Rev. Teri Peterson
7 February 2010
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 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. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 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.’ When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
I don’t think I’ve ever been fishing—and if I have, I seem to have blocked the memory nicely. The way I understand it, most fishing involves sticking something small, wiggly, and slimy on a hook, throwing it into the water, and waiting for a fish to bite the hook, which I imagine must both hurt really badly and contribute to the fish’s death even were it to stay in its watery home. Using this kind of analogy, fishing for people doesn’t sound very pleasant—we’re going to toss out bait and then injure and possibly kill them in order to get them to come along with us? Thinking of a fishing net doesn’t make it much better—we need to entrap people and drag them across the lake and onto the shore? This sounds suspiciously like child trafficking in the guise of missionary work, or the slave trade in the guise of civilizing. So I have to admit that even with a more accurate translation, which is “bring them alive”…I still don’t really resonate with this metaphor Jesus seems to like so much. It seems like one of those things where you kind of had to be there, you know?
But I do resonate with the first part of the story. The part where we labor through the night, burning the candle at both ends, working ourselves to death as we row through the same waters, dragging that weight peculiar to empty nets, trying the same methods, the same ideas, the same places, the same programs, the same bad habits, the same people in leadership, the same styles of communication and the same boxes and nets that catch nothing in this shallow water.
And then we hear Jesus… “put out into the deep water and let down your nets.” But we’ve been over every inch of this lake, we’ve let down and brought up and dragged and pulled and we have come up empty handed. Why should we do it again? Why should we leave the shore and go out into the middle of the lake again, in the heat of the day, when the wind blowing from the heights is strong, when the fish are down in the deep? Why should we leave our comfortable place, the way we’ve always done things, and follow this guy? We’ve worked all night, our energy is drained, morale is low, and all we want is a rest. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe when energy picks back up. Maybe when some new people—or a new pastor—come. Maybe when schedules are less busy. Maybe when there are some stronger people to help pull in the nets, or when there are more people here. Maybe when we feel ready, worthy, prepared. For now, let’s stay where it’s safe, where we’ve been before, where we’re comfortable, here in the waist-high water. Why go deeper?
But Peter puts the boat out to the deep water and lets down the net. He takes a risk, a leap of faith, doing something that must have felt and looked ridiculous to these weather-worn, tired-out fishermen. But they had been listening to Jesus’ teaching, hearing his words and apparently taking them to heart. “If you say so, Jesus, I’ll row out there and let down the nets.” They have been changed by the message, inspired to follow his word, turned into people willing to leave the shallow water and cast the net wider than ever before.
And so I have to wonder: we’re here week after week, some of us more than once a week, and we hear the words and we listen to the messages and we sing the songs and pray the prayers and enjoy the community—but are we being changed, or are we just splashing in the shallow water? Are we so filled with Jesus’ teaching that we’re willing to take the next step—to go deeper, to try something outside our comfort zone, to keep going even though we’re tired and attendance is down and energy is low—or are we the crowd on shore that disappears when the sermon is over? Are we being made new by the living Word of God in our midst, or are we just tiring ourselves out working so hard at keeping the same things going the way they always have? Are we ready to row our rickety little boat out into deep water and cast wide the net and see what new thing might happen?
You heard in the story, right, what happened? They cast wide the net, out in deep water, in broad daylight, and caught so many fish the net couldn’t hold them—the knots were straining and the ropes were fraying and we can practically see the boat tipping and sinking as unimaginable abundance flows in. This isn’t just “a lot” or “a blessing” or even “a miracle.” This is net-breaking, ship-sinking, call-for-help abundance. God has literally burst the bonds we work so hard at tightening and mending. This is what happens—God answers our leap of faith, our willingness to be changed by the Spirit, with broken nets and sinking ships. Our safe, comfortable places will be no more. We will be out in the wild world, with Christ as our leader, casting wide the net of God’s love and grace, God’s vision of peace and justice…and who knows what might happen.
Or, we can stay on shore and head to bed and try the same thing again tomorrow or next week. What is the living Word calling us to do and to be? Will we allow ourselves to be transformed into disciples?
May it be so.