The Word Among Us

Lent 2020 Issue

Get Out of the Boat

The grace of mission.

Get Out of the Boat: The grace of mission.

Peter rowed out into deep water and lowered his nets, just as Jesus had told him to do. Almost immediately, he felt a tremendous tug. With great effort, he and his brother, Andrew, began hauling in the nets. Then their jaws dropped in astonishment. How could there be so many fish? The nets were breaking! As he watched the squirming fish piling on top of one another, Peter began to worry about the boat. Was it in danger of sinking?

But Peter was also thinking beyond practicalities. He knew he had just witnessed a miracle. All he could do was fall to his knees before Jesus.

What Jesus said next changed Peter’s life forever: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10). Catching men? What does that mean? Peter had to find out. The presence and power of this man were leading him to do something almost beyond his comprehension—leave his livelihood and begin traveling with Jesus, the rabbi from Nazareth. “When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him” (5:11).

God’s Call to Peter—and to Us. This is the grace of mission. When Peter got out of the boat and abandoned his nets, he embarked on a journey that would take him from Galilee into the cities of Asia Minor and finally to Rome. He would be given the “keys to the kingdom” as the first leader of the Church (Matthew 16:19). He would be the first to baptize Gentiles and welcome them into the new Church. Eventually, he would give up his life for Jesus. And it all started with him getting out of his boat.

Why was Peter able to make such a decision? Was he just being his usual impulsive self? No. That day he had a personal encounter with Jesus. He heard Jesus speaking with authority and wisdom. And when he put out into the deep water and lowered his nets as Jesus had asked, he witnessed a great miracle. Now this same Jesus was inviting him to join him in his mission. The grace of God that he had witnessed—the grace that was also stirring his heart—convinced Peter to accept Jesus’ invitation. He abandoned everything that had previously been familiar in order to set out into deeper waters, into the unknown.

Do you see the connection? The grace of Jesus’ presence in Peter’s boat led to the grace of Peter’s obedience to Jesus’ command. That in turn led to the grace of a great catch of fish and to the grace that enabled Peter to get out of the boat and fish for people. This same pattern is at work in the life of every Christian. Jesus comes into our lives, asks us to listen and obey him, and then sends us out on mission. At every step of the way, he offers us his abundant grace so that we can find the courage to do what he asks.

Let’s see how we might grow this Lent in the grace of mission.

Ask for God’s Heart. Our faith tells us that only God can fulfill the deepest desires of our hearts. Yet so many people feel empty and lost. You probably know a number of people like this. Do you yearn for them to know God? Do you feel a sense of urgency about their need for Jesus? If not, then ask God to give you his heart of love for them and his desire to share the good news with them.

What does God’s heart look like? It looks like the Father who sent his beloved Son into the world to rescue us from sin and death. It looks like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, who welcomes back his wayward son with joy and celebrates, saying, “Your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found” (Luke 15:32).

Look Outward. Mission is all about looking outward. It’s about focusing on God and other people and not only on our own needs or wants. That can be especially difficult when we are facing problems and struggles. But even in the midst of such challenges, Jesus is still saying, “Get out of the boat. I want you to catch people for me.”

You may worry that focusing outward will require you to ignore your current responsibilities. But that’s not necessarily so. God doesn’t want you to turn your back on your duties in life while you join him on mission, but he does want you to be his ambassador!

Why is God so insistent that we join him? Because of the effect that an outward focus can have. Try to imagine this: on the day that you enter heaven, a woman you knew briefly comes up to you and says, “I want to thank you for sharing your faith and speaking such encouraging words to me. I’m here today because God used your words and your care to help bring me to faith.” When you recall that period in your life, you realize it was a time of great struggle. You had lost your job and were wondering how you were going to make ends meet. But when you met this woman, you felt that you should still reach out, befriend her, and gradually share the good news with her.

Do you see what can happen? By trying to keep an outward focus, you will have opportunities to share the love of the Lord with someone who is seeking God. So keep looking outward! Try to stay alert to the promptings of his Spirit. If you keep your heart open, opportunities to get out of yourself and share your faith will surely come.

An Invitation for You! When Jesus invited him to “catch people,” Peter could have thought, “Who, me? I can’t do that. I’m an uneducated fisherman from Capernaum. Nobody will listen to me.” But that’s not what he said. Peter paid more attention to Jesus’ invitation than to his own limitations.

When you think of getting out of your boat and trying to join Jesus in his mission, you might protest, “I’m too old. I’m too young. I’m far too busy. I’m not important enough or persuasive enough to make a difference. Besides, there’s no real mission field near me.” Still, Jesus is inviting you to fish for his kingdom. He isn’t put off by your limitations. As the saying goes, he doesn’t call the equipped; he equips the called. He can use you wherever you are—at your job, in a prison or in a nursing facility, or in your home taking care of your children or grandchildren.

And don’t think that you don’t have much of a story to share. You don’t have to have a dramatic conversion like St. Paul’s! All you have to do is share about how you have felt God helping you at different points in your life, both in times of blessing and times of difficulty. Share about times when you have felt close to God, like at a special Mass or when you read a certain passage of Scripture or at the birth of one of your children. Then you can assure the people you are sharing with that God has been close to them as well through their own journey.

Be Christ to the World. St. Teresa of Ávila once wrote, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours.” That means you are his hands and feet and eyes and ears. So this Lent, try to think about where Jesus wants to go and whom he wants to touch through you. Is it a word of comfort or encouragement for a coworker? Is a loved one hurting and in need of prayer? Is a child of yours needing a bit of correction or guidance? Christ is in you, and you can speak his words.

This grace of mission—being Christ to everyone you meet—begins and ends with Jesus.

Without him we can do nothing. He is always pursuing us, if we have the eyes to see it. This Lent, look for Jesus. Be willing to invite him into your boat so that he can give you the grace to obey him and the grace to get out of your comfort zone so that you can join him in his mission. Know with all of your heart that God will supply the grace. All he needs is an open and trusting heart.