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.
This is a call to exhausted disciples. A word of hope, to tired would-be disciples, who have already worked hard with no results. The space between those two sentences is where we live. Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing…
Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
Jesus is beside the lake, and the crowd is pressing in. These crowds have followed him everywhere, with great enthusiasm. He’s on the shore, back to the water, and I imagine, he’s thinking he’s trapped. But then he sees the boats and he sees Simon.
He already knows Simon, who will come to be known as Simon Peter, or just plain Peter by the end of it. He’s been to his house, he healed his mother-in-law from a dangerous illness. And then Simon’s house turned into an Encanto that evening, a place of miracles. It seems Jesus worked all night healing and setting folks free from their demons. And then it says Jesus left at dawn for a desolate place. He must have been exhausted, just needed some downtime, some alone time.
Just last chapter, after his baptism, the Holy Spirit drove him out into a desolate place – translated as wilderness, but the same word. This is where the devil met him with all manner of temptations and then disappeared until an opportune time.
And now Jesus chooses the wilderness, risks meeting the devil again, if only to get a break from the need and the neediness of the crowds who just want his touch and his word. Is this a situation of the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t? I think I know the feeling though – needing to retreat to solitude, even though you know that your self-doubt and temptation has met you there in that place before.
When Jesus gets into Simon’s boat, he’s already tired. And so is Simon. Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing………. The difference is, Simon’s exhaustion stems from failure and frustration. Nothing has worked, we fished all night for nothing. We are back to square one with nothing to show for it, and we still have more work to do, because these handmade nets aren’t going to take care of themselves.
Jesus meets them in their exhaustion and gives their boat a new purpose – serving as his pulpit for a time, as he taught the crowds on the shore from his seat on their boat. And then Jesus finishes his teaching and commands Simon to go to the deep water and try again. Launch out to the depths, Jesus commands, and let down your nets. The depths – deep water, have been portrayed in scriptures as dangerous. Risky. The source of chaos. And from Genesis to Job – a metaphor for where God only knows what could happen. The depths are risky. If the disciples went by themselves, who knows what might have happened. But they go at Jesus’ command, though not without protest. The depths represent not just chaos but futility – why would we even go there Jesus?
Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing…
Professor at Luther Seminary, Dr. Cameron Howard notes – “On that rock of fatalism many church committee meetings have been built.” We’ve tried that before. It didn’t work. It was unsuccessful, so we’re not trying it again. How many times do we let our frustration and exhaustion get the better of us? But remember Jesus is exhausted too. He meets these hard working guys where they are, he knows what it means to be tired and worn out.
But Simon takes a beat, perhaps thinking back to that night when not only was his mother-in-law healed, but his friends and neighbors came and experiences miracles for themselves. And even though he’s exhausted and frustrated he responds, “Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
What must the other fisherman have thought. Watching these guys go back out as they mend their nets and get ready for the day knowing that there’s no fish to sell or eat. But they don’t know Jesus – they didn’t see the miracles the other night. They only see futility and chaos. But they are quickly brought into the story, when the abundance becomes too great for one boat alone. They are summoned also to venture into the deep, to risk not just their boat but their lives too, for the sake of the abundance they are witnessing. Following Jesus is not a solo endeavor, when we follow Jesus command into the depths, we do not go alone.
Sometimes when we follow Jesus and cast that net of God’s love, we end up with more than we bargained for. We end up in the chaotic deep, struggling to stay afloat. The church’s nets are often nearly ripped by the strain of the abundance Jesus brings. When that abundance is people, Christians coming to faith, being drawn into the net, each swimming their own way, things can get pretty heavy.
Our old nets (our old expectations, old structures, old ways) strain and begin to break. Old traditions like old nets need to be kept up and mended and washed and checked for signs of wear and tear. The careful spiritual practices that hold us together need to be regularly strengthened.
The sacraments we receive, the worship and prayers we offer, the scripture we study, and the peace and justice we work for, we must continue these things to remain not only strong but ready to receive abundance.
Keep in mind these fishermen, soon to be disciples, are already tired. They’ve put in a full night’s frustrating work. So when this unexpected abundance comes, think about how tired their arms must be. And this is where Jesus meets them and proclaims that they will have a new vocation. A new work. They have the best day of work they’ve ever had, and yet they abandon it all to follow Jesus. Their wonder spurs them to leave the thing they know how to do behind, and to take up a life they know nothing about. A life of discipleship, abundance, discouragement, risk, rejection, persistence and exhaustion, because they have seen and met the source of abundant life.
But like so many Christians before us, we are caught between sentences. We live in the pause between “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. AND. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” Exhausted. We live in the pause between “they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.” AND 7So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. Terrified and needing help. We live in that moment between “and they filled both boats, so that they began to sink. AND Peter’s honest and heartbreaking confession when he fell down at Jesus’ knees. A gracious abundance that brings us to our knees.
May God give us the grace to remain between sentences as long as we need, knowing that the one who calls us is faithful…. And he will provide.