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Take the Plunge!
A Reflection of the Gospel of John 21: 1-14
Internet Image, Dymet
Have you ever been engaged in something very special that involves a task that is bigger than yourself? It engages the whole of your being, focused on the other. In it there is a sense of the immense importance, whether it is as a parent of young children, a profession, or something about which you become passionate. You are “all in”. You have taken the plunge.
Then, something changes. Whatever it was that you were passionate about comes to an end. There can be a bit of euphoria at what was accomplished and at the same time, a loss of a sense of purpose. Perhaps, this is what is happening with the disciples at the start of today’s Gospel.
Jesus revealed himself again to his disciples at the Sea of Tiberias … Together were Simon Peter, Thomas called Didymus, Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, Zebedee's sons, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We also will come with you." (John 21:1–3 NABRE)
I always find this passage of the Gospel amusing. The disciples walked with the Lord on a great adventure for three years, experienced the fear and sorrow of the Lord’s Passion, and then experienced the joy of seeing their risen Lord. Now it seems that it has all come to an end. Having shared these experiences with the Lord, the answer to, “what to do next is?”; is “let’s go fishing!” That is the right answer, but they go after the wrong fish. They are fishers of men now. They have lost their orientation. They are adrift at sea in their little fishing boat. Even their fishing turns up nothing. It is then that they hear the voice of the Lord over the water from the shore,
"Children, have you caught anything to eat?" They answered him, "No." So he said to them, "Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something." So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord." (John 21:5–7 NABRE)
It is very close to the situation described in the Gospel of Luke 5:4–7, three years earlier. Jesus is once more calling them on mission, giving them direction and purpose. This changes everything.
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There is a lot going on in this Gospel both physically and spiritually. First the disciples are once again out on the water. St Gregory the Great writes,
What does the sea indicate but this present age, which is tossed about by the uproar of circumstances and the waves of this corruptible life? What does the solidity of the shore signify but the uninterrupted continuity of eternal peace? Therefore since the disciples were still held in the waves of this mortal life, they were laboring on the sea. (Forty Gospel Homilies 24.30 as quoted in Elowsky)
Jesus could have appeared to the disciples in the boat or walked on the water. Yet, He does not. Water in Sacred Scripture often depicts the uncontrolled chaos of sin in the world. You never know when a storm will kick up. Jesus waits and calls all toward the beach and safety, from the chaos of sin to redemption and eternal life. Will we hear Him?
The disciples are adrift at night with nets cast over the left side of the boat. The disciples are adrift in spiritual darkness, they have lost their direction, the meaning of their life without Christ. They even cast their nets on the left side of the boat, the wrong side spiritually. Remember the goats in Matthew 25:31–38?
Jesus comes with the dawn and His light pierces the darkness and calls instructions to them. They listen, cast their nets on the “right” side of the boat, physically and spiritually, and suddenly everything changes.
We too can wander in the darkness of sin and despair, our nets cast on the wrong side of the boat, unless we let the light of Christ cut through and into our life. It is then, with our nets cast on the “right” side of the boat, building the kingdom of heaven, that everything changes. Without the light of Christ given through the Sacraments, Sacred Scripture, and Prayer, we cannot hope to be effective, nor will our life have the meaning that God intends. We are adrift.
Finally, we hear in the Gospel that,
When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he tucked in his garment, for he was lightly clad, and jumped into the sea. (John 21:7 NABRE)
At the joy of recognizing Christ, St Peter leaves everything on the boat, taking the plunge to swim to shore. Nothing is more important! This is exactly what Christ calls us all to do.
“No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what was left behind is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62 NABRE)
Where Peter goes, so follow all the disciples. We too are called to follow Peter, the Church, lightly clad, rid of the attachments of sin that hold us back, and swim to the shore of heaven where Jesus awaits, ready to feed us. We are called to take the plunge in joy with eyes fixed on the Lord.
In returning to the sea and fishing, Peter is returning to the place where most first met Jesus. And it is here that Jesus surprises him. The Gospel parallels Peter’s first call where Jesus, in a similar way, appears and renders hours of useless toil miraculously fruitful. The nets strain to the breaking point with fish. We are to dive into our task despite the dangers of the water so that others drifting aimlessly might find Christ on the shore, waiting to feed all who ask.
When you are waiting and don’t know what to do next, in prayer, return to where you first met the risen Lord. Listen! Christ is calling from the shore. Hear Him and lightly clad dive into the water dragging a net, full to bursting, with souls for the kingdom of God. May the Lord’s light come to us all when we find ourselves adrift in the darkness, bearing no fruit, and surprise us with His presence. May we always recognize His face.
Today is the time to take the plunge! Rid of all that holds you back, that robs you of joy, find your purpose in the Lord. Jesus awaits on the shore.
“seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.” (Matthew 6:33)
Dymet, Berni. “Take the Plunge.” God's Word Fresh for You Today, Christianity Works, https://christianityworks.org/fresh/take-the-plunge/.
Elowsky, Joel C., ed. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture John 11–21. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007. Print.
New American Bible. Revised Edition. Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.