Luke 5:1-11 There are some people who feel a calling to fish. Whether it is the tranquility of the lake calling or the smell of the sea calling or the chance to have some truly quiet time calling or the taste of a good grilled or fried fresh fish calling, I know that fishing is a joy for some of you. It can be a relaxing way to spend a special day or weekend away from your regular routine.
Fishing was not a leisure activity nor a sport for the first disciples. Fishing was the way they kept food on the table. The fishing industry was central to the daily life of first century Judea. It all started with the lake–about 5 miles across and about 12 miles around–a lake called either the Sea of Galilee or the lake of Gennesaret. All around the lake were fishing villages, obvious by the numbers of boats pulled up to the shore in clusters at various points around the lake. Fishing provided food and income for the peasant class, and through the rigid system of granting licenses and fishing rights, the members of the upper echelons of society were continually able to deepen their pockets, pad their wallets, fill their bank accounts. The difference in lifestyle between those at the top who lived with regular abundance and the fishermen at the bottom who were barely scraping by was unmistakable, and there really was no way to climb the ladder in that society. Peasants stayed peasants, no matter how many fish they caught. The brokers and the chief tax collectors and all the king’s men around Herod Antipas continued to sit pretty no matter how many fish they ate. Surplus fish benefited the rich, not the poor. Fishermen worked as a family or as a cooperative among several families, so no one family depended solely on one fisherman to provide for them.
I want you to pay attention to the fact that Jesus goes directly to the common people, the peasants, the lower class in his society. Remember in chapter 4 of the gospel, where we read that the hometown crowd ran him out of town when he told them they were not first on his list. Well, he is doing what he said he would do. No broken campaign promises here. Here he personally and directly invites fishermen (of all people!) to follow him first. After listening to him teach, after pulling ashore boats overburdened with a miraculous catch of fish, these men are going to do whatever Jesus asks of them. He communicates with them in a way that they simply can not refuse. They had fished all night with no results. The fishing boat was empty enough to use as a pulpit that morning. They were tired and ready to head home for a rest. So if you wanted to give a fisherman in that situation some good news, what would it be? The best news of all would be a full boat. Fish to sell in the market, fish to pay off the broker for the permission to fish, fish to trade with the weaver to make a new sail, fish to feed the family. Jesus brings good news to the fishermen. Good news as in fish. Lots of them. Good news as in a miracle. Good news which gets their attention.
It is so overwhelming to Peter that he can’t stand it. The gap between himself and what he has just witnessed is too great. He feels completely unworthy to even be in Jesus’ presence. He recognizes his sinfulness in a way that maybe he had never acknowledged before. In the face of this amazing catch of fish, Peter feels inadequate. First as a fisherman, and then as a human being. His face says shame and fear. He gets on his knees. “This is crazy, man! I shouldn’t be around you. Your abundant grace is just too much.”
Maybe it would be a little bit like that feeling of inadequacy that we have when we show up at church and everyone else has brought food for a big pot luck lunch. The tables downstairs are laden with colorful food, the air is filled with marvelous smells. As many pot luck meals are, the food is over the top– way more than we could ever eat. And here you are, stepping off the elevator into the fellowship hall. You forgot. You didn’t look at the church calendar and you forgot about the meal. You are not prepared. You have nothing to contribute but your empty stomach. The look on your face says shame and fear. You are about ready to get back on the elevator and go home. But then the host, likely a Vivian Smith-type person, walks up to you with an empty plate and smiles, “Come, get to work! There is plenty, and we need your help to eat it up.”
And Jesus, the host, lifts Peter up off his knees and smiles, “Come, get to work! Don’t be afraid. I need your help.” I need your help, he says. Jesus needs help to get the word out. Perhaps this story is not so much about the faith of Peter and James and John (I am not sure what happened to Peter’s brother Andrew in Luke’s account). But it is a story about the faith Jesus has in them and in his ability to work through them. He has faith that even fishermen, even a fisherman like Peter, will be the ones he needs to work alongside him in his ministry of “catching people”, of inviting people into the family of God, of teaching people about God’s abundant love and grace. He knows that fishermen are hard workers. He knows they will be committed. They are being called into a new line of work for which they have no formal training, and likely very little experience. Catching people is going to be a very different kettle of fish. One theologian sums it up well: “Simon is not called to “catch people” because he will be good at it, but because Jesus can do it through him.” Jesus doesn’t call the equipped, but he equips the called. He knows exactly what he is doing.
What does Jesus do through you? Through your hands or your head or your heart? Every single one of you is a vehicle for Jesus’ ministry in some way, shape or form. You have gifts you can share with your church family, ways that you can serve as a disciple. But it is more than that. You are disciples wherever you are, not just here in the church building. A pastor told a story about a mechanic who had a sign in the front window of his garage. It read: Heart for God, hands for work. Any of his customers would know they could trust him with their car. His heart was committed to God, and his hands were committed to working as best as he could as a mechanic, using the skills and talents God had given him. His work as a mechanic gave him meaning and purpose as a servant of God.
MLK, Jr. once said, “No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.” Then he gives a specific example: “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.” In place of “street sweeper”, put in your own vocation: teacher, pharmacist, nurse, engineer, writer, computer technician, social worker. You are called to be the best that you can be, whether it is public and visible or behind the scenes.
No matter what your vocation, no matter what your career, we have been called to follow Jesus, called to be disciples. We too are charged with catching people. That is not just the job of the pastor. And it is not just the job of the welcoming ministry team. It is part of the disciple job description: making more disciples. It means doing your job, whatever it is, with a heart for God and hands for work. It means being an example of honesty, service, grace and love in whatever you do. It means making people curious about why you do what you do. It means sharing with others how you are rooted in God’s love and that affects all of your actions. No matter what your vocation, no matter what your career, we have been called to follow Jesus, called to be disciples. We too are charged with catching people. That is not just the job of the pastor. And it is not just the job of the welcoming ministry team. It is part of the disciple job description: making more disciples. It means doing your job, whatever it is, with a heart for God and hands for work. It means being an example of honesty, service, grace and love in whatever you do. It means making people curious about why you do what you do. It means sharing with others how you are rooted in God’s love and that affects all of your actions.
Jesus calls us to follow even though we may feel unworthy or inadequate. He calls us because we are needed to continue to spread the word in a world that is just crying for love. He calls us as we are, not as we will be. If Jesus had waited for Peter to be ready, he would likely have missed the boat. He calls us even though he knows all about us. Jesus could see Peter’s sense of inadequacy in his very presence. That did not bother him in the least. Peter was a good fisherman. He would be a good disciple too. Jesus would work through Peter to catch people. We become testimonies to Christ’s presence in our life as we do our best in our places of work, as we live as disciples, as Jesus works through us to catch people, to make new disciples. Thanks be to God. Amen.