One of the recurring themes that we see in the Gospel accounts is Jesus showing something of a lack of social skills. And maybe that’s not a fair thing to say of our Lord and Savior, and maybe Jesus shouldn’t get all the blame, but it is a fact that when Jesus gets invited to a party weird stuff has a tendency to happen. Take a second, really think about it for a moment, can you think of a scenario where Jesus and the disciples are eating in Scripture and something weird doesn’t happen. I think you’ll find yourself hard pressed to come up with one. Something weird always seems to happen: women start pouring perfume on people’s feet, Jesus starts washing people’s feet, people show up and yell, there never seems to be a casual meal. And even when they aren’t eating weird stuff happens! Think of the story of the man who is healed after his friends lower him through the roof. Now imagine you’re the person whose house that was and when everyone leaves you have to deal with a whole in your roof. Something weird always happens! And sometimes it isn’t necessarily Jesus’ fault but sometimes it is. Jesus gets into a lot of fights at people’s houses. Jesus has a lot of tense conversations when someone has invited him to come and visit. A lot of times he seems like the uncle who doesn’t know when it is time to let a conversation die around the Thanksgiving table, the one who keeps bringing the same thing up until someone yells or cries. Jesus has a lot of awkward social encounters, and this episode with Simon Peter and his boat is one of the more memorable ones.
Simon and his crew had been out working all night. I think most of us recognize that commercial fishing and recreational fishing are not same thing. People who like to fish talk about how relaxing it is, how great it is to get away and have time in nature, what a calming experience it is. I’d say commercial fisherman would give us a different description. If you’ve ever watched Deadliest Catch on the Discovery Channel you know that commercial fishing is not a relaxing event. That’s probably true about most things, when they are done as a career instead of as a hobby it changes a person’s enjoyment. I have an uncle who played college football and he talks about how long it took him to not hate the sport once his playing career ended. Any time you have to dedicate time and energy to something and you know there’s something riding on it it has to take on a different place in your mind. I love reading but I hated knowing I had to read for class. So we probably all recognize the idea here but I would guess that commercial fishing is one of the worst things when we consider the size of that discrepancy between how one feels doing it for a hobby versus doing it as your livelihood. There are a couple of reasons for that, the most obvious of which is how seriously you would have to take it. Fishing is great when it doesn’t matter how much you catch right? If your family is depending on you to catch X amount of fish so that they have food and clothing and shelter all of a sudden the trip isn’t as relaxing. The other big difference is the physicality of commercial fishing. Again, if you’ve seen Deadliest Catch or any show like that you know how hard those people work, even when they have modern technology on their side. Simon and his crew didn’t have wenches and machinery or any of that, they didn’t get to just cast a pole out and see what happens, they would have spent all night tossing out thick, heavy, nets and then pulling them back in. It was hard work, and Simon and the crew had been doing it all night and hadn’t managed to catch anything. They already had to come back empty-handed, the worry had started to creep in, they had to ask themselves, “what are we going to do,” and with all that weighing on them they get back to shore and start to unload and clean out the nets and some guy comes up and takes their boat.
He doesn’t just take their boat though, he makes them push the boat back out and get it steady so that he can use it. You see what I meant about social skills earlier? Like read the room, maybe this crowd isn’t the one to bother today. And then he takes it a step further. Once he’s done speaking he says to the men, “hey, while we’re out here why don’t we go see if we can catch something?” No social skills whatsoever.
Peter handles it very well all things considered. People who don’t have your job trying to tell you how to do it is the worst (I hear, I of course have never had to deal with anything like that…). It is especially bad, I’d assume, after you’ve been up all night and you’re tired and annoyed and you just want to go home and you’re stressed and you know that the person making the suggestion is wrong and you don’t really know them that well to begin with. The scenario is primed for Jesus to get shoved into the water, that’s all I’m saying. But Peter handles it well, which is interesting considering some of the issues with temper and things like that we see from him later in his time with Jesus. Jesus had just healed Peter’s mother in law a day or two earlier, and the obvious joke here is that that probably made shoving him in the water more tempting, but maybe that is part of what leads Peter to hold back, bite his tongue, and say “alright, we’ll do it just to appease you.”
Having heard the story already we know that Jesus’ suggestion works, they manage to catch fish this time, so many fish that the nets begin to break and the other boat has to rush out to help them. I want to keep the focus there at that moment, we’re going to look at the response of the disciples in a very similar scenario next week, this week I want to focus on the things that happen before their response. The reason I chose these “fish” stories to focus on for the next month is that for some reason important things happen around fish or fishing in the Gospels. These moments point towards important realities and they direct us, I think, to really examine our response to Christ and the way we’re allowing our faith to impact in guide our lives, how wearing the badge impacts the way we live if you were with us Wednesday night.
The first reality of this story is this, sometimes Jesus shows up wanting to take our stuff. And a lot of times that happens in the moments where we really don’t feel like it. Its the times where we’re tired, the times where we really aren’t interested in it, that Jesus has a tendency to show up needing us to be of use. Peter’s boat allows Jesus to go out and preach. Jesus uses his stuff and, as far as Peter knows, nothing is going to come from it for Peter himself. He puts the boat out anyway. He realized something early on, when Jesus asks for your stuff the answer for a real follower is yes. If we’re not responding to the call to use our stuff for the kingdom then we’re wasting it.
The second thing I see here comes from a really minor detail in this story, Jesus says to Peter before he tells him to cast the nets, “put out into the deep water.” Most fishing in this day took place in relatively shallow water, and the reason for that was because storms were incredibly common on the Sea of Galilee and they came up fast. If you went too far out you risked not making it back if a storm came up. There’s safety in staying near the shore, but the prize is in the deep water. Service to the kingdom requires us to be willing to take a risk, to go out on faith into the places and situations that we would usually avoid. More often than not the place we’ll find Jesus in our world is with the folks and in the places that society usually push aside or stay away from. If we’re not willing to go out to deep water we’re not going make any kind of impact. One of the reasons for this catch that folks who look for more of a realistic explanation for the miracle give is that everyone fished close to shore so the fish got smart and moved out to the deep water. Now I don’t want to take away from the miraculous nature of what’s going on here, but there’s some truth in the idea that if the shore is too crowded the answer is to put out to deep water and trust there’s something to find out there.
Going right alongside that idea is what’s probably the most obvious and most challenging part of this story. In John’s retelling of this event that we’ll look at the last week of August he records Jesus telling the disciples to let the nets out to the other side. Here we see Jesus telling them to go to a place they normally wouldn’t, in both cases the fishermen have to be willing to do things differently to get a result. We don’t like throwing our nets out to the other side or going into the deep water but if we’re in the same place doing the same thing all we’re ever going to find in our lives is the same result. That’s true for us on several levels, whether its in our personal lives or as a church or in our careers, the question is there: “where are we being called to let out our nets?” What new thing is being presented to us? What could we try a different way? Because what we see in this story is that the result of trusting Jesus when he shows up to take our stuff, call us out into deep waters, and tells us to throw our nets down in a different way is abundance. And I don’t want you to hear me and go too far into the “Jesus wants you to be rich and famous” side of things, but the idea of abundance comes over and over as a result of faith. Here the future disciples catch more fish than they’ve ever seen. When the 5000 are done eating the food Jesus multiplies the disciples take up enough leftovers to feed the people for days. When Jesus turns water into wine it is the best wine that people have had. The Kingdom of God is a kingdom of abundance. It is a kingdom where there is enough and will always be enough and where the results of faith seem to outweigh the risk. This first fish story challenges us to examine whether or not we really believe that. It leaves us with the question, if we believe that an abundant catch is possible, are we willing to put out to deep waters and cast our nets to the other side? If we believe the results will be there, are we willing to change our way of thinking and take a chance on what God is calling us to do?