Fear Turns into Love
by Rev. Jerome A. Magat
Reprinted with permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
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 lover 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.
“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” St. Peter’s reaction to the miraculous draught of fish represents one of the most intense reactions to the person of Jesus Christ. Why did Peter react in such an intense way? After all, it was not the first miracle that he had witnessed. Recall that in the previous chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel, Peter had already witnessed the miraculous cure of his mother-in-law in Capernaum. He had seen Jesus cure the physically inform and perform exorcisms. So, Peter had already witnessed Jesus’ power.
So, what made this miracle so different and so much more powerful in its impression on Peter? Scholars and commentators suggest that this miracle was more compelling to Peter because Peter was an expert in fishing. He knew that Jesus was not knowledgeable about fishing – Jesus was a carpenter. By virtue of this miracle, Jesus had broken into Peter’s world in a most dramatic way. Jesus was demonstrating that he had power over that which Peter considered himself an expert and professional. Jesus had disrupted Peter’s sense of self precisely in the place that Peter conducted his business and felt in control of his life.
Thus, Peter had come face to face with the reality that Jesus was no ordinary man – He could only be God. In humility, Peter declared himself unworthy to be in the presence of divinity. The holiness of perfection of Christ unsettled Peter, who was now totally aware of his own frailties and sins. This reaction was not without precedent. The Old Testament contains stories about Moses, Job and Isaiah all reacting to an awareness of God’s presence with fear and trembling and awe. Peter was overwhelmed at what he had just witnessed at Jesus’ command, much like the aforementioned biblical heroes.
Moreover, Peter had encountered Out Lord in such a way that his faith and obedience to Jesus’ command to put out into the deep was matched with Our Lord’s superabundant generosity, represented in the miraculous catch of fish. It demonstrated that God is never outdone in generosity with those who obey his commands. He will always give more than is rendered by a believer in return for faithful discipleship.
On a deeper level, what is more astonishing than Peter’s reaction of fear and humility in the presence of Jesus is Jesus’ response to Peter’s sense of unworthiness. Our Lord exhorted Peter to put aside his fear and prepare for his ultimate life’s work – to save souls and lead the church. In other words, Jesus revealed to Peter that while the miraculous catch of fish may have overwhelmed him in the present moment, Peter needed to assume a larger life role as the future pope.
And so, when Peter reached shore with James and John, he and they abandoned their prior lives and followed Jesus immediately and unreservedly in love. Perhaps with this in mind, John would later write that, “perfect love casts out fear (1 Jn. 4:18).” Some 30 years later, as Peter hung crucified upside down on the Vatican Hill in Rome, this dramatic scene depicted in this Sunday’s Gospel reading must have come to mind. Peter’s encounter with the Son of God forever altered the trajectory of his life. In this moment of martyrdom, Peter was no longer overwhelmed by fear. Rather, he was overcome with love for the One for whom he was dying.
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