Lucky coincidence. Bad luck. Unfortunate. Happy ending. Pure luck.
These are just a few examples of the many phrases and expressions that we use every day to describe the happenings in our lives. They have in common the assumption that things can happen without any logical reason, cause or explanation. Moreover, things happen without our own input, or contrary to our best efforts. In the ordered world we live in, chaos seems to punch well above its weight, and sometimes the only thing we can do is to accept these unexpected happenings, whether they be good or bad.
I’m intrigued and even disturbed by one sentence in today’s gospel: ‘None of the disciples was bold enough to ask “who are you?”’. The names of Jesus’ disciples, listed at the beginning, strongly suggest that they were among the closest to him. And yet, sitting with him around the fire, there’s that question nagging in their heads. Shouldn’t his identity be obvious? Shouldn’t they recognise their master whom they have closely followed, listened and talked to? I try to imagine what was going on in their heads. On the one hand, they witnessed Jesus’ cruel death; on the other hand, the seemingly miraculous fishing event recalls the first one that happened a couple of years earlier, the then-defining moment for Peter, James and John. Perhaps this one has just happened in the same place, certainly in very similar circumstances? Coincidence?
One of the disciples in the boat – John – shares his interpretation of what has just happened with Peter: ‘It is the Lord.’ All of a sudden the successful catch that follows their vain overnight attempts is no longer down to a stroke of good luck, but a sign of the presence of the Lord. That interpretation of the event changes Peter’s priorities in a flash. He abandons the boat and the net, and he swims back to the shore like mad to meet Jesus. Peter – who went fishing out of boredom, or resignation, or frustration, or a mixture of these – suddenly regains the purpose in life that he had almost certainly lost. Interestingly, it’s not Peter’s own discovery; it’s his friend John’s insight that makes it happen for him. Although all seven in the boat are part of the surprising catch, only John sees a deeper meaning to it. In his view, this fortunate event is down to something infinitely greater than mere good luck.
We can see our lives from different angles; we can interpret them from different perspectives. We can be envious of other people’s lives and of their supposed good luck and excessively good fortune, while our lot seems to feature an unfairly high proportion of bad luck and misfortune. Funnily enough, those apparently better-off might consider themselves far less fortunate; you know, ‘the grass is always greener…’ What makes our lives better or worse off is what we do with them. Personally, I believe that nothing – absolutely nothing – happens in my life without a purpose. I believe that the Lord is always present in my life. The only really serious difficulty in my life, whenever bad luck strikes, is to remember to discern the good hidden behind the misfortune. Sometimes I’m bold enough to ask the Lord in my misery: ‘Where are you?’ But deep down I know that He is right beside me!