Imagine the scene: Jesus is on the beach at the Lake of Gennesaret, a part of the Sea of Galilee, with a crowd so huge that He had to keep backing up. His feet were almost in the water and He noticed men washing their nets. Maybe if He could get into the boat, the people could come right up to the shoreline.
He said to Simon, “Do you mind if I use your boat for a while?”
Simon, not in a good mood because they had been fishing all night and caught nothing, said, “Sure, go ahead. Use the boat. It didn’t do me any good last night.”
So Jesus got up and began to teach-but I don’t think Simon listened at all. Maybe he thought about how he would pay his debts, and that his mother-in-law was sick. He didn’t know if he’d make it. So, his mind was preoccupied while the Word of the Lord was being proclaimed.
That happens to us, too, doesn’t it?
Sometimes, while the Good News is being proclaimed, we’re preoccupied with our past or something fearful.
After preaching, Jesus said to Simon, “Let’s go fishing.”
STRONGER Peter protested, “Huh? We’ve been at it all night…” But they get into the boat. In the deep waters, Jesus said, “Cast your nets.”
Simon must have rolled his eyes and thought to himself, “He’s never been fishing. Oh, well, I’ll humor him and do what we can.”
They cast the net and the miracle happens.
A Failure, Again
Simon was overcome by a deep sense of his unworthiness and the sinfulness of his past. We don’t know what Peter’s past was. No one ever told us. But the closer you are to Jesus, the more aware you become of your sinfulness. So at that moment, Peter said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus smiled at him, looked him right in the eye, and said, “From now on, you won’t be catching fish anymore. Because you’ll be catching men.”
It was a now moment. Simon had to make a decision to keep fishing or to follow Jesus. But he got up, along with James and John, and followed Him.
Simon eventually would be called Peter. But this wouldn’t be the last time he would feel like a failure. Because there was another beach-three years later. Jesus stood on the shore, cooking breakfast.
His Apostles were out fishing. We don’t know if they caught anything, but Simon Peter saw Jesus and swam ashore a hundred meters. There, he again encountered Jesus in the now moment, acutely aware that he was a coward and a total failure.
Why was he a failure? Because he denied Jesus three times and the Gospel of Luke tells us that Peter went away and wept bitterly.
You weep bitterly only when you know you’re no good. That you failed. That you’ll never be happy. That you’ll never succeed again. But Jesus was in that now moment from three years before.
He said, “Simon…”
He called him Simon-not Peter.
So, Peter must have thought he was going to be fired. But Jesus said, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?”
Peter felt guilty. He remembered his past. He was being chosen in the present-in the now moment. Two more times Jesus would ask him. And finally, Simon said just like he did three years ago, “You know everything. You know about my past?” Jesus simply said, “Feed My lambs. Feed My sheep.”
Choosing the Least Likely
There would be other now moments with others too. Remember that little Zacchaeus? People hated him because he was corrupt. But he had a moment with Jesus in which Jesus said to him, “I mean to dine with you today?” In Jewish culture and still true in the orthodox tradition-if you invite somebody to dinner, it’s not only an invitation to dinner. It’s an invitation to friendship and intimacy.
There are others that Jesus met during those three years. Mary Magdalene, the woman caught in adultery, and the woman who was married five times were some of the first ones to whom Jesus revealed Himself as the Messiah.
And then we have the least likely: Saul, who had a horrific past, the one who ordered the stoning of the first martyr of the Church, Saint Stephen.
All of them were the least likely to be chosen, yet somehow, our Lord didn’t consider their past and say, “Sorry, you’re unqualified.” Rather, He saw in them the potential to be saints.
So it is with you and me.
Let Go of the Past
Do you ever feel like a total failure?
Do you ever look at your past and say, “I can never let go of it. I’m still holding on to the guilt of yesterday.”
Even if the past was yesterday and you did something really bad, still our Lord comes to you and says, “Come follow Me. I know your past. I embrace it. I’m going to use your past.”
Every moment is now. The past doesn’t exist anymore. It’s only now and always in the now. You can respond the way Simon-who became Peter, who became a saint-responded and followed Jesus.
Holding on to guilt discourages us to accept Jesus’ invitation to intimacy and friendship. “Lord, I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof.” Of course, we’re not. And that’s why He comes to us and says, “I know. Let it go.”
Your past is past. It’s over. Don’t look back to it. Learn from it and be in the now moment. Embrace mercy just as Jesus embraces you.
That’s why we say, “God is love.” Not only does He loves us, but He is love. In other words, God cannot do anything but love. And Jesus, in each of those instances with the least likely and the worst sinners, loved them. He brought out the best in them. As the Apostle Paul says, “But by the grace of God, I am what I am” (1 Corinthians 15:10).
In February 2021, I turned forty-seven years as a priest. People often ask me, “When did you decide to be a priest?”
I always answer, “Today.”
I’m aware of my past. I’m aware of my failures. But in each one of those forty-seven years, Jesus always says to me as He did to Peter, “Come, follow Me.”
Jesus says the same to you. Don’t be discouraged. Because then, Satan triumphs and says, “You shouldn’t even bother going to church. Look at what you’ve been doing. Look at that habit of sin you have. Jesus must be tired of you.”
But the opposite is true.
Jesus is always in the now. And you can say to Him, “I love You.”