As we come into the Advent Season, let us reflect on the emptiness we feel at one time or another in our lives. We look at the empty cribs of our hearts and imagine the Christ being birthed right there. Right at the very emptiness. For it is in the most unlikely places that the Messiah is born.
Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
As the dawn was breaking, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.
Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. [John 21: 2-7]
This is probably my most favorite story in the bible (I also love the beautiful story of Esau forgiving his brother Jacob, but that is a topic of another post). I love this story because it is a very human story that rivals the classics: disciples going back to what they know best (fishing) and not catching any, of depressing routine made even more depressing because of failure, the darkness of night mirroring the mood of the disciples who had lost hope, and Hope walking on the shore just as dawn is breaking.
But imagine how depressing that whole activity was for them! They were proud fishermen who were given the chance to be fishers of men, and just when they were becoming good at it, Jesus dies. And just when they thought they could go back to fishing, they catch nothing, zilch, nada. It is like the world staring them right in the face and telling them, “You will not be able to go back to normal programming. You cannot be fishermen anymore. You have lost the touch. You have lost the feel of the water. You have been gone too long.”
And so all they could do at the moment was stare at NOTHING. At their empty nets and empty hearts full of empty promises. Three wasted years. They put their lives on hold following what they saw with their eyes and felt in their hearts as the ONE. The ONE wove beautiful stories, and talked about an equally beautiful God. The ONE was very charismatic–he brought people together, and made the Torah so alive; he performed miracles. He fed five thousand, made cripples walk, cured lepers, and the blind he gave sight. So they cannot be blamed for trusting the Man. He was HOPE personified.
The bad thing about hope is that when you lose it, it becomes doubly hard to trust again. This is true for any person. Once you have had your heart hurt, it is so hard to have faith and believe again. The challenge is to love again like you never got heartbroken, like you’re falling in love for the first time all the time. Like you didn’t have to lick your wounds. Like you don’t have wounds at all!
That is the challenge of the disciples in that boat staring at those empty nets.
We look at the empty nets of our country and our people. We’ve gone deeper and deeper into a quicksand of graft and corruption. We do not know where to begin to solve our country’s problems. Several months ago, there was a heavy feeling of despair when we heard about the almost-medieval execution of whole families, when our President has lost all trust from the people who voted her to power (well even that fact–that they voted her to power–is debatable). We’ve been duped by people who are supposed to serve us but ended up lining their own pockets. Corruption has become systematic, institutionalized, a way of life.
We look at the empty nets of our own lives. We have gone through deep shit. We have lost and lost again and lost our way. What was once very clear to us and what we held with deep conviction and certainty no longer gives hope and consolation. We feel empty–becoming shells of our former selves. We stop LIVING. We just survive, day to day, hour by hour. We go through life without direction, without a goal, and without meaning. We have had our hearts broken and it is the most terrible feeling in the world. And because of that we zombie out–sleepwalking through life–alive but really dead and without spirit. How could we go so low? How could we ever break our promises? How could we ever forget how to live life to its fullest?
And I love this next scene. Just as dawn is breaking, with the earth groaning under the strain of night giving way reluctantly to day, the sun bursts forth in hues of reds, yellows, and vermilion.
But that is NOT what makes the scene beautiful.
Because you have to look beyond the beauty of dawn. And you have to look beyond your empty nets and broken heart. And you have to look to that familiar shadow on the shore.
It is the Man.
Keeping his promise. Reminding us to REMEMBER who we are when we were with him. Filling empty nets full to the brim, to a breaking that fills. Making us hope again. Love again. Like it was our first and only time.
Just when we think that normal programming is no longer possible. Just when we find it hard to believe and love and hope again. Just when we think there is no future. Just when we think nets will always be empty and night will always be endless. All we have to do is look beyond the empty nets and our broken hearts. And to that familiar shadow on the shore.
It is not forever.