“Nevertheless, at thy word I will let down the net”
It is, to my mind, a powerful picture and an enchanting scene. Jesus sits down in a boat which he uses as a pulpit for teaching those that “pressed upon him to hear the word of God,” then bids Simon to “launch out into the deep and to let down [the] nets.” There is the intriguing response of Simon Peter. “Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing; nevertheless, at thy word I will let down the net.” It captures a marvelous moment and one which speaks to the existential despair of our age as well as providing the exact counter to our sense of futility and hopelessness.
What follows is equally marvelous. Having let down their nets, “they inclosed a great number of fishes, and their net brake.” Another ship is beckoned to come to their aid and yet the catch is so overwhelming that it “fill[s] both the ships, so that they began to sink.” It is a great marvel and it sparks a further response from Simon Peter: “depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” to which Jesus replies, “fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” We are very much in the presence of God, it seems. The story marks Luke’s account of the call to discipleship of Simon Peter and the others.
In God’s Providence, this Gospel story read on The Fifth Sunday after Trinity coincides with Petertide, the Church’s celebration of St. Peter and St. Paul, the twin pillars and princes, we might say, of the Apostolic Church, so outstanding and so incalculable is their witness. Their joint commemoration is a kind of accident of history, on the one hand, and the providence of God, on the other hand, having to do with the coming together of their bodies to a common place of burial in the sixth century, long after their martyrdoms in Rome. Yet there is something fitting about their being commemorated together. It speaks to the truth and unity of the Church’s mission and life.