Years ago, a mother in Nashville, Tennessee, gave birth prematurely to a tiny baby girl. Shortly afterward, the baby caught pneumonia. Next, the baby caught scarlet fever. Finally, she contracted polio. The last illness left one leg badly crippled and her foot twisted inward. When the little girl reached the age of five, she hobbled about on metal braces while the other kids ran and skipped rope.
When she reached eleven, the handicapped girl asked her little sister to stand watch at the door while she practiced walking without the braces. She didn't want her parents to catch her walking around without the braces on. For a whole year the girl continued her secret walks. Then one day she began to feel guilty about them. So, she told her doctor what she had been doing. He was flabbergasted. He agreed to let her continue, but only for short periods of time.
Well, the girl's idea of a short period was far different from the doctor's idea. And to her periods of walking without braces the handicapped girl added periods of prayer. To make a long story short, that girl eventually threw away her braces for good.
I think this little story fits beautifully with today's gospel. For it illustrates an essential truth of life that we all need to hear time and time again in life. It reminds us in a dramatic fashion that perseveranceis one of the greatest powers in the world.
Peter and his friends had fished all night without success. Had it not been for Jesus' words to them, they could very easily have finished their day of work without nothing to show for it. But Jesus persuaded them to try one more time. They did, and we know what happened. That try made the difference between success and failure.
The story of Peter and his friends I think opens for us another insight about life - it is this - Things changed for the disciples - when Jesus became involved with the process! The previous castings of the net - perhaps 20 or 30 in the course of the night - were done on their own. But in the final casting, Jesus became involved. And that's when things took a 180-degree turn. That's when things exceeded their wildest dream.
With this in mind, let's return to that little girl in Nashville who threw away her braces - her story didn't end there. Something happened to her that exceeded her wildest dreams. The girl began not only to walk without braces but even to run. And she ran and ran and ran. At the age of sixteen, this incredible girl qualified for the Olympics in Melbourne, Australia, and went on to win a bronze medal in the women's 400-meter relay. And four years after that, in the 1960 Olympics at Rome, she became the first women in history to win three gold medals in track and field. That girl was none other than Wilma Rudolph. Wilma came home to a ticker-tape parade and a private audience with President Kennedy. She was given the Sullivan Award, naming her the nation's top amateur athlete.
Wilma Rudolph is a living example of the power of perseverance. She is a tribute to the power and potential of the human spirit. Her life dramatizes that no handicap - no matter how great - is a match for the two creative forces in our life that can make all the difference perseverance and prayer.
When we are willing to put those two realities in life together - and, if it be God's will - you and I can experience what we might so easily dismiss as the impossible in our life - exceeding our wildest dreams. The key, however, between ultimate success and failure in life, is our willingness to persevere - not alone - but with the Lord ever at our side.