A congregation of the United Church of Canada
Yr C ~ Epiphany 5 ~ Luke 5:1-11
One of my favourite metaphors for God is the concept of ocean. An ocean is vast, powerful, mysterious, dangerous, deep, has waves and currents, is known yet unknowable, represents a voyage, is the lifeblood of the world. These rich ocean metaphors vividly describe the Holy Mystery we call God, and our journey of faith. And like oceans, the Sacred is largely unexplored! There are depths of Sacred Presence that too few humans have had the courage and conviction to dive into. We are in a profound relationship with The Deep – whether we’re aware of it or not.
You could think of this whole spiritual journey we’re on as being like moving from the shallow water of everyday experience and into the mystery and wonder of the Deep. That movement is our deepening relationship with God – our immersion in the ocean of Presence that surrounds and enfolds us. The bible is filled with stories of people on this same journey. People just like you and me – and Simon Peter.
Luke 5:1-11 is one of the places we hear about Peter’s call story (he actually doesn’t get the name Peter for a couple more chapters but I’m going to use it now anyway for clarity). A crowd presses in on Jesus hungering and thirsting for more of the Sacred Reality he’s revealing. Presses in! We could stop right there and just explore that remarkable image, but not today. Jesus asks Peter (it’s unclear how well they know each other here) if he can use his boat to go out a bit and create an impromptu natural amphitheatre – you know how sound travels better over water. After Jesus finishes his teaching he invites Peter to take the boat out into the lake and go fishing.
Peter protests. Why should he listen to this guy? Jesus was a carpenter, not a fisher. Peter had been out all night and caught nothing. Why should he go back out – during the daytime – and fail again? But something in the exchange persuades him and out they go. And lo and behold a miraculous amount of fish are caught and Peter becomes a disciple.
Taken on the surface this story feels kind of like magic. Jesus waves his magic wand and they throw the nets over the side of the boat and receive a massive catch of fish. Is that the right take-away for us here? Does Jesus say, “I’ll do something flashy and wondrous for you and that’ll make you want to follow my way”? Nope. But we can really trip on the miracle part. What if ‘miracle’ didn’t mean supernatural but just something that’s so beyond the ordinary and usual that it feels extraordinary and unusual?
The miracle here isn’t that there were suddenly so many fish. The miracle happened before that. The miracle is that Simon listened!!! He was tired, probably cranky. He just wanted to go home after a long night’s work that didn’t go so great. Can you relate? But his encounter with Jesus piqued his curiosity and nudged him beyond the ordinary. And instead of doing what he always did – he did something extraordinary – he risked going to the deep water. That’s pretty miraculous.
I believe there’s something much deeper than a magic trick happening here. I want to focus in on three verses and see where they take us.
Luke 5:4 When Jesus had finished speaking, he said to (Peter), “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
Go beyond the literal. What deeper, metaphoric meaning might “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch” have?
What might ‘deep water’ mean? What might Jesus be inviting them to ‘catch’? Is this really just a fish story?
Jesus is inviting Peter to respond to the teaching he’d just heard. The writing is so good. I can picture Peter sitting in the boat hanging on every word Jesus is sharing with the crowd on shore. He’s got a front row seat. And when Jesus looks him right in the eye and suggests he take the boat back out I can see Peter’s face light up with understanding.
Jesus says, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch. There’s great stuff in the deep water. You didn’t catch it before because you didn’t know what you were fishing for. Now you do, Peter. Come to the deep water. Dive in. There is treasure in the deep. Something wonderful, and powerful, and mysterious is moving down there in the deep that you can catch – and it’ll change your life. There is new life in the deep that you’ve never imagined existed. Prepare to be wowed! Dive into the deep, Peter, and live.”
Then Peter has a little debate with himself. He’s not really sure that he wants to do the work. He’s not sure he wants to get wet. He’s intrigued by what Jesus is inviting him to, but he’s a little nervous about what might happen. “What if it’s really real? What if it changes me? What if it leads me away from my carefully laid out plans? What if it costs me something? What if…” (Sound familiar?)
But something about that look in Jesus’ eyes – that expression that communicates “Peter, it’s so totally worth it! Dive in!” And Peter does “put out into the deep water and let down his nets for a catch” – a catch of something incredibly wonderful. But it ain’t fish!
It’s the next part that surprises us, I think. It’s Peter’s reaction after he’s felt the transformative power of the deep and has been overwhelmed by this sacred mystical experience. You’d think it would be joyous – whooping it up, celebrating, doing a happy dance.
And I think it probably was for a moment, and then something even deeper hits him.
Luke 5:8 But when Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
When you come face to face with utter holiness and are immersed in the deep sacred presence of God, like Peter was, it sends you to your knees. Poets call it “terrible beauty”. God’s holiness utterly overwhelms us as God’s piercing, perfect light shines on us and reveals to us all those things we’ve tried to hide away in the dark corners of our lives (we talked about that last week). Knowing God more fully means knowing yourself more fully, and honestly, and there’s no more kidding ourselves. The ocean is both glorious and terrifying. Why do you think so many messengers from God keep saying “Do not be afraid!”?
Encounters with the Sacred, diving into the deep, brings joy, and wonderment, and peace, but it also brings humility, and self-awareness, and a profound realization of just how short we’ve fallen of God’s dream for us. We don’t seek forgiveness because God’s mad at us; we seek it because we’ve finally seen what we’d tried to avoid seeing in ourselves, and it embarrasses us. “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
But Jesus doesn’t go away. I can see him smile an understanding smile, putting his hand on the back of Peter’s neck, and saying, “It’s ok Peter. I get it. Welcome to the ocean!”
Verses 9 and 10 tell of how the others with them – James and John – also “saw” and were “amazed” – in other words, they too experienced the Sacred that day. Which leads us to verse 11.
(Luke 5:11) When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
This should not surprise us one little bit. Diving into the deep changes you. Encountering the holy changes you. Being immersed in the Sacred changes you. Of course they left everything and followed him. They had, in spiritual terms, died to their old lives and had been reborn. Why on earth would they go back? Their paradigm had shifted. What was, was no more. They had spiritually evolved. And once you’ve evolved there’s no going back. I don’t mean physically about their jobs or families – I mean metaphysically about their world-view and spirituality.
So what will these ex-fishers do now? Jesus says that they’ll “catch people.” Don’t make it literal. They’re not going to walk around with nets and throw them on unsuspecting folks. “Aha! We’ve got you for Ja-eez-us now!” That’s ridiculous. The Greek word for ‘catch’ here is unique. It literally means to capture alive. So how about this for an interpretation? Capture – captive – captivate! It’s all the same root. From now on you will captivate people! Yes! With what shall we captivate them? With the best thing – their own personal experience of The Deep!
And the way that happens is not a fancy theological argument, not a creative new interpretation of the bible, not a dazzling miracle, not even a smack upside the head. What it takes is somehow encouraging a person to not just do what they’ve always done, but to be open to pushing their boat out into the deep. I think Peter saw the Deep reflected in Jesus’ eyes. Will you let people see the Deep reflected in your eyes? Your smile? Your kindness? Your wisdom? Your love?
Peter heard the message of Jesus, responded to the invitation to move from the shallows of the known to the Deep, dove into the ocean of God’s Sacred Presence, and, immersed in the deep, mysterious waters discovered the most incredible, awesome, unique and beautiful new life-form – himself!
It’s so much more than just a fish story. It’s the story of the journey of faith. It’s your story. It’s the potential story of someone who hasn’t yet pushed their boat out. Might you be able to captivate them, and give them a nudge? The ocean of God’s Sacred Presence awaits for us to dive into the Deep!