The Word This Weekend – February 10, 2019
The Rev. Dr. William L. Hurst
FLCS Senior Pastor
1Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
The Epiphany Season continues, and this week our Gospel text from Luke focuses on an event recorded in all four of the Evangelists – the calling of the first disciples.
The setting for this story is the northern Galilean seashore, near the thriving fishing town of Capernaum. It’s a beautiful and memorable spot, and has stayed in my memory ever since traveling there some years ago. Visitors to this village can still see the remnants of the synagogue where Jesus preached, the traditional site of Peter’s family home, and other places of archaeological and theological interest. Most of all, one gets a profound sense of the importance of the sea to the people of Capernaum, and I have fond memories of walking along the pebble-strewn shoreline, looking out across the green hills of the Galil, and imagining the vistas seen by the Nazarene and his first followers.
And it is this seashore and its surroundings that frame this memorable story of calling and following. Peter and the Zebedee sons, James and John – hear the voice of the Galilean Rabbi. He says, “Follow me.” And that’s precisely what they do. “I will make you catch people,” Jesus says, and these three commercial fishermen seem instantly to take him at his word. He says, “Follow,” and they drop everything in response.
The Catch. People who fish for a living know how crucial this word can be. Day after day, as day breaks over the beauty and mystery of the Sea, they ferry out into the waters to see what they can catch. If it’s a good day, they will profit handsomely, providing support for their households and security for their livelihoods. If it’s a bad day, they will blame tides, storms, winds, or just bad luck – and wash out their nets in the hope of a better day tomorrow. It’s all about the Catch.
As these fishermen will learn from their strange and magnetic Rabbi, the same will be true of their lives as disciples and missionaries. Some days the nets will be full, and the catch immense. Other times they will wonder at the sense of it all, as to why the same message of the Kingdom will fall on deaf ears one day, and receptive ones the next. Such is the life of a fisherman, and of a follower of the Christ.
But there’s another meaning to “the Catch,” and that’s the one I call you to ponder for your own walk of faith, as we move through Epiphany 2019, and hear the self-same call to fish and follow as they did.
You know what I’m getting at here. The word “Catch” is not just a nautical term, a word for fishermen ancient and modern. We hear this connotation all the time in our own daily lives. Phrases like, “There must be a catch,” or the question, “What’s the catch?” – this way of hearing the word is filled with the possibilities of trickery or (perhaps another fishing term) “bait and switch.” Loads of people experience this meaning at the hands of well-meaning Christians. You know, “Sure, the invitation to faith sounds so free and liberating, but the next thing you know they have their hands in your pocket and their hypocritical disconnects in your head.” It all sounds so good, so alluring at first blush, but there always seems to be a Catch.
The Catch these first disciples will face is a lot different, to be sure. Their Rabbi is as far from a hypocrite as one could be – and that’s the problem. He says, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Not, “love the neighbors who are lovable, responsive, folks with the same biases and blindspots as yours.” He says, “forgive others as God has forgiven you,” not, “Forgive to the degree others forgive you.” In Christ’s ethic of forgiveness, there is to be no limit, no failsafe. We just don’t get to nurture our hurts and wounds, and withhold even an ounce of grace from others, whether they seem to deserve it or not. He says, “Give God what’s right, not what’s left.” He says, “If you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” He says, “Judge not, that you be not judged.” And on it goes.
Peter, James, John, and all the rest who will follow in their train, will come to know that the call to “catch people” will not be easy, or comfortable, or instantly successful. As they follow Jesus from that seashore village, through the hills and meadows of their familiar region, they will confront all the vagaries and oppositions of religion, bigotry, small-mindedness and self-interest that poke holes in the evangelistic net of their land. Then, inexplicably, Rabbi Yeshua will cart them off to gentile territories, where the food is strange and the traditions foreign. In his service they will have to confront their own ethnic xenophobia, their cherished biases, their all-too-human narrowness and resistance to change and transformation. You know, just like us.
And that’s the Catch, my friends – for them and for all who would eagerly lay aside their workaday nets to follow the Christ. For the hard truth of it is that to be a fisher of people is first and foremost a summons to be “the catch” as well as the “catcher.” The Messiah speaks of a Kingdom that will not be bound to the morays and compromises of the “Old Adam” in us. If we would truly lay down our old selves in his service, this will cost us all that our creatureliness tells us is precious and irreplaceable. It will force us to see the world in an entirely new and uncomfortable way. It will demand of us that we see people, all people, as precious to God – and therefore to become precious to all who will dare to bear his Name and embrace his mission. As a verse of one favorite Christmas hymn puts it so clearly and unreservedly:
Truly he taught us to love one another
His Law is love, and his Gospel is peace
Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
So, there’s the Catch. As German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in the 1930’s, and then lived it himself in the 1940’s, under arrest and execution in Hitler’s dark and hateful clutches:
“When Christ calls a person, there will be a death.”
A death indeed. The death of the old bitter sinner in us. The death of the prejudice and pridefulness that causes us to welcome some and dismiss others. The death of building walls around our privileges and casting others into the abyss. The death of our cherished myopia and long-held hatreds and fears. The death of loving this life so much that we dare not rise to follow that vision of human community that Christ came to embody and to secure for every seeking soul.
So, without a thought to the true cost of following – the way of the Cross – these fisher-folk will drop everything to file in behind their Master, the great Fisher of human souls. They will discover the Catch of that instantaneous “Yes,” that will change their lives irrevocably, and through their following will change the course of the world -- for them, for us, and for the life of the entire sin-sick world.
Join us in worship this weekend, as we hear the same summons they heard along the shoreline of Capernaum, and dare to respond to in faith, as shaky and scary as it may sometimes be. May the Catch be that which ensnares you as it did them – that the life eternal to which they commended their lives may be the hope and love our own lives can be. Be fishers, and fish. Be catchers and catch, as they discovered themselves to be in his service. And may the One who calls and summons followers even now grant you the grace to push out from the shore as they did – to embrace all that discipleship both promises and entails – the Catch and all.
With You in God’s Good Work,