was weighing heavily on his heart. He tried to stay busy to keep the thoughts from coming to the surface. But every pull of the net was as empty as his heart.

As dawn was breaking there was a figure on the beach. Nobody knew this stranger and were probably irritable when they were asked about their catch. The next words, though, would kindle a spark in Peter’s heart. He had heard them before. “Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.” Hope started to radiate as they strained to pull the fish-laden net up to the surface of the water. Could it be? He had said he would see them again, but could this really be? Was it too much to hope for? “It is the Lord,” could have been Simon Peter’s heart singing out for all he knew. It WAS the Lord, and without thinking, Peter tucked his garments in and jumped into the water. His only desire was to be THERE with the Lord.

Truth be told, that is the Lord’s desire, too. He just wants to be with YOU. Even if we deny him and turn our backs on him he is still there waiting for us. He never gives up on us. All you have to do is ask for forgiveness and it will be given. How wonderful is that?? God knows that we are imperfect. He knows that we are going to make mistakes. And He loves us anyway. He loves us so much that he gave us the Holy Spirit to remind us of his love and his teachings.

It is often when we are feeling as Peter felt that morning out on the sea, that we need to look deep into our hearts and find the Holy Spirit. Let his love and life give you hope. Even if you are still struggling, just keep holding onto the hope because Jesus is right beside you every step of the way. And he loves you so very much!

Fishers of Men…

Footprints in sand
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As he was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.  ~Matthew 4:18-20 (NAB-RE)

Reading about how Jesus calls the first disciples always has me wondering the same things: How could they just drop everything and go with Jesus? Did they realize what they were getting into? Did they really know what was going to be involved? What was it about Jesus’ presence that made people drop everything and follow him? What would I have done if I had been in their sandals?

Why would Jesus choose fishermen? These were just ordinary men. They would tell you that there wasn’t anything special about them, and yet they were chosen first. If Jesus came to earth to teach and proclaim the gospel then why didn’t he go to the Temple and choose from among the religiously devout? If you want to teach about God and his kingdom then shouldn’t you go to the people who are trained professionals?

There’s a phrase that I’ve heard from my priest many times: God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the Called. Almost all of the people whom God called to serve in extraordinary ways were very imperfect. Moses had been hiding out for years from the Pharaoh because he had killed an Egyptian guard. He was living as a shepherd when God called to him from the burning bush. David was the youngest son of a shepherd and later in life he killed one of his own soldiers so that he could get with the soldier’s wife. Then there was Jonah who tried to run away from the Lord, but he kept getting caught until he finally relented and carried out the work that God had given him. All of these people were flawed in one way or another, and yet they were exactly as God needed them to be in order to carry out his works.

So why would Jesus choose fishermen to be part of his disciples? Jesus knew that there were going to be difficult times ahead for these guys. He warned them that they would be hated because of him. Can you imagine how that would feel? What would you think if your boss approached you at work and mentioned that you are going to be marked for hatred and disparaging treatment due to the feelings that people have for your employer? And yet these men continued to walk beside Jesus. Why? How could they do that?

“And they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me.” ~John 15:21 (NAB-RE)

I believe Jesus chose them because he knew how difficult it was to be a fisherman. Even if you have been doing it for years there are still going to be many days where you don’t catch a single thing. Or you pull up your net and there’s a giant tear in it. Yet you still continue to get in the boat and cast your nets because you know that even if you just pull a handful up, there’s always the hope and faith that the next net will contain more. Perseverence. Determination. Never giving up. Those are the same traits that are required to go out and spread the Gospel. That’s what we must keep in mind when we speak about our faith and claim Jesus as our Lord and Savior.

So how will you respond? Will you pick up your cross and follow him? Or will you list a dozen excuses about why this just isn’t a good time?