Feb. 6, 2022 Fifth Sunday After Epiphany The text is Luke 5:1-11.
1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen
We’re still in the season of Epiphany, and this morning’s reading from Luke recounts for us the manner in which the very first disciples came to the realization that Jesus was the One whom they should follow. And a few of the parts of this story about fishing deserve more thorough consideration. We should delve a bit “deeper” into way this event unfolded.
I would suggest that Simon’s response to Jesus when he told them to put into deep water, might have been said with some mixture of exhaustion and doubt. After all, this little band of fishermen had been in their boats all night long, and they were likely ready for a good rest. Add to this, the fact that angling in the Sea of Galilee, called Gennesaret here by Luke was always done in the shallows near the shoreline. That’s simply the way fishing was practiced by Simon’s group and the others who earned their living as fishermen in Galilee. So, I imagine that Simon’s reply to Jesus must have been tinged with some resignation in his voice. “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” I love that last part, don’t you? It’s rather like a child doing what a parent tells them to do; not because they in any way think their parent is right, but only because they “said so”. “Why do I have to clean my room?”; “because I said so”. “Why do I have to wash my hands before dinner?”; “because I said so”. “Why do I have to go to church today?”; “because I said so”.
So Simon rows out into deep water and lets down the nets because Jesus “said so”. And, to Simon’s great surprise the nests are filled to bursting; the exhaustion is forgotten, the doubt erased, and these men abandon the enormous catch of fish and their boats and leave everything behind, to follow Jesus. Jesus’ proclamation, based on the example of the amount of fish to be caught in deep water, this seems to be the catalyst that spurs Simon and the others to accept the invitation to fish for people.
I was raised in Staten Island, New York, and one of the defining features of this borough of New York City is the fact that it actually is surrounded completely by water. I considered myself something of a fisherman and most of my excursions took place either surf-casting from the beach or dropping a line off some rickety, abandoned dock. Most times, the catch was paltry at best; sometimes a striped bass, but more often than not, I came home emptyhanded. One evening a friend invited me to go out into the Narrows, the waters underneath the Verrazano Bridge, on a rather sketchy fishing boat. We were fishing for summer flounder, which we called fluke. The boat was anchored over an incredibly deep area of the bay that had previously been dredged by the Army Corps of Engineers, to make it easier for large ships to navigate the area.
Fishing for fluke in deeper waters is a rather boring exercise; a baited hook and some weight to take it to the bottom and patience are all you need. Occasionally, we would reel in a bit to see if there was any additional weight on the line, which would signal that a fish had taken the bait. Hour after hour I would pull the hook a little ways off the bottom and there would be no difference in weight. Very late in the evening however, it was obvious that I had in fact landed a big one. Upon reeling in my prize, I noticed that it was very large, this flat oval summer flounder; one this big we used to call a “door mat”. Suffice it to say, thanks to my Irish mother, my fishing buddies and I dined on fish and chips the next evening. It was this trip that soured me a bit on fishing from the dock in shallow harbors, and made me realize that if you really want to be successful you need to fish in deep water. And, contrary to the way things were normally done by Simon and his partners, Jesus convinced them that whether they were going for a catch of fish or people, they were going to have to venture out into deep water.
And, another aspect of this epiphany story, the realization that this itinerant preacher and son of a carpenter is capable of a miraculous haul of fish, well, this is a feat that would only be possible if it were an act of divine power. Enough fish to strain the nets and begin to sink the boats, well what better example of the abundance that results when people abandon their old lives to follow Jesus? And yet, Simon and the others chose to leave this abundant haul of fish behind, presumably for others to partake of, while they accompanied Jesus in his mission to fish for people. And there is no doubt that Jesus intended for this new occupation of the disciples was to take place also in deep, as well as shallow waters. They would reach out to the pious Jews in their own communities with the Good News that Jesus was the long-anticipated Messiah. This was not an easy task when this undertaking was so strongly opposed by the religious authorities. Next, they would venture into deeper waters, attempting to bring the gospel to those who had no connection to the Jewish people whatsoever. So, in search of a greater catch they rowed out into the depths of Middle Eastern society with the abundance that Jesus provided, fresh in their memory.
“If Jesus is able to draw boatloads of fish into our nets, then surely he can equip us to catch people in the depths and bring them to faith in the Christ”; this, they must surely have thought, and this would have motivated them to abandon their old lives in exchange them for new ones as followers of Jesus.
As the disciples went forth to fish for people the” bait” they used was their knowledge of the nature and identity of Jesus as healer, teacher, prophet, miracle-worker, and Son of God. We know that they were successful in bringing many to faith in Christ, in small towns among their Jewish brothers and sisters, the people they knew well and like them, shared in the Messianic prophesy. This would constitute their shallow waters, their fishing for people close to home, among those who had surely heard of Jesus’ signs and were eager to participate in his mission. They also ventured further out from the shore, into areas where people neither knew of Jesus nor found themselves yearning to be a part of the Good News he and the disciples brought to them. The manner in which they interacted with those they brought to participate in the Jesus movement, whether it was close-to-home Jewish neighbors or those far outside of their faith community, was the same. They simply proclaimed the nature and identity of Jesus Christ as God’s Son and told everyone of the abundance he would bestow on them. Those who also chose to follow Jesus would be recipients of the grace and mercy that God promises for all who follow the Way of Christ.
Jesus intends for all who call themselves his followers to be fishers of people; that means all of us who confess Christ as our Savior. We all have the responsibility to bring others to join us in our mission to proclaim the abundant life God promises to those who follow his Son. And, there are shallow and deep waters for us to fish for people. Recent research shows that only 48% of church members have ever invited an unchurched person to attend a worship service or other event at their house of worship. Additionally, denomination isn’t all that important to those who visit and eventually join a church, nor is location; and people are no longer drawn to a particular church because of its historical ethnicity or because of family tradition. So, the water out there is deep and all that’s needed is for each of us to be invitational; the future of Emanuel is dependent on those inside its walls inviting those outside them to come within.
And no less important, in fact, it might be even more so is the need to fish in the shallow waters where members of this church abide, but have not been compelled to join with us in our mission and ministry. Granted, the scourge of Covid has taken its toll on everyone and many are not yet comfortable in group situations.
And, some of our siblings in Christ may have simply fallen out of the habit of church attendance. And, perhaps others are waiting to hear from someone who they used to sit next to in the pews. Again, all it takes is an invitation. Emanuel Lutheran Church has much to offer those who share Christ’s mission with us. A welcoming atmosphere, friendly congregants, a strong and growing sense of community service, and an unwavering commitment to a theology which teaches that the love, mercy, and grace of God are promised to all.
So, consider this an invitation to be invitational; reach out to a member you haven’t seen in some time; ask a friend, neighbor, or co-worker to come with you to this gathering of God’s people in this place. Whether in shallow waters or deep; whether a brother or sister in Christ who is already a Jesus-follower, or one who has yet to hear the Good News. We have all been called to be “fishers of people”; go forth, invite others to get in the boat with you; and may you be blessed with an abundant catch.
Will you pray with me? Good, and gracious, and Holy God, you promise abundance to those come to you through your Son, Jesus. We give you thanks for all the blessings that you bestow on us, we who follow the Way of Christ. We pray that you would equip us to bring others into relationship with you that they might also enjoy the grace and mercy you grant your children. And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One who calls us all to be fishers of people; to bring your beloved to you; those who we know and love and those who we have not yet come to embrace.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.