The Word Among Us

Lent 2020 Issue

In the Boat with Jesus

The grace of Jesus’ presence.

In the Boat with Jesus: The grace of Jesus’ presence.

It had been a long, fruitless night. Simon and his brother, Andrew, had been out fishing on the lake, but the fish weren’t biting. Now they were on the shore with all the other fishermen, cleaning their nets. Simon couldn’t wait to be done. He was looking forward to a good breakfast and a few hours’ sleep. Some nights were like that. Perhaps tomorrow they would have better luck.

Hearing a commotion on the beach, Simon looked up. Of course! It was Jesus, the rabbi who had been teaching and healing the sick. As usual, a crowd of people were flocking to him, excited to see his miracles and eager for more of what he had to say.

As Jesus drew closer, he looked straight at Simon. Holding his gaze, Jesus motioned with his hand. Does Jesus want to get into my boat? Simon wondered. What does this man want with me? And who does he think he is, expecting me to take him on board?

“Can you row out a bit?” Jesus asked. “The people can hear me better if I teach from out there.” All Simon could think of was how much he wanted to climb into bed and get some sleep. But he couldn’t very well say no. So he rowed out. Then Jesus turned to the crowd, sat down, and began teaching them. Simon had heard Jesus speak before, but he still couldn’t help but be riveted by his words. No doubt about it, Jesus knew how to keep people’s attention!

We know what happened next. From that moment, Simon Peter’s life was turned upside down—all because Jesus took the initiative to pursue him. He came right into Peter’s boat, the place where Peter was most comfortable, where he spent so much of his time, where he made his living.

This Lent, we want to look at how Jesus chose Peter, pursued him, and climbed into his boat and into his life. We also want to see where and how God has pursued us in the past, how he is pursuing us now, and how we can allow the grace of this Lenten season to help us respond to him.

Jesus, the Initiator. For now, let’s go back to the scene at the lake. What do you think was going through Jesus’ mind as he walked among the crowds that morning? Do you think he chose Peter’s boat at random? After all, there were probably ten or twenty fishermen with their boats on the shore that morning.

No, it wasn’t random. Jesus clearly sought out Peter and his brother, Andrew. He wanted more from these two fishermen than just a couple of more followers; he wanted real friendship and closeness with them. So he came right up to them, spoke directly to them, and walked right into their boat!

This is who Jesus is—the initiator. This is what he wants to do for all of us. He wants to establish a close relationship with us. And so he comes right up to us and asks us to welcome him. He doesn’t just stand at the edge of our lives and wait for us to notice him. He knocks on the door to our homes, our workplaces, and especially the door of our hearts. He chooses us, not because of what we can do for him, but simply because of the great love he has for each one of us.

There are other stories in the Gospels in which Jesus does something similar. One day in Capernaum, he came up to Matthew, a tax collector working at his job, and said, “Follow me” (Matthew 9:9). There was another fellow, this time in Jericho, who was short in stature. This man, named Zacchaeus, climbed a sycamore tree to try to catch a glimpse of Jesus as he passed by. When Jesus saw him, he said, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house” (Luke 19:5). And just as it happened with Peter, Matthew and Zacchaeus’ lives were transformed.

Jesus, the Life Changer. Whether or not we have had a similar dramatic encounter with Christ, one truth remains: Jesus doesn’t pursue us just once. He is continually coming into our “boat.” Of course, he is a polite guest. He never forces himself into our lives. He simply asks and then waits for us to invite him in—again and again.

Especially during the season of Lent, Jesus wants to come into your life and affect every part of who you are—your dreams and desires, your thoughts and fears, your habits and attitudes. He wants to fill all the good things with his grace and heal the areas of darkness in you so that he can transform and renew your every desire, word, and action.

But don’t think Jesus is expecting you to become a saint overnight! He knows this is the work of a lifetime. Look at Peter. He may have decided to become a disciple of Jesus that day in the boat, but he still had to grow in his faith, sometimes in dramatic ways. After this first encounter, Peter still had struggles. His sins and his tendency to rely on his own strength came along with him when he left the boat! Jesus didn’t pursue Peter because he was perfect, and he didn’t stop pursuing him when he failed. Jesus came for sinners, and Peter was one of them.

Jesus, Faithful and Persistent. Let’s jump ahead to another poignant scene between Jesus and Peter. Peter had done the unthinkable. After following Jesus for three years, after proclaiming him the Messiah, and after pledging never to deny him, Peter abandoned Jesus at his arrest, and then he denied him—three times! It seems that Peter’s failure weighed heavily on his conscience, even after he met the risen Lord on Easter. St. John tells about how Jesus once more sought and found Peter in a familiar, comfortable place: his fishing boat (John 21:1-19). Peter had gone back out on the lake, with seven of his friends.

Just as before, Jesus came to the place he knew Peter and the other disciples would be. Standing on the shore, he called out to them and asked if they had caught anything. He knew full well they had not, but he asked them to try again anyway. This time they caught so many fish that they had trouble hauling in the net.

Peter was so excited when he recognized that it was Jesus that he jumped out of the boat and swam the rest of the way in. After they had all shared a breakfast, Jesus took Peter aside and asked him three times, “Do you love me?”—once for every time Peter had denied him (John 21:15, 16, 17).

While Jesus had every right to walk away from Peter, he pursued him instead. Neither Peter’s denials nor his sins from the past could stop Jesus from finding him. And Jesus did it not only to make sure that Peter knew he was forgiven but also to send him on his mission to preach the good news: “Feed my lambs. . . . Feed my sheep” (John 21:15, 17).

This is how magnificent our God is! He pursues us even when we feel unworthy. He pursues us when we have sinned, even when we have let Jesus down as seriously as Peter did. Jesus never forgets the yes that we gave to him in the past, so he continues to seek us out and to ask us to welcome him into our boat.

Look for Jesus This Lent. Jesus is pursuing you in a special way this Lent. He is pursuing you even if you are in a difficult place in your life or if it feels as if you can’t break free of a persistent sin. He is even pursuing you if you are experiencing a time of blessing! He always has more grace for you to experience—the grace of his presence.

So look for him, because he will come to the place where you are most comfortable. That might be in your kitchen, at your workplace, or in your favorite easy chair. He is seeking you in the day-to-day routine of your life, just as he sought Peter while he was fishing.

But it’s not just in the ordinary events of life that you will find Jesus. Especially during Lent, you will encounter him as you set aside time to fast or to pray. He will speak to you as you read the Scriptures or pray the Rosary or follow the Stations of the Cross. He will speak personal words of forgiveness in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. And you will meet him as you reach out to someone in need in your community.

Whatever you choose to do, be sure to come with an open, expectant heart. Don’t let Jesus pass you by! Don’t let guilt or busyness or anxiety keep you away. Welcome him into your boat.