St Boniface Episcopal Church, Sarasota, Florida
Br. Bernard Jean Delcourt, OHC
RCL – Epiphany 5 C – Sunday 07 February 2010
Isaiah 6:1-8, [9-13]
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Lord Jesus, your Hebrew name itself means "The Lord Saves." Help us hold that truth always: "The Lord Saves." Help us remember that you alone save us from our wandering desires and preoccupations. May you strengthen us in hope and faith, that we may follow you and become netters of men and women fully alive for the building up of your kingdom of charity, your commonwealth of love.
Jesus is in Capernaum, a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee. The evangelist Luke calls it the Lake of Gennesaret. But it's a big lake; about 13 miles long and 8 miles wide. In the first century of our era, the Sea of Galilee featured an extensive fishing industry. Small settlements dotted its shores and most of them were active in fishing.
Being a fisherman on the Sea of Galilee was a tough and hard up occupation. Fishermen had to pay for a license to catch fish. That's one of the things toll collectors did in those villages. In order to live from fishing, the catch had to be sold beyond the villages around the Sea. The fishermen needed fish brokers and carters to take their fish to market. All of these intermediaries in the fishing economy would be paid with a substantial part of whatever fish was caught. No Galilean fisherman going out on the lake got rich doing it.
Catching fish on the Sea of Galilee was marginally easier at night. At night, the ferrying of people and merchandise across the sea stopped and the sea was a bit quieter. At night, insects fly lower to the surface of the water and fish come up to catch them. That's why most fishermen would go out in the night to fish.
So we may imagine how weary Simon and his fishing mates must feel; coming back from a night of working in vain on the sea. They are tired and more worried about their livelihood than usual.
And having landed is not the end of their work. They now need to mend and wash their nets in view of their next expedition. They probably would rather go home to sleep off the bad night. Even though going home would mean facing the family empty-handed.
And as the morning of washing and mending nets wears on, a crowd piles up on the shore to listen to a rabbi, a teacher, whom Simon knows. His name is Yeshua, a diminutive for Yehoshua, a name that means "The Lord Saves." What a good name for a rabbi!
Simon knows Yeshua, the teacher. Luke's gospel lets us surmise that Simon had invited Yeshua in his house on a sabbath day. On that day, in the synagogue, Yeshua had rebuked a demon and made him come out from a man. Then, once in Simon's house, Yeshua had healed Simon's mother-in-law.
Simon and Jesus know each other already. No doubt, the sayings and doings of this unconventional rabbi have been on Simon's thoughts, at times. And on this dreary morning for Simon, Jesus asks to step into Simon's boat to have enough distance from the crowd to teach them all. Simon likes this rabbi and is in his debt for the curing of his mother-in-law. He invites Jesus in his boat and pushes off the shore as requested.
I imagine Simon, half-naked, sweaty and smelly, crouched in the prow of his boat, mending his nets while listening to what Jesus is teaching. I imagine Simon fuming in his weariness and frustration, that "morning after". I imagine Simon thinking "and what now?" at Jesus' request, but being drawn into accepting it anyway. I imagine him being drawn into what Jesus is telling the crowd. Little by little, Simon is going through an attitude adjustment. Progressively, his thoughts move to concerns about the Kingdom of God and what this man in his boat is saying about it.
Eventually, the teaching comes to an end. Luke, the evangelist, sees no point in telling us what the teaching is about. And as Jesus turns away from facing the shore-bound crowd, he seems to turn to the fishermen's more material concerns.
Jesus tells Simon: "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." There is nothing tentative here. But what does a teacher of godly things know about fishing? Simon offers his professional objection, but prodded in a way he does not fully understand, he complies.
He complies in a very teenage manner, if you ask me. "If you say so" he says to Jesus. I suspect a mental shrugging of the shoulders in that answer, mixed with puzzlement and curiosity.
And so, Simon and his partners let down the nets they have just mended and cleaned, back into the water. If no fish is caught, they will need to clean the nets again, all the same. They may be wondering "why are we doing this to ourselves?"
James and John, fishing partners of Simon, remain on the shore, lifting their eyes from their net washing from time to time to watch Simon make a fool of himself by trying another catch in full daylight.
But soon, James and John know something is up. The nets start to show the tension of a catch. Very soon, they see Simon and his folks bringing bulging nets back up. And then, the abundance of the catch becomes obvious as Simon makes anxious signals to James and John that they need to bring their boat along and help. When they get there, Simon's boat is starting to dip dangerously close to the surface. They all struggle to even the catch of fish between both boats. And even so, both boats are precariously loaded with shimmering and flapping fish.
Suddenly, Simon has an epiphany, a revelation. This rabbi who rides his boat to a miraculous catch is more than a simple teacher, more than your run-of-the-mill traveling healer. Simon believes what he heard the possessed man in the synagogue say to Jesus; He is the "Holy One of God!" Simon is overwhelmed in more ways than one.
Every night that Simon goes out fishing, he hopes for a good catch of fish to keep things going. And now, all of a sudden, the abundance of fish is so large that the abundance itself becomes a danger; maybe the boat will sink.
Every day that Simon prays to the God of Israel, he asks for God's grace on the life of his family and community. And now that he perceives the hand of God so close to him, he is daunted.
Simon knows in how many ways he comes short of what God's law demands of him. Maybe he will be judged and found wanting in virtue. He finds himself unworthy of the grace that is cascading over his head. And he throws himself at the mercy of the man who is channeling this grace on him.
I feel great sympathy for Simon when I read "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" I know that feeling of unworthiness; that feeling of not being up to the task of walking humbly with our God. Maybe you know that feeling too.
But Jesus, Yehoshua, The Lord's Salvation is here to change the game. Having shown the abundance of God's grace, Jesus doesn't walk away and let Simon's little fishing community have an easy-going party with the bounty at hand. No, having revealed the nature of his humanity and the grace of God, Jesus reaps in harvesters of people fully alive for God.
Simon knows the big ask; Jesus asks everything. And having understood, if only dimly and intuitively, the awesomeness of God in man made manifest, Simon leaves everything and follows Jesus. What Simon leaves behind is a livelihood, a family, a community that have meant everything of who he is up to then.
This is a radical and risky departure; a scandalous one as far as Simon's community would be concerned. And yet, the evangelist Luke seems to tell us that there was no further discernment needed; Simon, James and John became fisher of people for God's Kingdom.
This is a demanding story for Christians. How shall we, in our settled or unsettled lives, welcome God's abundant grace and respond to the radical invitation it contains? There is no cheap grace. And discipleship has a cost. Are we ready? Holy people of God, do not be afraid, and be daring in your following Christ.