The late Mike Royko, longtime columnist for the Chicago Tribune, once told of a practical joke that was played on a man in Madison, Wisconsin. This man and three friends were enjoying a fishing trip at a secluded lake. They fished all day. Every night they went to bed at about 10:00 and got up before dawn for more fishing.
One of them, who we’ll call Joe, was the first to his bunk one night. He was exhausted, and was snoring within a few minutes.
Then one of his friends had an idea. He got Joe’s wristwatch off the dresser and changed the time to 4:45. Then they all got together and changed their own watches, including the alarm clock, to 4:45. The alarm was set to go off at five o’clock, or just fifteen minutes later. Then the conspirators turned off all the lights, took off their clothes, and went to bed.
Fifteen minutes later when the alarm clock went off, they all got up, shuffled around, and made the grumbly, miserable sounds that people usually make early in the morning. One of them put toast and coffee on. The only truly miserable one, of course, was Joe. He sat on the edge of his bed, shaking his head and moaning. He kept looking at his watch and complaining that he felt like he hadn’t gotten any sleep.
“I must be getting old,” he said as they dropped anchor and began fishing. Every few minutes, he’d glance at his watch and look at the eastern horizon and say: “What time have you got?” “Five-forty,” somebody would say.
“Boy, it’s dark,” Joe would say. And a little later: “What time have you got? “Six,” someone would answer.
Then Joe began to get concerned. “Shouldn’t it be getting light soon?” By the time his watch said 6:40, he had stopped fishing. He just sat there staring into the darkness. Finally, his voice cracking in genuine terror, he cried: “I’m telling you, something is wrong! It’s not getting light today! It’s not getting light!”
“It’s the end of the world,” his buddies hooted. “Doesn’t matter,” one of them said, “because the fish aren’t biting anyway.” That’s when Joe caught on. And he took it rather well, although they did have to wrestle an oar out of his hands.
Lacking the original article, many thanks to Ron Newhouse at Daily Devotions for preserving this tale.
In a way, you can hear this same sort of exasperation in Simon Peter’s voice from today’s Gospel reading (Luke 5:1-11) :
[Jesus] was standing by the lake of Gennes’aret. And he saw two boats by the lake; but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”
You’ll have some of this. That is:
There are times when we feel that we have done all that we can do — we can’t do anymore! And, as it happens, this is often the time that the Lord asks the most of us.
And … as anyone who has ever done it can attest, this is where the blessing — the increase — comes in. Simon Peter basically said, “As you will, Lord.” And that made all the difference.
And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zeb’edee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
God certainly doesn’t play practical jokes on us. But, there are times when we cry: “Something’s wrong! There’s no light! There should be light!” When, in reality, it is our perception of things that is askew.
God is not on our time. And this is ever evident when we, though wishing to balk, submit our wills to His. In so doing, in laboring on for the Kingdom, we receive the blessing of obedient servants to His holy will. (Though, most often, not within our own desired time.)
The boat represents the Church and the net is filled, to the breaking point — to the point that the boat is sinking — with men (male and female) of all stripes, good and bad. Our job is not to separate the bad from the “keepers” — but to be “fishers of men” for the Kingdom of God. In obedience, we labour; in His providence, God, the righteous judge, provides the increase.
Yet, we are not appointed to do this alone. Our Lord, truly God and truly Man, chose the 12, the 70, and the many women disciples. He was visited in the Garden of Gethsemene and comforted by an Angel. Aided by Simon of Cyrene, He did not bear His Cross alone.
No, our Lord does not appoint us to this work individually, but collectively. He gives us family, friends, co-workers — in the Church. (Notice, in today’s Gospel passage, they even had to enlist the help of another boat of helpers to assist the catch.)
Let us, fishers of men, labour together for the increase of the Kingdom. When, at times, there seems to be something wrong — no light; when we have laboured all night and caught nothing — Let us be mindful of the Good God Who provides the increase to those who love Him, answering His call to do His holy will.