I've been reflecting for awhile on the story of the call to the fishermen as told at the beginning of Luke 5, and yesterday, leading a day retreat on Discernment ("Praying God's Dream for your Life" at the Dominican Retreat House), I shared some of these reflections with the group, and promised I'd post a few thoughts here. In Mark and Matthew, Jesus just calls the fisherman "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men" - as the old RSV had it-- and they leave everything and follow him. They are transformed from what they were -- "fishermen" -- to a new kind of "fisher" , carrying out Jesus's work with him. In Luke, the story is more complicated and the complications are important. First, Jesus is looking for a place to preach to the crowds who have gathered on the lakeshore. The fishermen are rinsing their nets after a night's work. He gets into a boat, Simon (Peter)'s, and asks Simon to row him out into the water, and from there he teaches the people
This is one part I have been dwelling with, in my imagination: What was it like for Simon Peter to be sitting there in the boat listening to Jesus' teaching? He must have heard something that impressed him, judging from his part of the conversation that follows. After Jesus is done teaching, he turns to Simon and says "put out into the deeper water and let down your nets for a catch." Simon argues -- "we've been fishing all night and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will let down the nets. " What results is unexpected, overwhelming/overflowing abundance -- a greater catch of fish than they could have imagined. And the call "from now on you'll be catching people" - making disciples, perhaps, with the same abundance as you have just now been fishing. Simon Peter and his companions go ashore, and leave everything and follow him. It is a story about listening, about obedience in the sense of a simultaneous hearing and obeying, a kind of intuitive response to the divine inspiration. It is also about abundance, and the awe that comes with recognizing we are on holy ground in our lives.
What stays with me, meditating on this text, is how that relationship between Jesus and Simon Peter grows as they're sitting together in the boat. The story is about Jesus coming to him where he is, in his workplace, the place where he is to be found most days, and calling him in and through his work, to something new. My experience is that this is how the call to deepening discipleship happens, usually -- it is not always so much a sudden change or leaving of everything, as it is experiencing the presence of Jesus in the place where we are -- with us in the boat . He may be asking help, perhaps, with his work of teaching and healing, and by his very presence he directs us to new depths, new discoveries, and always bringing the kind of abundance that can be frightening (Peter's response is "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" I invited people on the retreat to reflect on what it is like to have Jesus "in your boat with you?" What are those deep waters for us? What is it that we resist, saying "we've tried that already; it will never work" "but if you say so . . . ." What experience of abundance does that bring? Can we hear Him calling us by name and saying, "Don't be afraid?"
It doesn' t translate as well into a blog, but there are rich imaginative invitations in this story, and it was good to share them in a retreat setting.
Reflecting on Jesus in the boat with Peter also reminded me of the story in Matthew 14 when Jesus comes walking across the water in stormy seas, and Peter says, "Lord, if it is you, bid me come and I will come." ("If you say so . . . ") Once again, there's this instinctive obedience, which brings surprising results, at least for a short time -- he walks to Jesus across the water. My poem, "Peter in the Boat" reflects on this story as another one about the experience of desiring to be faithful to the call of Christ, even when we aren't sure of ourselves -- by keeping the connection with him -- the "if you say so" that overcomes our resistance. Here's the poem.
Peter, Back in the Boat
It was the joy that drew me: the joy in your eyes,
When I said, "if it is you, bid me come across the water."
That must have been what made me think I could step out
Walking over waves I had not expected.
The pounding of the storm, the walls of water
Drawn by your eyes, your outstretched arm.
Only when I looked away, the waves came over me.
Now, fished out, dried off, back in the boat
Here, with our friends, and work to do,
The joy in your eyes.
From Kathleen Henderson Staudt, Annunciations: Poems out of Scripture (2003 Edwin Mellen poetry press, p.41)
- Kathleen Henderson Staudt
- I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.