“Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.”
How do we take Peter’s words to Jesus here? Was it a tone of dejected surrender, like, “We’ve put everything we got into this, Lord, but if you say try it a different way, sure, we’ll do what you say.” Or was it a tone of bold faith, as in, “Lord, we humans cannot do it, but you are from God, and so if you say to try it on the other side, by golly, we’ll do it!”
It kind of doesn’t matter, does it. Of course, ever since the advent of psychology and the “rise of the Self” as an object of endless study and introspection, we are always hunting around in the psyches of the biblical characters trying to see what they were thinking, and how we might fit into that psychological profile. But what if the psychological profiles of most, or all, of the biblical characters doesn’t really matter?
Compare the Bible to the novel, with its focus on the inner psychological workings and development of its characters; or compare it to the Shakespearian tradition with its profound psychology. Does it even translate?
I’d argue it does not. The psychology of the Biblical characters is, how would we say, surfacey. It’s not even on par with the Greek mythological characters. The characters of the Bible sort of wander around doing stupid human stuff…kind of like all of us. “So and so had it in his heart to [fill in blank with something stupid] so God had to lasso him back in.” How is that not so many of us.
What strikes one as he reads the Bible is how un-profound the characters truly are, how little “character” development there is, how un-heroic they are. They’re just people. Even Job comes across as a good man who got the shaft and is now whining a bit about it – sound familiar? It should because it’s half the people you come in contact with every day. Moses heroic? It’s easy to be heroic when God gives you a special staff and promises to be behind your every move.
And on and on. The main character in the Bible, obviously, is the Lord God. Everyone else lives out the Psalm that talks about us like grass. Here today gone tomorrow. We get a taste of that already in the list of descendants of Seth, with the repeated phrase, “and he died.” The Lord God alone endures. That being the case, who cares what psychological roller coasters the characters went through.
Which is all to say, as far as the Lord goes, who cares what got Peter to the point of saying “at your word.”
Peter is like Naaman the Syrian general in the Old Testament. He had leprosy and went to Elisha to possibly get healed. Elisha sent a servant out to him to say, “Go dip in the Jordan seven times.” Naaman is furious. He wanted some big, dramatic display. “Go dip in the Jordan” isn’t the stuff of great acts. But one of his servants says, in essence, “Just do it at his word. How hard is it anyways?” So Naaman does it and gets healed. What was the state of his mind then?
Again, who cares. And in the Gospel we note that there are people with great faith, little faith, weak faith, skeptical faith, doubting faith, sleeping faith, and even no faith. Jesus is the same Jesus for them all, giving without measure. The only ones who don’t receive His gifts are those with rejecting faith, who commit the sin against the Holy Spirit.
Our Lord’s Word is what does it, not the psychological nature of how we receive it. Jesus had just gotten done using His divine power to prevent fish from going into Peter’s nets. He had caused all the fish to teem together at the other side of the boat. His divine authority, His creative Word, had done it. Now He needed Peter to be part of that equation, to be the passively receptive material – like the fish – which would be compelled by His word. It mattered not whether Peter did it boldly, cheerfully, or confidently. It just mattered that he did it.
What is the application of this? There’s tremendous application relating to the Old Testament reading, which we’ll get to soon. Elijah had to learn a lesson about simply doing what God says and not attempting to insert himself too much in the equation. We can learn that lesson as well, as far as our vocations go, and as far as the Church goes. Too much emphasis on the psychological workings of the hearer leads to psychological manipulation through highly crafted motivational talks and emotive music. A good day is a day when minds have been manipulated. Jesus shows something else. A good day is a day when the Church does what He told it to do, which is preach repentance and forgiveness, teach the Gospel, and have communion.
Today’s meditation is one of those that when you think about, you can’t un-think it. We’re obsessed with navel-gazing and psyches. It permeates everything, particularly our spirituality. Think of all the Lenten dramas focused on what Pilate’s wife went through, or how Mary was thinking.
But there is one caveat to all this, and that is the book of Psalms. Psalms, one could argue, are loaded with the psychological goings on of David. But David here, remember, is but the mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit, Who is communicating through David what Jesus was going through on the cross. The Psalms are not human thoughts, but divinely human thoughts. I guess we could call it a divine psychology if we must.
If that’s the case, then it doesn’t endorse the sort of navel-gazing we seek, but it simply sets up St. Paul’s teaching that we conform our lives to Christ’s mind, that we have His mind.