Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Simon Peter and his fishing partners had a terrible night. Like Alexander, the unlucky little boy in a children’s story, who says, “I went to sleep with chewing gum in my mouth and now there’s gum in my hair. And when I got out of bed I tripped on a skateboard. … I could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” Sure enough, at breakfast his brothers pull prizes out of their cereal boxes, but he finds nothing. His mother forgets to include dessert in his lunch box, and his best friend won’t play with him anymore. As if that’s not bad enough, after school he goes to the dentist. His brothers have no cavities, but he does. His terrible day ends with lima beans for supper, which he hates.  Feeling totally frustrated Alexander says, “I’m going to move to Australia.1

Simon Peter had a very bad night. He was bone tired from hours of fishing without catching anything. When Jesus said, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch,” Simon Peter thought a very bad night was about to become a terrible day. He didn’t hide his irritation when he said, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing.” There are several Greek words in the New Testament for “Master.” One for the owner of slaves, another for wise teachers; one for religious leaders and another for political rulers. But the word used here is for an overseer at work, a foreman, a task master. On the lips of workers, it’s a respectful form of address. But Jesus is not in charge of their fishing. He’s a carpenter not a master fisherman. He’s not even a partner in their work, much less their boss, but that’s what Simon Peter sarcastically calls him, “Okay, Boss.”

It might have ended right there if Simon had walked away and gone home to rest. But on the previous Sabbath Jesus cured Simon’s mother-in-law. He was grateful, in debt to Jesus. So, he decided to do what Jesus said. But first he replied, “At your command I will lower the nets.” “At your command,” at your insistence! He makes it very clear who will be to blame when this no good, very bad idea produces zilch.

So, Simon and his partners lowered their nets. Instead of zilch they caught zillions. Instead of a terrible, horrible, very bad day it became a great day, remembered not so much for what they caught, but as the day on which Jesus caught them. Simon’s mouth opened wide in astonishment but his heart shrank with shame and guilt for his words and actions. Like the prophet Isaiah who saw the Glory of the Lord and let out a cry of woe because he was a man of unclean lips, so also Simon Peter drops to his knees and lets out a cry of woe, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Now he addresses Jesus not as a boss, or a task master, but as Lord, foreshadowing the action of Thomas the Apostle who will fall on his knees in the presence of the risen Christ and proclaim, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus looked at Simon Peter with love and, perhaps, putting a hand on his shoulder said, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Our sinfulness is wicked. But Jesus washes our hearts clean with his forgiving and loving touch. Simon and his partners were hooked. They left everything and followed him.

Do not be afraid!” If they had known the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days that following Christ would cost them, they would have been very afraid. Following the call of Christ did not mean their days got easier, often they got harder, as they did for Jesus. The Friday on which he was crucified was the most terrible, horrible, very bad day that ever happened. But Jesus’ love made that Friday Good because it was the day he opened heaven for us. Likewise, even our worst days can become good, transformed by love for Christ. St. Peter toiled and suffered more as a Christian than he ever did as a fisherman, and his life ended upside down on a cross. Yet, his crucifixion was his best day because on that cross he loved Christ more than his own life. When things go very wrong, we don’t have to move to Australia, we just need to move our hearts to love.

  1. Judith Viorst, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Illustrated by Ray Cruz, Aladdin Paperbacks, NY, 1972.