Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
February 10, 2019
Luke 5: 1-11 (CEB)
One day Jesus was standing beside Lake Gennesaret when the crowd pressed in around him to hear God’s word. 2Jesus saw two boats sitting by the lake. The fishermen had gone ashore and were washing their nets. 3Jesus boarded one of the boats, the one that belonged to Simon, then asked him to row out a little distance from the shore. Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4When he finished speaking to the crowds, he said to Simon, “Row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.”
5Simon replied, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.”
6So they dropped the nets and their catch was so huge that their nets were splitting. 7They signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They filled both boats so full that they were about to sink. 8When Simon Peter saw the catch, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!” 9Peter and those with him were overcome with amazement because of the number of fish they caught. 10 James and John, Zebedee’s sons, were Simon’s partners and they were amazed too.
Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” 11As soon as they brought the boats to the shore, they left everything and followed Jesus.
Do we have any fishers in here? I think we do, and I’ve got some pictures to prove it!
I have to admit that it’s a little ironic that I’m going to stand up here today and talk about fishing as if I know something because I am not a fisher. When I was a little kid, I thought I liked fishing. One evening when I was visiting my grandparents in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, my grandfather took me down to the lake after dinner. He had a bamboo fishing pole with a piece of string tied to it, and he had just bought me and my cousins a little junior size fishing pole. Now, this was in the days before you had to have a permit to fish at Lake Junaluska, so we just went on down to the dock. But before we could start, my granddad had to bait my hook because there was no way I was going to touch a slimy worm or a creepy, crawly cricket, or whatever bait we had. So once the hook was baited, I tossed the line out into the Lake and waited. That part was kind of fun, but it was especially fun when I caught something. I started reeling it in and got it up on to the dock where it flopped around while my grandfather tried to convince me to grab hold of the fish so I could get the hook out of its mouth. He wasn’t successful. No way was I going to grab a floppy, slimy fish! So he reached down and grabbed the fish, got the hook out, and threw it back into the Lake.
I loved it! In fact, I loved it so much that, according to my mother, I spent the entire two hours on the ride back home later in the week asking my Mom if she would talk to my Dad so he could buy me a fishing pole. I went fishing several more times after that in my childhood. But I never went by myself, there always had to be someone else there who could bait the hook and release any fish I caught. I guess I wasn’t much of a fisher after all. Later, when I was in college, I dated this guy who really loved fishing. He was so into fishing, in fact, that in his mind, the only reason you go to a lake is to fish. This appalled me because to me, you only go to the lake for water skiing. We never went to the lake.
Anyway, fishing was a pretty important part of ancient Israel around the time of Jesus. And most of Jesus’ ministry happened around a lake. Luke here calls it the Lake of Gennesaret, you probably know it as the Sea of Galilee. Jesus walked all around the Sea of Galilee going into the towns and villages: preaching, teaching, and healing, getting to know people and telling them all about his Father and about God’s Kingdom. In this passage that Connor read for us a few moments ago from Luke, it is near the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and he is right on the lakeshore.
Now, even though he’s only been at this ministry thing a short time, word is already getting around about Jesus and the crowds are flocking to him everywhere he goes. So there are all these people around Jesus who want to hear what he has to say. And the best way to make that happen near the Sea of Galilee is from a boat because there are all these inlets with high banks [pic]. So, if you go out on a boat in the middle of an inlet and everyone gathered on the banks, it would make a sort of natural amphitheater. You could talk in a nearly normal voice and be heard by hundreds or thousands on the shore, which is exactly what Jesus did. He saw some fishermen nearby. They were coming in from an unsuccessful night of fishing, and he basically said to them, “Hey, I know you’re tired and you just want to get home, but could you help me out? Can I just hop in your boat and you carry me just a little ways out so I can speak to all these people here?”
I can’t tell you why, but the fishermen complied. Jesus climbed into the boat with the man named Simon, they shoved out onto the Lake, and Jesus started preaching. Luke doesn’t tell us what Jesus said that day. But the interesting thing is, because of what happened right after Jesus taught, we can assume what he said was pretty amazing. You see, when Jesus was done preaching, he turned to Simon and instructed Simon to row out deeper and to drop his nets again.
Now, remember, Simon and his fellow fishermen have been out fishing all night. They have caught nothing. Nothing. As the day brightens and warms, the fishing is not going to get any better. Like I said, I’m not a fisher, but I know enough to know you don’t go fishing in the middle of the day and expect to come back with any great catch. I can’t even begin to imagine how perplexed and maybe frustrated Simon Peter must have been. Jesus wasn’t a fisherman after all, he was a carpenter. What do carpenters know about fishing? And here he is trying to tell a bunch of fisherman that haven’t caught a thing all night that they need to go drop their nets again in the middle of the day.
I think that shows just how powerful Jesus’ words had been in the moments before; that even though they hadn’t caught anything, when Jesus told them in the middle of the day to drop their nets and start fishing again, they did. And look what happened! Their nets were so full of fish, they couldn’t even haul them in. They had to call in another fishing boat for back-up, and even then the load was so large it nearly caused the boats to capsize. Can you imagine? We don’t know the words Jesus said that day, but the lesson he taught was of the abundance of grace and love in God’s kingdom. Grace shows up just when we need it, in the most unexpected places (in the deep waters), at the most unexpected times (in the middle of the day), in the fullest and most abundant way possible.
Still, though, that’s not the end of the story. When these fishermen were making their way back to shore at the beginning of the story, they were coming in empty-handed. There would be no fish to sell in the market that day, not even a few fish to take home for dinner. They had nothing. It was entirely possible that they and their families would not eat that day. So when they follow Jesus’ instructions and drop their nets into the Lake one more time, only to pull out a load so gigantic that could barely actually haul it in, they must’ve been ecstatic! This would be food on the table, this would be income, maybe even enough to last them a whole month or more. Yet, no sooner had they pulled the net over the rail, than Jesus said to them, “Now you will fish for people.” And, Luke tells us, they rowed their boats to the shore, they left everything, and they followed him.
Did you hear that? They ran their boats up onto the shoreline, climbed out, left everything and followed Jesus. In other words, they didn’t take the fish to the market to sell. They didn’t carry any fish home to their families. They didn’t even ask! No, “Hey Jesus, can you just wait a couple of hours while we get these fish processed and carried over to the market?” Or, “Let us take some fish to our families so they can eat dinner.” No. Luke tells us, they left everything and followed Jesus.
Now, this is where I might show my ignorance about fishing a little bit. But friends, if you had just hauled in a load of fish so big it nearly capsized the boat, would you just row in and be done with it? Probably not, right? You’d likely drop your nets again and again and again until you were sure that you had caught every last fish you were going to catch in that place. Or supposing you did just take in one haul; would you then carry it in to the shore and leave it in the boat to rot, especially when you needed the food or the money? There would have to be some incredibly compelling reason to do what these fishermen did. Jesus offered it: a kingdom, a kingdom of grace and truth. A kingdom of abundance. “Now you will fish for people,” he said. You will be a part of a kingdom with the greatest catch imaginable, a kingdom with the best fishing possible.
Here’s what I want us all to think about today. Are you willing to walk away from the best thing ever for something even better? You may or may not love fishing, but if it’s not fishing and a big catch, it’s something else. “Imagine walking away from the biggest deal, from the greatest offer of promotion you will ever receive, from a lottery jackpot—because you have just received a better offer.” There is more lasting treasure and more valuable soul food for those willing to drop what they are doing and follow Christ. Catching people, changing lives for the better, even as Christ changes us—there is not greater joy!