The closing stage directions of Samuel Beckett’s famous existential drama Waiting for Godot capture the entrenched fear, doubt, and despair of modernity. One disaffected drifter, Estragon, says to another, “Well, shall we go?”
“Yes,” his counterpart, Vladimir, affirms, “let’s go.”
Stage direction: “They do not move.”
Nor will they move. Ever. Beckett’s bums, pathetic as they seem on stage, are not far removed, if at all, from our own daily dilemma.
So many things paralyze our hope. Hurt, failure, resentment, exhaustion. We have tried, and we have not succeeded. We loved and were rejected. We hoped and were disappointed. And now the temptation to embrace the safety of cynicism is intense. If we do not try, we avoid failure. If we do not love, we cannot be rejected. If we do not hope, we will not risk being disappointed. It’s safer.
But the shell of cynicism is also a prison. True, we cannot be hurt, but we cannot get out. The more we wrap the shell of disaffection around us, the tighter it becomes. Until we redefine our nature, because it is so difficult to believe, hope, trust, and let go of doubt, when we have been disappointed. Yet Christ’s nature reflects all these qualities – towards each of us.
He has so many reasons to doubt us. So much evidence that we will fail Him, again. Still, He encourages us, always, to try again, and nowhere more so than when we have fished all night and caught nothing. He brings us to confront that place within ourselves, and to try again, but with His grace.
“When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets for a catch.’” (Luke 5:4)
Let down your nets. Let down your guard. Let down your pride. Try again. Be vulnerable to failure and humiliation. Hope once more, without any assurance of success. With only Our Lord’s call to rely upon.
“‘Master,’ Simon replied, ‘we toiled all night and took nothing!’” (Luke 5:5)
We tried that. We knew the way. We started the business. The business failed. We threw ourselves into the mission. The mission produced nothing. We put effort into that relationship and have nothing to show for it.
“’But at Your word, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:5)
I will forgive once more. I will love once more. I will show up at my place of duty, again, and try once more.
This is so hard. Peter’s example is so important. He simply obeys. The only grace which he can access is obedience. Not zeal, not results. Just listening to the Lord.
It is as if he says, “Lord, I will love, and lower the net again.” “Lord, I will forgive, and lower the net once more.”
And the result? The opposite of everything the cynic could have justly predicted. The cynic says to himself: don’t do it, you will look like an idiot, a chump. Those people don’t deserve your trying again. No one appreciated your efforts. Stay aloof and superior. Maintain your pride. Stay in the prison of doubt, here, where it is safe.
But Peter lowers the nets. And the burgeoning, toddling, universal Church holds her collective breath.
“When they had done so,” the Gospel reveals, “they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.” (Luke 5:6)
Breakthrough. Their nets were breaking. The result of loving in obedience to Christ, of lowering our pride, and forgiving just once more, the time when it is least deserved, is when the breakthrough takes place!
Anointed by grace, Christ’s followers take on such success, such love, such abundance that “soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking. . . .And Simon and all who were with him were awestruck at the catch of fish which they had taken.” (Luke 5:7-9)
The depth of our awe comes from our understanding of anything that could reasonably have been expected. We knew our budget and our limited cash flow. We had seen the indifference of our loved one. We had felt the unfairness of our wounds. We had experienced the intractable grip of the addiction. But Our Lord’s request, answered in obedience, produces the miracle.
“Do not be afraid!” Our Lord adjures. “From now on you will be fishers of men.” (Luke 5:10)
Simon Peter is our example. In this critical moment, as we and all the disciples watch him, his vulnerable obedience dictates the future of the Church.
All of this takes place in the deep, where the water is over our heads. Where we are not in control. Abandonment is the spiritual deep end. It is the final stop on the journey. It is also the true beginning.
No guarantees. The certain possibility of humiliation, but the truer certainty of the One Who calls, Who asks, and Who commands. The risk is real. The response is Christ’s anointed reward.
And the reward is His, and His alone. More than we could ask or imagine. Pressed down and running over. The joy that comes from self-surrender in faith to Jesus.
St. Therese of Lisieux reveals, “It has, I confess, taken me a long time to reach such self-surrender; I have reached it, yet it was Jesus Himself who brought me there.”
Jesus brings us to the shore, where we can leave our boats, our limited human efforts, behind, casting ourselves upon the depth of His grace.
“So, they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything, and followed Him.” (Luke 5:11)
And so must we.
*Image: The Miraculous Draught of Fishes by Raphael, 1515-16 [Victoria and Albert Museum, London]. This was one of Raphael’s cartoons, the bases for tapestries commissioned by Pope Leo X for the Sistine Chapel: