Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He 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. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So 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. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and 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.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him. --Luke 5:1-11 (NRSV)
My dad was an avid fisherman. North of us, about 30 miles away, was the Grand River. It’s a muddy river. It’s a catfish river. That was one of his favorite places. And where he taught us to fish, beginning about the age of 7. For our birthday on that year, each of us would get our own fishing rod and reel - kid size. Then, he would take us fishing, along the banks of the Grand River. We’d stand there for hours. Casting and reeling in. Casting and reeling in. Casting and reeling in. My brother and sister loved it. I hated it. It was so boring.
Then, east of us, about 30 miles away, was the Missouri River. This part of the river was dammed up, so it was also known as the Oahe Reservoir. A huge lake that extended from Bismarck, North Dakota, to Fort Pierre, South Dakota. It was clear, beautiful water. Full of walleye and Northern pike. My dad knew all of the secret and best fishing parts of the reservoir. As we got older, my mom and dad restored an old, wooden cabin cruiser. A regular vacation for us was to pack the boat up with all of our camping and fishing supplies, then pilot it to a large sandbar in the center of the lake, unpack and camp for several days, fish, and eat a lot of fish - breakfast, lunch and dinner. My brother and sister loved it. I hated it. It was so boring.
So, as you can tell, I don’t have a great love for fishing. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have a lot of patience, something that is definitely required to be a good fisher-person. As in our story today. Simon, who we will come to know as Peter, and James and John, partners in the fishing trade, have been out all night fishing. With no luck. No catch. They have returned to the shore near Capernaum, tired. As they are cleaning their nets, all of a sudden they hear Jesus call out. For Peter. Asking Simon to take him out a little bit from the shore so he can teach the large crowd of people who have begun to follow him. And who are pressing towards him, so much so that he is running out of room, and will soon be pushed into the Galilee or, as it’s called in our text, the Genessarat, Sea.
This is not the first time Simon has met Jesus. In the verses preceding our text, Jesus has healed his mother-in-law. It’s not clear that Simon is present when this happens, but you can bet that he has heard about it. Jesus’ reputation has grown dramatically since leaving Nazareth. Unlike in the other synoptic gospels, where Jesus is portrayed as moving about quietly, engaged in his ministry, here, in Luke, there is a huge buzz. A report about him has reached every place in the Galilean region.
So, when Simon hears Jesus ask him for this favor, tired and exhausted as he may be, he complies. You heard the rest of the story. How, after Jesus finishes teaching, he tells Simon to go back to the deep water and try again. Even in his exhaustion, Simon complies. Perhaps he wonders if something might happen. After all, this Jesus is a miracle-worker, right? Or perhaps it's because, in all his tiredness, his defenses are down. Perhaps he’s like I am when I’m tired and exhausted. Have no more energy. Those were always the times that, when my son was growing up, it was like he had a second sense. He knew that that was the time to ask for something. Something big.
Aren’t we all just a little like Simon right now? Exhausted? Beaten down? Sure, we had that little bit of light this week as we listened in amazement to the words of gifted young poet Amanda Gorman as she wove the history of our country and our present experience into a powerful poem, giving us just a little bit of hope that we as a nation might set aside our division and come together in unity as we have before. But, it wasn’t long after that the hum of hope once again became the propaganda of partisanship.
But it is in these moments. In these darkest of times. When it feels as though we will never move out of this morass. When our defenses are down. Where Jesus, miracle-worker, life-giver, master fisherman, enters in. Blowing away all of our cynicism and exhaustion and hopelessness with an abundance so great that we can do nothing other than what Simon, now Simon Peter, does. Fall on our knees, overwhelmed, in complete fear and awe, begging Jesus, “Go away from me for I am a sinful being.” Yet, Just as Jesus reaches out to him, Jesus reaches out to us. Telling us to not be afraid. To trust. And then calling us to follow. To let go. And to move into a new life of abundance and grace and hope. As fisher-people.
May we answer the call with our whole heart. Amen.
3rd Sunday after Epiphany