The Miraculous Catch of Fishes, French artist James Tissot (1836-1902)
(…continued) I have often quoted Ernest Hemingway, that strong and confident tough guy, who in declining health and strength finally had to say, “Life breaks us all.” Life breaks us all. The question for everyone is, “What do you do then?” Hemingway, at the age of 61, grabbed his favorite gun and used it on himself. Coupland’s characters are broken and lost and confused, but they are searching for a better answer. Scout came to the conclusion that God is the answer.
God wants each of us to know him. He sent His Son Jesus to the world to make his love known to us all, and to offer us all eternal life. God the Holy Spirit is always pursuing each of us, seeking to get through our rebellion, our doubts, our cynicism, our distractions, and our lack of interest. And God has placed the knowledge of Himself within our hearts (Romans 1); God has place his Law within our hearts (Jeremiah 31); and God has placed a desire for eternity within our hearts (Ecclesiastes 3). There is something in us, placed there by God, that knows that there has to be more to life than these few brief and uncertain years. I was confronted by the truth of what I had begun to doubt about God. Douglas Coupland’s character was confronted by the realization that he needed something more to fill his empty heart. And in our Gospel reading for today, Simon Peter was confronted by Jesus Christ himself, in person.
Luke 5:1-11 — One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
The story comes early in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus had not yet even finished assembling his group of twelve disciples. He is just wandering around the small towns and countryside, proclaiming the coming Kingdom of God to whoever would listen. And many people did. In this story, he is preaching on the shores of a lake, and the crowd is getting so big, that it is pressing in upon him, says verse one. I imagine him getting backed up into the water with no place else to go. So Jesus asked Simon Peter if he could get into his boat, and from there, a little ways out from the shore, more people could see and hear him. Peter brings his boat over, and Jesus gets in and finishes the sermon.
Then Jesus says in verse four, “Let’s go fishing Peter. Go out into the deep water and let down your nets.” Peter tells Jesus they just got back. They had been out all night, and hadn’t caught a thing. Peter knew the lake, he knew the fish, he knew the time of day, and he knew they weren’t about to catch anything now. But Peter does say, perhaps with some irritation in his voice, “If you say so.”
And then comes the miracle. Peter and his crew catch so many fish that their nets begin to break. They call for another boat to help, and they haul in such a large catch that both boats are in danger of sinking. And these men weren’t fishing just for the fun of it. There was no such thing as ‘catch and release’ fishing in those days. Fishing was Peter’s livelihood, and a catch like that would mean a financial windfall. This miracle was a fisherman’s dream come true.
Therefore, the next verse is puzzling. Peter should be jumping for joy, hooting and hollering, and high-fiving everyone on the lake. Instead, he puts a big damper on everything by going up to Jesus with a long face, falling down on his knees, and saying “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.” What? What does being a sinner have to do with any of this? (continued…)
Ah Lord, my prayers are dead, my affections dead, and my heart is dead: but you are a living God and I commit myself to you. Amen.