Texts: Isaiah 6:1-8 [9-13]; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11
If you listen to the Bible, I mean really listen, you realize that pretty much no one is ever prepared for, or worthy of, God. No one in our cast of bible characters today is ready, that’s for sure. Pretty much every time the Holy One shows up people suddenly remember how desperately unready they are for an up close and personal visit.
Isaiah is loaded with guilt over unclean lips. Which perhaps means that he hasn’t exactly been honorable in what he’s been saying. Feel free to exercise your imagination about how many ways that’s possible. You may certainly draw from your own experience…
Paul recalls his persecution of the Christian community, and agrees that he was completely unfit to be sent out as a witness to the good news of Jesus. Paul also mentions that he is compromised in other ways saying, “But by the grace of God I am what I am…” which leaves open a whole host of possible deficiencies. At the very least some people called his personal presence decidedly less than impressive. It’s like they were saying, just write your letters, okay? You don’t need to actually come here. We’re good.
Then there’s Peter. Who may, (and this is just one possible interpretation) have been disrespecting Jesus when he questioned the direction to try putting the fishing nets out again. “Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
This might indeed explain why, when the fishing nets came up bulging, Peter went all obsequious. “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” And let it be known that while we might think of sin as a special category of bad-ness that mostly resides in other people and not so much ourselves, in the Greek sin covers every nuance (small to great) of not arriving at the place you should have aimed for in the beginning with your words or activities.
So this should make us wonder about all those people who came to hear Jesus by the shore of the Sea of Galilee. They can’t have come because they wanted to meet God’s Holy One. Like Peter and his companions they were hanging around Jesus for other reasons. There they were, filling the beach, pushing Jesus from the water’s edge out into Simon’s boat. We can only surmise that they were hungry for what he had to say.
What was Jesus saying that was so engaging? We know that in the temple he read from a scroll and then taught from that scripture. Now, on the water he has no scroll to read from and still he teaches eloquently. Perhaps we are to understand that Jesus does not necessarily need any text because he is the eloquent text sent by God. But these people hardly know Jesus, and for them the cross looming on the hill and its astonishing lesson could not even be imagined.
Even so, Simon recognizes some kind of authority in Jesus. Here Peter says something like you’re the boss rather than calling Jesus teacher or master. As it happens, Simon had met Jesus already. In fact just before this fishing escapade, Luke describes how Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law of a high fever at Peter’s home in Capernaum.
This might have something to do with the arrival of so many people at Galilee.
That home could be the humble earthen, straw-roofed first century BC house discovered by Italian archaeologists in Capernaum some 25 years ago. It was found under the remains of a mid-first century AD Christian communal gathering place, with graffiti of prayers, small crosses, and a boat scribbled on the walls. Significantly, the prayers are entreaties to Jesus for help and mercy which suggests a conserved spiritual memory of what Jesus did for Peter’s mother-in-law.
The Galileans were God-fearing people of faith, nurtured in their synagogue. Healing in God’s name was part of their cultural landscape. But prophets like Isaiah had not been common for many years. And Jesus was doing things that went well beyond their own experiences of God, evoking a sense of the spiritual wonders that occurred in the days of Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam.
Jesus did not disappoint the crowds at the Sea of Galilee that day. They got to share with the fishermen the unexpected dimensions of Jesus’s authority. The most obvious was the catch of fish, so heavy that it threatened to sink the boat, which came at the mere word of Jesus to “…let down your nets for a catch…”
But that wasn’t all. Fishing was done by night with lamps which, as most of us know, draw the fish near. But Jesus ordered fishing to be done during the day, a ridiculous and hopeless waste of effort. But Jesus demonstrated to the watching people his ability to reverse the conditions of the natural world. So the people were saying to themselves, we are in the presence of greatness.
And how great was that greatness, they were only just beginning to see. And we are with them, like them, on the mere shoreline of a very great sea of spiritual grace. If only we can become such eager onlookers as they were.
For, does not God come graciously to broken humans, who feel unworthy of standing in the presence of holiness?
And did not Jesus invite Peter and his friends to leave their fear behind and go in search of joy?
And did not Jesus welcome them into a spiritual adventure without first requiring a single shred of evidence demonstrating their righteousness, purity, or goodness?
And did not the ones who followed find themselves freed from anxiety over fish and nets and perhaps other things as well that had been weighing them down?
And did not Jesus change the circumstances of a long dark night’s unfruitful labor into overwhelming abundance in the pearly luminescence of a new day?
For, as God told Isaiah, no matter how disastrous our present may be, there remains a holy seed from which God will not be prevented from creating something new.
This is why, like the people on the shore of Galilee one day long ago, we all dare to listen to what Jesus has to say. Amen.
The Rev. Beth Purdum Eden is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. She has served in more than 6 parishes in the Western United States for 30 years.