Sunday, February 11, 2007

deeper waters (luke 5)

A River Runs Through It is a book, and later a movie about trout fishing, but it’s really about two brothers, Norman and Paul. Paul is the troubled child, but he’s also an expert fly fisherman. One day the two brothers are out fishing together. Norman remembers the experience:

“Being out of practice, I was especially careful to keep in open water. Paul watched me fish a hole that went under willows until he couldn’t bear the sight any longer. “Brother”, he said, “you can’t catch trout in a bathtub. You like to fish in sunny, open water because…you are afraid to lose a fly if you cast into the bushes. But the fish are not taking sunbaths. They are under the bushes where it is cool and safe from fishermen like you.”

“But I lose flies when I get mixed up in the bushes”, I complained. “Nobody”, he said, “has put in a good day’s fishing unless he leaves a couple of flies hanging in the bushes. You can’t catch fish if you don’t dare to go where they are.”

“Throw your nets into the deep waters”, Jesus says, “and then let them down for a catch”. It all begins with an invitation. They’re on the sea of Galilee, south of Capernaum. It is a beautiful part of the world. Pam and I have eaten St. Peter’s fish, which is sort of a speciality there, like eating barbecue in North Carolina, or shrimp and grits in the low country. A first century fishing boat has recently been discovered in that area, unusually well-preserved, measuring 26 and a half feet long by 7 and a half feet wide by 4 and a half feet deep. It is fishing country, and Jesus, a teacher, is talking to people who make their living around these waters.

There is a first miracle: they listen! He says, “Throw your nets out into the deep water”. “We have worked all night long”, they respond, “and we have caught nothing”. What they are really saying is “What’s the point….we are not catching anything…there are no visible results”.

Has this ever been your experience? Have you ever worked hard, really hard, at work, in a relationship, toward a goal, and there seems to be no visible result, nothing to show for it? I know what it’s like. You know what it’s like.

Nothing in the nets….Empty. Jesus says, “throw your nets out into the deep water”, and they do. They cast their nets. This is the faithful action that we offer to God in the present moment, and even if it seems totally pointless, we do it. Why do we do it? Because Jesus is calling us to throw our nets out into the deep waters, even when we have worked all night long and caught nothing.

And so the nets are cast into the waters. Luke points to a second miracle. “They caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break”. You can see, you can almost smell the overflow. There’s more harvest than they can handle. The nets begin to break…the boat begins to sink. They are amazed! They’re afraid. You’ve heard the saying, I’ve heard the saying, “be careful what you pray for, you may get it”.

Well, they got it! Nets bulging with fish, maybe we’ve never had a day like that, but we understand. The one who turns water into wine, the one who gives sight to the blind, the one who feeds the multitudes with five loaves and two fish is doing it again. It is a miraculous catch of fish.

Enter Peter, his first appearance in Luke’s gospel. Peter doesn’t always get it, but this time he does. He bows before Jesus and says, “Master, leave. I’m a sinner, and I can’t handle this holiness. Leave me to myself”. In other words, “Lord, I know who you are, and I know who I am, and more importantly you know who I am, and I cannot stay in your presence”. We might not use these exact words, but we have all been there. We have all felt inadequate, unworthy, unclean.

Then Jesus speaks: “do not be afraid; from now on you will be fishing for men and women”. Jesus can use Peter. Jesus calls Peter into his service. Peter begins a new adventure. He will gather people and rescue them from danger. He will catch people and bring them to life.

This is the call to follow Jesus and to be a disciple. Question: Can we hear the savior calling us, you and me, in the scripture for today?

Our answer depends on how we respond to a few other questions, questions that Jesus might be asking us:

Are we playing it safe? We may be fishing where we won’t lose our flies. In sports this is often called “playing not to lose”. And when teams play not to lose, they often lose. Maybe we’re stuck, not much is happening, but we rationalize by saying “it could be worse”. We like fishing in those open waters, we might even like fishing in a bathtub. There is no catch, but we have learned to do it.

Are we discouraged, because the visible results are so hard to see? Fishing for men and women is like that. Richard Rohr says it well:

“Brothers and sisters, you have no idea how hard it is to be a fisher of men [and women]. Sometimes I feel that I’d much sooner be an ordinary fisherman. Because then I’d at least have fish to show for my work. I could hold them up and say, “see, I caught three fish”. But a fisher of humanity, its sort of vague. You don’t know when they’re growing, when you have them, when they believe, when they’ve let go of life. Ours is hard catch to measure”.

And yet, fishing for people is what is most important. I think of those in our church who volunteer with children and youth, who give their time to teach them, or go on retreats with them, as some are doing this weekend. You cannot fully appreciate what you are doing, the impact you are having on those boys and girls, but it is real. It is hard to measure, but it is important.

Are we keeping the Lord at arm’s length? Are we saying, “Jesus, what do you have to do with me?, I’m not good enough for you, talented enough for you, gifted enough for you”. I’m not the right person, now is not the right time, this is not the right place.

Are we keeping Jesus at arm’s length? You stay in your heavens and I will stay here on earth, you can have Sunday and I’ll take care of the other six days…Are we saying “Jesus, you are really wise, but I’m the fisherman, you’re just the rabbi…please stay out of my business”.

Or… Are we ready to throw our nets into deeper waters? Jesus is calling---calling Peter, calling you, calling me. Throw your nets into the deeper waters. Loren Mead was down at Pawley’s Island with his children. He really didn’t know what to do with young children at the beach, so he went into one of the stores in town. He asked the people there, “I’m going to take my children fishing this afternoon. Is that what you do with children around this beach?”

“Yeah, you can do that, but nothing is biting”.

He came again: “I’ve got to do something with them. What do I have to buy?”

The manager sold him some gear to fish with, but as he was leaving he said, “what you really ought to do is come back in October. That’s when the fish really begin to bite”.

Later that same day he was walking out to the south point with his wife. Somebody was fishing. Fly fishing in salt water. He had never seen that. “Are you having any luck?”, he asked.

“Nope”, the man said. My friend had never seen anyone fishing so hard. “I heard they’re not biting much”. “Yep, I know”. “I was over at the store in town, and they said it is a bad time of year”. “Yep, I know.” “They told me to come back in October. That’s when they bite”.

Then the guy said, “Yep, I know. But I’m here now.”

You and I do not have life the way it was twenty or ten or even five years ago. We are alive now, in this place, at this time. And Jesus is speaking to us, and saying “throw your nets into the deeper waters”, right now, where you are. He says, “If you have eyes to see, I will show you an abundance”. And if you have ears to hear the Savior calling, listen. He says, “I want you to be my disciple. I want you to rescue men and women from danger, and bring them back to life.”

Throw your nets into the deeper waters: a deeper spiritual relationship with God…a deeper engagement with the members of your family…a deeper compassion for the last, the least and the lost…a deeper concern for the world in which we live, the world of the present and the world of the future.

It is about leaving the places where it is cool and safe, where we are in control, and casting our nets, our lives, our gifts into deeper waters. What else could life be all about?

“Do not be afraid”, Jesus says. And so, if you believe in miracles, a third miracle: They leave everything behind and follow him. They have new priorities. They will fish for men and women. And if we can hear the Savior calling, we will hear him speaking to us: “Do not be afraid. If you fish for men and women, I will fill your nets with an abundance. I, the Lord of sea and sky, want to rescue you from danger and give you life”.

Just when we are about ready to give up, someone comes along beside us, just when we thought we were all alone, someone speaks to us, and it is Jesus, and he says, to you and me,

“Throw your nets into the deeper waters”.

Let us pray:

Help us, Lord Jesus, to hear your voice,

to throw our nets into the deeper waters.

Bless us, Lord, with a harvest that is beyond our imagining.

Lead us, Lord, to follow you.

Make us your disciples. Amen.


Loren Mead tells the story in Shaping Our Future, pages 13-14. Richard Rohr, Radical Grace, 230-231. Norman MacLean, A River Runs Through It.


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