The Daily Miracle: The Power that Fills our Empty Nets
“The Sea of Tiberius had denied its fishes to Peter’s nets. A whole night in vain. Then, obedient, he lowered his net again to the water and they caught ‘a huge number of fish.’ Believe me: the miracle is repeated each day.”
St. Josemaria Escriva
The Way, no. 629
In the spiritual life we have to reckon with a unique “balance of power” between what God can do and what we can do. One of the most touching examples of this “balance” occurs during the Easter Octave when Peter and other disciples go out overnight to fish, only to find themselves at dawn with empty nets (see Jn 21:1-14).
In the light of the Resurrection, every detail here takes on a deeper meaning. St Josemaria marvels especially over Christ’s fatherly concern for the Apostles: “Children, have you any fish?” (Jn 21:5). “The close, family nature of this scene fills me with happiness and joy. That Jesus, my God, should say this! He, who already has a glorified body!” (Friends of God, no. 266).
The setting is the shore of the Sea of Tiberius, early morning, when mist still hovers above the water. The Risen Christ approaches His men with this simple question, whose answer He knows perfectly well. They hadn’t any fish, and no doubt felt downhearted because of it. But at His word, the disciples cast once more over the right side of the boat and their nets swell to breaking point. Immediately, St John jubilantly identifies the figure on the shore whose word had turned their dejection into triumph: “It is the Lord!” (Jn 21:7).
From a failed fishing trip to almost more success than they could handle—all because the Apostles were docile to the Lord’s counsel. This miracle is one of many, even daily, ways in which the Lord’s Resurrection changes our moments of failure and sorrow into a steppingstone to glory: The stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. By the Lord has this been done and it is marvelous in our eyes! (Ps 118:22-23).
Abrupt and joyful reversals surround the event of the Resurrection. The questioning angels at the tomb asking the cause of Mary Magdalene’s sorrow prepare her to hear the mysterious “gardener” call her by name, transforming her tears into a cry of joy: “You have changed my mourning into dancing” (Ps 30:11). The discouraged disciples en route to Emmaus are joined by a mysterious stranger whose question about their distress opens them to hear a message that makes their hearts burn with love for the Christ, whom they had no hope of seeing again.
What happens in the stillness of the morning on the waters (and shore) of the Sea of Tiberius parallels these dramatic turns. The Lord had already taught a similar message to Simon Peter toward the beginning of His public ministry. Having borrowed his boat to preach from, Jesus then invited Peter to “Put out into the deep” for the very catch that had eluded him the night before. And the experienced fisherman returns to shore with the same result: burgeoning nets and a heart deeply convicted by fear of the Lord.
But not only were the results alike; the lesson also remained unchanged. If we could read Peter’s thoughts, we might have heard: My efforts as an experienced fisherman were inadequate to produce the results that I wanted. At the word of Jesus, everything that I had spent all night searching for was poured into my lap.
We can imagine the moment of panicked excitement on that occasion when the boats began to sink because of the haul. Think of it: The Lord provided just that many fish on purpose—enough almost to sink the very boats they were fishing from, but not one too many. There is a lot of meaning hidden in that fact.
After taking it all in, the truth strikes Peter like lightning: This is not about fish, is it? And he falls at the feet of Jesus and confesses, I am wrong about everything, except that you are Lord: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8). To say that we are sinners is to say that we are often wrong, but also that One alone is always right, and can make all things right, if we obey Him.
From the post-Resurrection catch the Lord prepares a meal for His disciples, feeding them with His own hands, illustrating by wordless, even paternal gestures another Gospel passage: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes; truly, I say to you, he will gird himself and have them sit at table, and he will come and serve them” (Lk 12:37).
Peter, John, and the others were not exactly keeping a “spiritual” vigil of prayer on this occasion. Outwardly, they were only looking to catch fish: “Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you’” (Jn 21:3). But the Lord came to them anyway, served them anyway, because He saw what was in their hearts. He saw that it was an opportune time to show Himself to them—opportune precisely because they had caught nothing.
“Apart from me, you can do nothing,” the Lord Himself tells us unambiguously (Jn 15:5). But His Apostle Paul finds out the happy consequence of this balance of power: “I can do all things in Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13). Our Lord wants to convince us that He has more to give us than we can possibly gather in, and that it is our nothingness that opens us to receive His gifts. As Mother Teresa once said, “God does not need your fullness, your plenitude, but rather your nothingness.” And with this, there is nothing He cannot do through us, whether He calls us into the deep or home to shore.
Jesus demonstrates this in a very concrete way: On the shore, He provides, prepares, and distributes food to His men, whom He calls His “children,” i.e., those who cannot provide for themselves. As Scripture says about the heavenly manna: You gave your people food for which they did not toil, and this manifested your sweetness toward your children (cf. Wis 1:20-21). The Apostles sat and ate with eyes wide open and hearts brimming over with, I would imagine, both excitement and feelings of compunction. Here they were before the good Master who was passing by and serving them, after they had failed Him not so long ago.
We can show how much we accept Christ’s power sometimes by keeping vigil, sometimes by trusting sleep, sometimes by very hard work, at other times by leaving things somewhat unfinished. There is no hard and fast rule for every situation except this one: work, pray, sleep without an ounce of self-sufficiency, but do all things with humility, docility and trust in God.
Pope St John XXIII, on the eve of his election to the papacy in 1958, was fairly certain that he was going to be elected on the following day. The previous ballots had been increasingly in his favor. You might expect that he wouldn’t be able to sleep—because of the awesome prospect of being Pope. But he said to himself in his journal, “But who is it that rules the Church? Is it you or the Holy Ghost? Well, then, Angelo, go to sleep!” And then he added, “I feel as if I were an empty bag that the Holy Spirit unexpectedly fills with strength.”
Here is one of the successors of Peter having learned the same lesson that Simon Peter learned on that early morning on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias: “Open wide your mouth,” says the Lord, “and I will fill it” (Ps 81:10). May we never set limits on Him who rose from the dead, but be more open to what He can do when we give ourselves to Him as simple, humble children who trust in the power of their Savior.
The content is published by the St Josemaria Institute for the free use of readers and may not be copied or reproduced without permission from its author © Fr. John Henry Hanson, 2014.