Isaiah 6:1-13; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11
I wonder what Simon really thought when Jesus instructed him to put his nets down in the deep water.
Jesus interrupted the work of cleaning the nets. Jesus had already asked, and Simon had obliged, to push the boat from the shore in order to teach the eager crowds. Now, after a long night with little to show for their efforts, Jesus tells Simon to go to deep waters and throw the cleaned net back into the sea. I wonder if Simon thought, “What does this carpenter know about fishing?” I wonder if he thought, “I’m exhausted and the last thing I want to do is climb back into this boat.” I wonder if he thought, “I just want to go home.” Did Simon sigh or want to roll his eyes? Did his attitude match his obedient actions? He does object just a bit telling Jesus, “We worked all night and caught nothing, but if you say so.”
I worked with someone whose spouse advised her not to do something if she didn’t have a happy heart about it. I often thought that if that were the criterion for making decisions, it would lessen my to-do list greatly. It seems akin to the popular minimalist movement, the KonMari Method of tidying that instructs people to get rid on any items that don’t spark joy. Does this mean I can give away my vacuum, toilet brush and broom?
Thankfully, regardless of whether or not Simon had a happy heart (or if his boat sparked joy), he did as Jesus directed, pushed away from the shore and dropped his net yet again. The carpenter’s advice proved transformative. The net enclosed so many fish it almost broke, and the haul threatened to sink the boat. Simon and his fishing companions almost drowned from abundance. Had Simon given in to his skepticism or thought only of what engendered warm feelings, he would have missed the miracle, missed the great multitude of fish, missed the astonishing power of his Lord and missed the call to fish for people with the Son of God.
I worry that we live in an age of increasing eye rolls, entrenched self-certainty, endless skepticism, harsh cynicism and easy dismissal of anyone other than those in our tribe. I worry that our culture encourages us to do only that which sparks joy or gives us a happy heart or unquestionably affirms us or furthers self-fulfillment. I hear from the minimalist movement to the myriad of self-help schools to the relentless machine of consumerism: It is all about you and what makes you feel good, no matter what impact that has on anyone else or the world.
One website dedicated to decluttering says that a cluttered hallway means that one’s life’s path is not clearly thought out. A cluttered bathroom means one lacks self-worth. Messy closets? One will be unable to see into oneself, thus blunting intuition. A recent article in the marketing magazine of a big box store advises people to set an intention for each room of their homes, and “create an environment that supports your best life.” We should “cherish and honor” our home. Ask yourself if an item in your home “makes you smile.” At the center of all of this advice: you. At a recent women’s gathering, a participant shared that she had glassware that read: “I’m not much, but I am all I think about.” That about sums it up.
But so what? What does this have to do with Jesus and Simon, let alone you and me and whoever gathers in our churches on Sunday morning or never darkens their doors? The primary point of this biblical story is Jesus’ power over not only demons and sickness, but the sea and all creation. Jesus is Lord of heaven and earth, exhibiting a power heretofore unseen and unknown. Jesus is no mere miracle worker; he calls forth fish from the ocean and bestows the ability to catch people upon his disciples. The focus of this text is Jesus, first and foremost. Even if we stop right there, the contrast with our culture is glaring. Followers of Jesus are just that: followers. Of Jesus. Follower. Of Jesus. Sent out to catch people for Jesus. Our lives are not our own. Our personal fulfillment is secondary to fulfilling God’s purposes.
The Isaiah text reminds us that to say to God, “Here, am I; send me!” is to go where God tells us to go, not to choose our own itinerary. Furthermore, if we read the optional verses appointed for the week, we soon learn that being God’s instrument does not make for a journey filled with outward affirmation or success. “Make the minds of the people dull, and stop up their ears.” Somehow, I don’t see this sparking joy, engendering a happy heart or creating an environment that supports my best life — as defined by the world anyway.
Further, this story of Simon and Jesus and the boat full of fish demonstrates that a life of discipleship requires a certain amount of dogged obedience. Lord, we’ve preached every week for the past 200 years in this place and still there are dull minds among us. Jesus, we’ve march in the streets time and time again and yet injustice persists. Dear God, we’ve operated this homeless shelter for as long as anyone can remember and never is there a night when no one needs our services. Lord, we worked all night long and our nets came up empty, but if you say the word we’ll get back in the boat and go out again. We’ll keep praying, preaching, teaching, serving, fishing for people, trusting you will call forth abundance in due time, bursting nets, overflowing cups, justice rolling down like water, baskets of food left over and the grace extended to us not in vain.
The irony, of course, is that it is in focusing on Jesus (not ourselves), in obeying his Word (not justifying ourselves) and following him (not going our own way) that we all but drown in abundance — an abundance of mercy, grace, love and, yes, joy. Not a spark of joy because of some thing, but a complete joy because of Someone.
- Read the story from Luke several times. Imagine the scene. Make note of what details, words or images stand out to you. Where would you be in this scene and why?
- What does it mean to “catch people”? Are you catching people for Jesus?
- When have you said to God, “Here am I; send me”? What happened?
- What is the difference between legitimate, critical self-care and self-centeredness? How do we discern the difference? Do you tend to err on one side or the other of this spectrum?
- In both the Isaiah and Luke texts those who realize they are in the presence of God declare their sinfulness. Why? Do we do likewise?
- When have you cast your nets to the other side of the boat and tried something different because you sensed God’s call to do so?
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