5 Epiphany, Year C
10 Feb 2019
I know exactly what it is like to fish for hours and not catch a single fish. I would hazard a guess that for every fish I have ever caught I have spent hours of time, maybe even days. None set any records for size or anything else for that matter. Admittedly I was not fishing with a net but rather leisurely sitting in a boat or on the shore and if the weather was not pleasant, I could leave. It was not my livelihood that was at stake. Yet I do feel a kinship to those men fishing that night on the lake of Galilee; there is a visceral frustration when the thing that you need to do is not getting done. Fish could be sold fresh or preserved in some fashion and sold. Maybe there was a feeling of desperation amongst those men. The sale of those fish is what put food on their own tables and kept their families from needing to sell themselves as servants. No time has ever been easy sailing for the masses of people on earth, but the time and place in which those Galileans lived was one in which the vast majority of people lived in deep, deep poverty and would expect that most of their children would not live to see adulthood. It was grim.
All of these men knew Jesus by now; he had been in the area preaching and teaching and sharing table fellowship for some time. They had heard his words and undoubtedly thought about what he was saying. But none of them had yet decided to follow Jesus. Interesting that in the other Gospels Jesus just seems to be walking by and saying, “ Yo, Peter and James and John, stop what you are doing and come follow me.” I always thought that was a bit of a stretch; I guessed that Jesus just had so much charisma they could not resist, a bit like the pied piper.
Luke’s version, however, appeals to me a lot more. Luke says that they knew this man well enough to trust him and to know that his message was true. It was more than the many fish miracle that sent them to Jesus’ camp.
Peter had seen this man several times before. In fact, Jesus had been to Peter’s home for supper and had healed his ailing mother in law. Yet he was not yet one of the disciples; none of the twelve had been called when this story begins. I wonder if Jesus thought he had to have a certain amount of street cred before anyone would come with him. Maybe he had been figuring out his own mission. (I really think that Jesus grew in understanding as his mission grew. I don’t think he had it all figured out from the beginning, but rather bit by bit realized just who he was and what he was called to do. Perhaps in some ways, those very human ways, we are not unlike him.)
But Luke pulls off quite the story here: another miracle among many. Was it because of the many fish that Peter decided to follow this man? After all, someone who could produce that many fish, especially after an all nighter of casting nets and hauling up nothing save for maybe an old sandal (at least we know he didn’t haul up any plastic). Besides, they had just cleaned off the nets, which I imagine took quite a while and may have been exhausting in and of itself. Now this man, who has commandeered Simon’s boat to use as a teaching vessel, asked him to do something more: go to deep water and cast the net.
Go into deep water. Hmmm. For me deep water is scary; I don’t like large bodies of water when I am over them. I surely do not want to be in them. I am a dry flatlander, so deep water, so dark you can not see the bottom, puts a funny feeling in my stomach. Yet I know that if I want to catch lake trout or sturgeon that is exactly where I need to fish.
Here is where I love Peter’s words: “We will do it because you say so, even though we have fished there all night.” Jesus speaks and Peter and the others obey him. He sees something in this man; little does he know where it will lead him.
So they get the really big catch, so big they need to call in another boat or two to help. This was undoubtedly the biggest catch of their fishing careers. It came not because Jesus had them do anything out of the ordinary; they cast their nets just like always. Maybe that is the point: Jesus calls pretty ordinary people and ask them to do what they know how to do and, lo, the results are extraordinary. Peter is afraid because he is human, a sinful man he says, but what he means is that he is just a regular guy who only knows how to do ordinary stuff. Lots of people know how to fish.
Me, I figure I am a pretty ordinary person. I don’t have any artistic talent, struggle to write a homily, and don’t do well with organizational structure. But there are things I do well and when I realized that I was called to do what I know how to do, then I really understood what the kindom of God is all about.
Everyone of us has so much, so very much, to give to others. Moses had to have Aaron do the talking and all the disciples were probably illiterate. But they were called to do what they knew how to do and what they loved to do.
You are wonderfully made, as the psalmist says, and when you feel that your best is not good enough or that there is nothing you have to offer, remember the kind of folk Jesus called in the first place: tax collectors, fishermen, women who were householders like Mary and Martha. Jesus is calling you, too. Sure, we need to accept the faith, but mostly we are called to be doers of the word, doing the good things we know how to do. That is how we are witnesses and how we do mission.
Today is the day of your second alter call, not the one that called you to belief but the one that called you to be yourself in the world and by being yourself, whatever your profession or vocation, you become someone who spreads the Good News.
Richard Rohr, a very wise Franciscan monk, says that “salvation became a one-time transactional affair between Jesus and his Father, instead of an ongoing transformational lesson for the human soul and for all of history.”
What we are all about is transforming lives: our own and those around us. I cannot think of anything for which I would rather go fishing than for a world that is full of justice, mercy, and peace.
What is YOUR call?