Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. (Luke 5:4)
A group of fishermen sat upon the sand near Lake Gennesaret washing and repairing their nets. Their boats anchored nearby made little lapping sounds as the ripples of left over waves coasted beneath them into the harbor. Tired from a fruitless night of fishing, they languished in the warm morning sunlight –– some working, some napping.
As the sun rose higher above the horizon, a crowd made its way down the beach toward them. It was a large crowd and seemed to be growing as they made their way along the shore. In the center of the mob was Jesus, a radical Rabbi from Nazareth who had been growing in fame throughout the region. He was trying to teach them of the Kingdom of God but his words kept getting lost in the melee. Looking up from his work, Simon took note that even though things were clearly getting out of control, the young rabbi showed no signs of frustration or irritation. He held up his hand for quiet as he walked over to Simon, “Do you suppose you could push one of your boats out into the water, just a bit, so I can continue teaching?”
There was something in Jesus’ demeanor that moved Simon. He responded to the polite request as if it were a command. With a gesture of his hand he motioned for James and John to help as they pushed the boat into the water. Extending his hand, Simon supported the rabbi’s weight as he stepped into the boat. As he sat down he said to the fishermen, “That’s good . . . hold here,” as he turned to the crowd and began again to teach them about the Kingdom.
After a while, the crowd began to dissipate and Jesus turned to him and said, “Simon, why don’t we head out into deep water and catch some fish.”
Simon began a protest. “Rabbi, we fished all night and caught nothing. We’re tired and frustrated and . . . “ He caught himself mid-sentence because now, what sounded like a request felt more like a command. With a sigh, the fisherman looked into the kind eyes of the carpenter/teacher and said, “Whatever you say.”
When they reached the fishing grounds, they wrapped the sails around the mast and prepared to cast the nets. Jesus said nothing. He just sat, his eyes never leaving Simon, and watched. The nets had scarcely sunk beneath the waves when the entire ship lurched to the side and almost capsized as a massive school of large fish became trapped in the mesh. So many fish trying to escape the snare swam toward the bottom of the lake they threatened to sink them. Veins bulging in his face and his powerful arms straining against the ropes, Simon shouted to James and John in the other boat, “Come help us! There are too many fish in the net. We’re going to sink!”
Coming to their aid, James and John soon found their own nets strained to the breaking point and their own ship straining under the load . . . the men began to laugh. In all of their years of fishing they had never taken in such a catch. Simon placed his foot on the rail and wrapped his powerful hands in the ropes as he prepared to give a mighty heave to pull the catch into the boat. He turned to Jesus sitting quietly on the bow, smiling. Just before Simon gave the signal to the others to pull he was sure that Jesus gave him a little wink.
Riding low in the water from the weight of their catch, the fishermen were laughing and chattering like maniacs as they headed for the docks. Never . . . never had they brought in a catch as this one. The rabbi hadn’t said a word as they sailed back into the little harbor. He had sat serenely on the bow watching the men as they celebrated. Once the boat was tied to the docks Jesus stepped up onto the rough planks and turned to face the fishermen. With that same gentle smile he said, “If you will come with me, I will teach you how to fish for men.” The men looked at each other in stunned silence for a moment before, one by one, they dropped their nets and walked away as they abandoned everything –– nets, boats, and the greatest catch they had ever seen to follow a carpenter.
When I read the great stories found in the gospels, I often try to see the events through the eyes of those who lived it. What did it look like, sound like, smell like? Imagination is a powerful tool that allows the gospel narratives to come to life.
This particular story is a powerful metaphor for evangelism. As I sit in my chair, eyes closed, head reclined, and my “imaginator” running on full, I realize that we are a generation that has by and large pulled our boats up onto the sand where we sit repairing our nets. Frustrated by years and years of “fishing” with little to no results, many have just stopped fishing. We run programs, we manage committees, we plan meetings, we build facilities, and our people faithfully show up until they get bored or die . . . but no one is fishing. We talk about fishing. We sing about fishing. We preach sermons about fishing. We send money to other places so they can fish but for the most part, it's just fishing stories . . . no one is really fishing.
For whatever reason, much of the church is happy in the harbor. It’s safe in the harbor. It’s calm in the harbor. There is no danger in the harbor . . . but there are very few fish in the harbor.
As I sat for more than a few hours meditating on the first few verses of Luke 5, I became Simon Peter. I felt tired, frustrated, and I felt the same weight of failure as I contemplated how rarely we have to fill up our baptismal pool at the front of the church, and how rarely we find a broken and repentant sinner weeping at our altar, and how achingly futile all the work, and planning, and preparation and yes, even the preaching can seem year after year. I know that I am not alone in this. I am joined by many pastors who feel that same ache, and many more who just quit.
But then Jesus says, “Why don’t we head out into deep water and catch some fish.” I believe our little Vermont church has heard His voice. I can see it in their faces, I can hear it in their voices . . . I can feel the energy growing when we come together for worship. The Master is leading us into deep water and I’m excited to go with Him because I ache for the day when our nets begin to strain and our boat begins to buck and tip and that deep water around us comes alive with the catch.
We don’t have to go far because there is deep water all around us . . . right in our neighborhood . . . right in our town . . . just down the street and just next door.
I don’t know about you, but we are ready to go fishing.
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