Toil is part of life. This word often gets a negative connotation. Like doing something useless and ultimately futile. But toil really just means hard work. Hard work is not an intrinsically bad thing. The major question is whether we are toiling in the right direction, toward a worthy goal or objective.
In today's Gospel reading, several of Jesus' disciples toil through the night to catch fish. They are unsuccessful. The morning comes. Jesus tells them to cast their net on the other side of the boat. In come the fish! And not just a few.
Sometimes we toil and see no fruit of our labor. We work hard at what seems to be a worthy objective, such as providing for our families or helping others in church ministry, and yet we come up with only an empty net.
One thing that today's passage can help us understand is that our toil for the Lord's Kingdom will not be in vain. There could be no better goal than to 'catch men'. Jesus knew the disciples needed to catch fish for their sustenance. He knew He was going to help them. Yet, there was some value in going through the toil of the night to see the catch that God had in store.
There can be no higher purpose than to work hard for the Lord's sake. Colossians 3:17 tells us to do all things for the glory of God. St. Paul also says that we should not grow weary in well-doing (Galatians 6:9).
Life in the Christian faith is often filled with many thankless tasks. Much of our toil is unseen and not appreciated by our fellow laborers in the Lord and the world at large. At least, thanks are rarely given from our fellow man. But should we really be toiling principally for our fellow man? I would say that we should insofar as we express our love for God. Whatever we do, we do first and foremost for God. This helps us to not be surprised or discouraged if we only see empty nets and few fish, without the notice of onlookers. The Lord will bring the harvest on His timetable, we need only concern ourselves with the work He has given us. Leave all else to Him.