“Epiphany” = Manifestation. Encounters with God. What our readings are all about today. What I love is that we go from very solemn to very casual…From the Temple, a vision of the Lord sitting on the throne surrounded by angels in Isaiah, to an encounter with Jesus on the shore of the sea of Galilee (=Gennesaret). You may have experienced God’s presence on a vacation, contemplating the beauty and vastness of the horizon by the seaside but it’s not really what it is about today. What it means is that Jesus shows up on Simon Peter’s and his partners’ workplace! Jesus is not interested in visiting kings or religious leaders as prophets used to do…Jesus is happy in the presence of everyday people busy doing their everyday activities.
Now think about how it would be for you to have Jesus showing up at your work place –hanging out with your colleagues, talking with them – maybe giving you a hand with what you’re doing…Because this is exactly what is happening today in our Gospel! A rabbi was teaching at the seminary when I was a student there, and we asked him what he liked about Christianity: He said what he liked is that we have a religion where God just shows up! And it’s so true…
Yet, it took me a while to figure what it really means that God shows up…Of course, I can go with the fact that we can meet God in various places, with different kind of people. But I have a sense I need to be ready for it, to be in a certain state of mind. Spirituality today is much about quietening ourselves / reaching inner peace…If we feel holy, then we think we are ready to meet God. Unfortunately, with this belief a lot of people think they cannot be close to God: They are too busy, too preoccupied. A lot of people think they can’t afford to be spiritual / religious people.
Yet, Simon Peter gave me something to think about this week. I wondered what state of mind he was in when he met Jesus on that day? I bet it wasn’t good. One commentary suggests that there was probably some editing going on when he says to Jesus: “Master, we have worked all night and we have caught nothing. Yet if you say so…” The commentary says that Simon Peter probably used a more colorful language, because he was very tired and discouraged, maybe he felt like a failure for not being able to do his job…
Well, who can’t relate to that? Those men have been working hard, they gave their best efforts and it led to nothing. They were weary and disappointed…worried too: How were they going to feed their families? Because we’re not talking about leisure fishing here / these people fished for a living. No fish, no food. Well, you may have had one of those days and maybe you felt you had no time / no room for God when you felt like that. That’s probably what happened to Simon Peter. We notice indeed that he was not listening as Jesus was teaching to the crowds. Simon Peter was busy with his partners “cleaning their nets”, packing up after a fruitless day. Bitter. Anxious. Ashamed maybe.
And yet. Yet that’s when Jesus comes to meet with him. In the midst of bitterness and anxiety.
Made me think differently about meeting God in everyday life. I know I won’t meet God only in the Temple or at church. I know I may meet God at the groceries store: I would help this person, or give a dollar to the homeless, or maybe somebody will smile to me and I’ll have a sense of God’s presence. But is it possible that I have a genuine encounter with God on one of those days when I am worried? Disappointed? Bitter? Cynical? Not paying attention? Well, it seems that the Gospel says to us today that it is possible. And moreover, that may be precisely the times when God comes closer. Because this is what happens today, Simon Peter is not paying attention to Jesus, but Jesus pays attention to him. Jesus goes to Simon Peter, and Jesus does not ask him what the sermon he preached to the crowd was about. Jesus knows what is on Simon Peter’s mind (his anxiety for food) without even asking. And he says to him: Go back, throw your nets.
And so it looks like we don’t have to reach the perfect state of mind to let God touch us and change our lives. Spirituality today is indeed a lot about inner peace. And it is great to achieve inner peace, to be able to sit a whole hour to pray, but it is not a condition for God to be close to us. God comes to us first, though we are sinners: It means not only that God forgives us our wrong doings, it means also, more simply, that God comes to us in the midst of our brokenness, of our limits, of our business, in spite of our inattentiveness, our fatigue, our fears and worries.
Maybe we want to remember that the next time we have a bad day at work, an argument with a friend, or when we suffer in our hearts or in our bodies. Maybe the whole world expects us to be fine or great, but God does not expect us to be fine to come to us and to work in us, with us and through us.
So how does God work in us, with us, through us? Look at the way Jesus helps Simon Peter. Read closely: Jesus does nothing, really! We say Jesus does a miracle in this Gospel, but basically all he does is to go talk to Simon Peter and tell him to throw his net in deeper waters. He does not do it for him / He is not patronizing: “Let me help you b/c obviously you have no idea how to do that” (Like some of us can do with their spouses or children!). Jesus knows Simon Peter can do his job, is up to the task. He is just there giving support and encouragement and the miracle takes place.
It reminded me of those words by Thomas Kempis: “WHEN Jesus is near, all is well and nothing seems difficult. When He is absent, all is hard.”
Maybe on that day Simon Peter was willing to do things a little differently, take an extra risk, try another time, go a little deeper (People in Israel were quite afraid of the sea, even fishermen!) because he had this friend standing by him / encouraging him. It’s not about “cheering up” in a “you got this” kind of way or coaching someone to their limits– it’s about having somebody who sees you, who cares, who think you’re important and what you do is valuable. Did it change a little something in your life when you had somebody who believed (or, on the other side, did not believe) in you? Everything.
We have here a table full of the pictures of our sweethearts – We know how their love helped us carry us through hard times. They did not wait for us to be perfect or to feel wonderful. They just saw the goodness and the possibilities in us. And b/c we loved them, we listened to them…Maybe today the risk Simon Peter took was the risk to believe that Jesus believed in him. That it did not matter what he believed / felt about himself, but what mattered was what Jesus believed about him. “But if you say so…” Feeling the love / trust from Jesus led Simon Peter to act /try one last time in spite of all.
The Gospel presents us in Jesus a God not so much preoccupied of us believing in God – but a God showing us that God believes in us: Think we are good, able / even when we feel like a mess or a failure. B/c this is how Simon Peter felt and yet from catching fish, Simon Peter will catch people – and we are all witness of the extraordinary destiny of this simple man. Because he realized that Jesus could come to him wherever he was, work in him, with him and through him. No. Matter. What.
Good Gospel to meditate on as we install our new vestry and acknowledge our faithful and good servants. We are all invited to turn to God and ask God to be with us and use us as we are. We have no excuse! God can really work in us, with us and through us, that God believes in us and empower us to spread his love and serve others…We know how much this world needs the miracle of faith, justice and hope. May with Isaiah today just answer: “Here I am, send me!”