February 4, 2007

Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 138
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Luke 5:1-11

“They left everything and followed him.”

Today’s story from the Gospel of Luke is one that invites us to consider what it means to be followers of Jesus. It is the story of Jesus calling the first disciples, a group of fishermen working beside the Lake of Genesserat.

Though we live in a very different time and place, and though the only fishing we’re involved in is just for fun or maybe for sport… still, within this story, there are messages for us — 21st century followers of Jesus — 21st century people who think we might want to follow Jesus — 21st century people, who though we might be scared and unsure, are nonetheless being called to follow Jesus.

As the story begins, Jesus is fulfilling part of the mission that he took on a chapter ago.
He is out among the common people, proclaiming the coming of God’s kingdom. We don’t get to hear the particular words that he spoke that day, but we can imagine that he was talking about God’s love and God’s grace — God’s special care for the least and the lost. We can imagine that he was teaching the people to love and forgive one another as God has forgiven them. We can imagine that he was inviting and encouraging the people to repent — to turn away from sin, and turn their lives towards God and God’s ways. These are the kinds of things that Jesus taught throughout his ministry to those who would listen.

He might have given some instruction that day, like we have recorded in Luke 6… He might have said: “Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.”

Or he might have told them a story to help them understand… maybe the parable of the prodigal son that’s recorded later in Luke’s Gospel… to illustrate to them the amazing depth of God’s forgiving love.

Now it seems that while Jesus was teaching on the shore, Simon and the other fishermen were busy washing their nets nearby. It doesn’t sound like they were paying attention to what Jesus was saying. They were busy getting their work done — cleaning up their nets so they could go home after a long and disappointing night of fishing.

But what Jesus did next threw off all their plans, and got Simon (at least) paying attention to Jesus’ message. Jesus decided to move his pulpit from the shore into Simon’s boat, and he asked Simon to put out a little way from the shore. Then Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.

Maybe Jesus only hopped into Simon’s boat because it was practical to do so. Maybe it was just a good way to keep on teaching the people on the shore without getting pushed right into the water by the excited crowd.

But I would like to think that Jesus carefully chose that boat. I would like to think that Jesus’ intention was for Simon to hear his good news, for Simon to see the wonders that Jesus was about to perform. I don’t think that Jesus just randomly picked the man who would become Peter — the Rock of the Church.

Well, we don’t know exactly what Jesus said to the crowd from his position in Simon’s fishing boat, but the story goes on to tell us what he said to Simon once he’d finished his sermon. Jesus told Simon to let down the nets for a catch.

Now, it simply didn’t make sense to follow Jesus’ instructions. They’d been fishing all night and caught nothing. They’d just washed off their nets to put them away. They were probably ready to go home for a rest after working all night. They sure wouldn’t have wanted to start all over again! What would be the point? This Jesus guy wasn’t even a fisherman! He was a preacher — maybe a carpenter at one time — but not a fisherman!

Now, the amazing thing is this: Simon registered his doubt, but he didn’t refuse to give it a try. Simon said, “I really don’t think there are any fish around here to be caught, but if you say so, I will let down the nets.”

Was Simon just desperate for any chance of a catch? Was he just too tired from a long night to bother arguing? Or, was it something that Jesus had said? Had Simon begun to trust this man? Had he begun to realize how special Jesus really was?

Whatever the reason, Simon gave it a try and let down the nets. And his obedience was rewarded. The result was so many fish that the nets were beginning to break — so many fish that the boats were beginning to sink!

Simon had obviously been impressed by Jesus’ preaching, but when he witnessed the miracle of the fish, he really knew that he was in the presence of greatness! Simon must have realized Jesus’ greatness — his holiness — perhaps even his divinity, at that moment — and when he did, he also noticed how unworthy he was to be in Jesus’ presence — let alone to have Jesus in his boat hauling in a catch of fish!

Maybe it’s like standing next to a supermodel. It makes you feel short and fat and ugly in comparison. Maybe it’s like observing a master artist at work, or watching a world-class athlete, or listening to a brilliant scholar, or seeing an extremely talented surgeon at work. In the presence of greatness, we tend to compare ourselves, to measure our own worth, our own talent, our own skill, our own beauty — and more often than not, we don’t measure up.

Simon and the others were amazed by Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish, but Simon was also scared. Maybe it was because he felt inadequate as a fisherman — paling in comparison to Jesus who had filled the boats to overflowing with fish.

But I think Simon must have known that this great catch meant much more than a good profit that week and a day-long job of mending the nets. If Simon had been listening to Jesus’ preaching, he must have known that Jesus brought both good news and a call to repentance. He must have known that Jesus spoke of the love and grace of God, but also called his listeners to love and forgive one another. If Simon had been listening, he would have known that Jesus’ purpose was not just to go around performing random acts of kindness for no particular reason.

Jesus was preaching the coming kingdom of God, and the kingdom was good news,
but it also required change. It called for repentance. It invited those who would take part in it to radically turn around their lives — to stop living for themselves, and start living the way of Jesus — for others. Simon saw Jesus’ goodness. He saw Jesus’ generosity, and he knew that he just didn’t measure up.

When Simon saw what Jesus had done with the fish, he fell down at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

You see, Jesus had chosen Simon — whom he would soon call Peter (the Rock). Jesus had chosen him and called him to follow in his way — to join him in catching people for the kingdom of God. Jesus didn’t choose him because he was worthy, because he was good enough or talented enough. Both before the call and after, Simon Peter would make many mistakes. But Peter trusted Jesus enough to listen, to try (even when he was feeling doubtful), and to leave everything behind in order to follow Jesus.

Jesus continues to call followers to his way, and fishers to share in his work of catching people for the kingdom. He doesn’t seek on the great ones, the smart ones, the beautiful ones, or even the most kind and loving ones. Jesus looks out for ordinary people like Simon, like you, or like me — and he has great, big, sometimes scary plans for us.

But he doesn’t just call us when we’re at church. He doesn’t just call us through sermons, or hymns, or moments of silent prayer in the pew. He doesn’t only speak to us when we decide it’s time to listen. Jesus comes to us in the midst of our everyday working lives — interrupting our regular activities — inviting us to take part in his ministry.

“Excuse me, may I use your boat?” Jesus asked Simon. And when Simon agreed, nothing in his life would ever be the same again.

When we let Jesus into our everyday lives… when we let him interrupt our plans… when we agree to participate in what he’s doing, putting his intentions ahead of our own, trusting that what he’s asking us to do is going to work out in the end…
When we start to follow his instructions, wonderful things will happen through us — not because we are wonderfully talented, or perfectly good, or amazingly faithful — but just because we are trusting Jesus enough to try.

And maybe one day, with Jesus’ assurance that there is no need to be afraid, maybe we will have the courage to do what those first disciples did… to leave something behind, to leave everything behind, and follow him. Amen.

In a time of silent reflection, you are invited to consider the ways in which Jesus might be calling you to participate in his ministry of catching people for the kingdom, and what you might need to leave behind in order to answer his call.