Meditation on Luke 5:1-11
Feb. 10, 2019
The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH
“5 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.”
Is it just me or does Ohio weather seem unpredictable this time of year? Cold one day. Really cold the next. Snow, off and on, for a week or more. Then warmth and rain and fog until we are longing to see the sun. Then, before you know it, the cold is back again. So what is typical for this time of year? Or is this it? This is typical, isn’t it? The PNC never told me this!
I rely on Alexa to tell me the weather before I go out each day. Do you have an Amazon Alexa in your house? I just say, “Alexa, what’s the weather?” And she tells me–get this– the weather for Melbourne, Florida. Yesterday, she said it was 70 degrees and raining in Melbourne, with a low of 66. That would have been helpful a few months ago, but now, not so much.
I think she is trying to let us know that she isn’t comfortable with this move to Ohio. Or maybe she hasn’t figured out where we are, yet. We have to say, “Alexa, what is the weather in Coshocton, Ohio?”
Even our little dog, Mabel, a Pomeranian, is having adjustment issues. On Monday, she wasn’t acting her usual perky self. We suspected something going wrong with her diabetes. So we took her to a local vet–our neighbor, Jere Butcher. He held her for a long time, and she trembled in his arms as we described her behaviors that were worrying us. He paused, looked at Jim, then at me, and Mabel, and gave his diagnosis: “She seems stressed. It’s probably the move and all.”
Later, I got to thinking about our pets–how they had no idea what was happening and where we were going when the movers came and emptied our Florida house. We packed up 3 cars, drove for 2 days, staying on the road one night. We are still unpacking boxes and looking for stuff. Mabel the dog and Melvyn the cat are probably wondering what we are doing here, how long we are going to stay, and when we are going home.
I read this passage in the gospel of Luke–this call story so different than the call stories of the other gospels–and I can’t help but marvel how they leave everything and everyone to follow Jesus, wherever he is going. They don’t know! They don’t have any idea what he is talking about when he says to them, “Now you will catch people.” But there’s something so compelling about Jesus, when he has chosen you. You can’t say no.
Consider Peter’s reaction when he realizes he is in the presence of the Holy One; he is humbled and frightened, aware of his own flawed humanity. Like Isaiah, who says, “Woe is me! I am a man of unclean lips,” Peter says, falling down at the knees of Jesus in a boat overflowing with fish, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” The word he uses for “Lord” is the same word the Septuagint, an ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, uses for the sacred and unpronounceable name of God–YHWH.
But first, here’s Peter–a professional fisherman, partner with Zebedee and his sons (James and John). Jesus gets in and tells him to put out a little from the shore. This is so he may continue teaching the crowds from a sitting position in the boat, without getting crushed. When he is finished teaching, he tells Peter, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
By the way, the Lake of Gennesaret is another name for the Sea of Galilee or the Sea of Tiberius. The “Sea of Galilee” is a medium-sized, freshwater lake, about eight miles wide and 14 miles long. It’s fed by underground springs and the Jordan River.
Though this is a call story for the disciples, it isn’t the first time Simon Peter and Jesus meet in the gospel of Luke. Simon Peter has witnessed other miracles before the miraculous catch of chapter 5. He probably saw Jesus in the synagogue in Peter’s hometown of Capernaum, on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, in chapter 4. There, Jesus astounds everyone with his teaching, because he speaks with authority. He casts demons out of a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue, and the demons cry, “Let us alone! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”
Jesus has already been to Simon Peter’s house before the fishing scene. In 4:38, he leaves the synagogue and enters Simon’s house. Did Simon invite him? We don’t know. But Jesus has a way of just showing up or inviting himself to people’s houses for dinner. Remember Zacchaeus? “I’m going to your house today.” This could have been how he met Simon Peter, because this is the first time Peter is mentioned in Luke. Now Simon’s mother-in-law, who lives with Peter, is suffering from a high fever. Jesus rebukes the fever, and it leaves her. She gets up and begins to serve them.
As the sun goes down, crowds of sick people come to Jesus at Peter’s house. Jesus lays hands on them, cures them and casts out demons, which come out shouting, “You are the Son of God!”
So Peter knows the true identity of Jesus and that he can do miracles of healing and teaches with authority, unlike the scribes. They have a growing relationship, and Jesus has stayed in Peter’s home. But still Peter’s pride moves him to answer the Lord’s request to go out into the deep water to fish, “Master, we have worked all night and caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
If you say so. What do we usually mean when we say, “If you say so”? My husband and I were just talking about this a few weeks ago. Isn’t it a polite way of saying we don’t agree, but we don’t want to argue about it? Or maybe we are really saying, “You’re wrong, but I am going to go along with what you are saying because I don’t want to hurt your feelings or get you upset.” This is my take on what Peter is really saying. “Jesus, I am going to do this because you are asking me, and I like and respect you and am grateful that you healed my mother in law and all, but it isn’t going to work. It’s a big waste of time and energy.”
The fishermen are ready to be done for the day! They are tired and discouraged. Now someone who has no experience with commercial fishing or boating, for that matter–the son of a carpenter from Nazareth, perhaps 40 miles southwest of Capernaum–is telling Peter how to do his job.
But despite Peter’s lack of faith and “If you say so….” attitude, the Lord still blesses Peter for his obedience! Our attitude doesn’t change God’s plans for us. Our attitudes don’t cancel out God’s grace that covers all our sins! God wants to bless us beyond our imagination, not because we deserve it, but because God loves us and has a plan for the salvation of the world that includes us! But we have to be obedient to the leading of the Spirit or we will miss the blessing. Don’t miss the blessing!
The call is still valid for me and for you! And there’s a lot of work to do! Just look around our community. Many people don’t trust churches anymore! They don’t think the Bible is relevant or that God and God’s people are concerned about their wellbeing.
But it’s OK if we are struggling to work out what “catching people” means in our lives! What should the Church do to reach out to our community for Christ? How can we make a difference?
We can be sure that it means cultivating loving relationships with people outside our comfortable circles of friends. Certainly, it means reaching out to people who aren’t being nurtured in the faith and knowledge of the Lord. It will mean taking risks and letting go of things that give us a false sense of security. It will mean letting go of fear.
Let us hope in the One who wants to bless us with abundant and eternal life. Join with me in serving the One who suffered and died, so that we could be made right with God and reconciled with each other. Let us help one another be obedient to the Word and Spirit, though we might be tired or discouraged, and tempted to say, “If you say so…” rather than, “Here am I. Send me!”
Let us pray.
Holy One, we are Peter, falling down in front of your son, crying out how sinful and unworthy we are of your call to discipleship. Yet you pour out abundant blessings on us and embrace us with your love and grace. Teach us what we need to know and equip us to effectively minister to one another and to our community. Help us to be a light to all who walk in darkness, to those who have been hurt by church, disappointed by God’s people, or simply feel they have been let down by everyone in their world. Open our eyes to the beauty of your present and coming kingdom all around us, and the glory of the One who died to set us free from our sinful humanity. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.