Peter and his companions had done their best. They had fished all night but had caught nothing: all their time and effort had been for nothing. They were now tired and dispirited as they washed their nets. It’s possible to do one’s best, yet at the end of the day to have nothing to show for it, nothing but weariness and wounds. One might study hard for an exam, yet not get the desired results. One might play one’s heart out, yet lose the match. One might do one’s best to be a good parent, yet a child goes wrong.
Jesus might have said to the apostles, “I’m surprised at you. You’re supposed to be experienced fishermen. How could you fish all night and catch nothing? How come the men in that boat over there made a catch?” He might have said this. Had he done so, he would have been saying in effect, “It’s your own fault.” He would have been blaming them. Now when we fail after having done our best, the last thing we need is blame. To fail is painful enough without someone rubbing salt into the wound. It’s terrible if one’s best isn’t good enough.
Most of us experience failure at one time or another. There is no point in being sentimental about it. Failure breeds despair. The person who can draw strength from failure is very rare. What we need is not blame but someone to believe in us, to encourage us, and to challenge us. Failure is not the falling down, but staying down.
Besides, success isn’t everything. We can win an argument but lose a friend. Through competition and promotion we may advance in our profession, but in terms of relationships we may be impoverished. Success is sweet at the moment it is achieved. But almost immediately the cup of success begins to drain away and a feeling of emptiness sets in.
Jesus did not blame Peter and his companions. But he didn’t encourage them to wallow in self-pity either. Nor did he allow them to rest in failure. He challenged them to try again: “Launch out into the deep and let down the nets for a catch.”
Emerson says that each of us has a greater possibility. There is in each of us a chamber, or a closet, that has never been opened. If we are to realize this “greater possibility”, we need to be challenged to go beyond ourselves, beyond what we think we are capable of and have settled for. We need someone to say to us, “Launch out into the deep”. Jesus knew that Peter was a sinner. But he knew that he was also capable of greatness. Many cults appeal to people’s weaknesses. But Jesus appealed, not to Peter’s weakness, but his strength. He knew that Peter and his companions were capable of better things. So he threw down a challenge to them – to leave their nets and become fishers of men. And, to their credit, they responded wholeheartedly. They left everything and became his first disciples.
We all need someone who accepts us for what we are, but who believes we are capable of more, and challenges us to realize it.