Into the Deep
Kathleen O’Donoghue, Family Minister
This morning in our gospel reading from Luke, we encounter Jesus trying to speak to a large group near the lake of Gennesaret. He needed to move farther away from them so he could speak to the whole group and so he got onto a boat just coming in from a pretty fruitless night of fishing and Jesus asked to be put out a little way from the shore so he could teach the people. Luke tells us this boat belonged to Simon Peter and this is how they happened to meet each other.
I love to read and re-read the stories of Jesus meeting his disciples. These stories are a wonderful glimpse into what Jesus valued, what Jesus saw in his followers and with whom he would build his church.
Can you picture if this initial meeting between Jesus and Peter were more like a traditional, modern job interview?
Jesus: Hello Simon Peter, tell me a bit about yourself!
Peter: Well Jesus, I don’t have a formal education. I mostly fish with my friends, sometimes we catch fish, sometimes, like today, no luck. I’m kind of impulsive. I strike out when I’m angry sometimes. I’m afraid to go out on a limb, afraid to be challenged, and sometimes I’m afraid to stand up for my friends.
Jesus shakes his hand and says :
“Perfect! You’re hired!”
It doesn’t make any sense that this was one of the people Jesus wanted to surround him, does it? Well, I guess it doesn’t make sense to US but remember that Jesus was just beginning to create his upside down kingdom, of which he would be an upside down king, so maybe he was seeking people that were flawed to make it really, really clear that HIS power, HIS grace, and HIS mercy were at work here and that his followers didn’t need to be perfect, or to be sinless, or meet any holiness code or even to fully understand what was happening around them, to be able to serve God in this new kingdom.
So, back to the boat.
v3: 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!”
Perfect! You’re hired!
This lesson has been a part of church school for years and a very interesting question has been asked of me more than once. If they caught all those fish, more than two boats could hold and so much that the boats would be sinking, why would the men on the boat leave this and follow Jesus? Why wouldn’t they try to figure out how Jesus told them where to fish and then keep fishing and then get rich?
Now it’s just speculation on my part, but I think it’s possible that this encounter really wasn’t about the fish.
Instead, I think it was about Peter’s willingness to “put out into the deep waters”. It was Peter’s obedience to Jesus’ request that was the miracle that day, rather than the fish caught. Peter heard him teaching the crowd from his boat and then when Jesus told him to go out into the deep water, he did just that. It wasn’t hard to leave the fish and the future behind on the lake that day.
v9 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 Peter. Then Jesus said to Simon Peter, “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.
At that moment, they put themselves out into the deep waters of this new kingdom. They understood less about what that meant, to be “catching people”, than they understood about what happened with the overflowing fishing boats. But I imagine what they did hear and believe was Jesus’ instruction, “Do not be afraid” Both going out into the deep waters of the lake and the deep waters of discipleship were probably equally terrifying to them. Telling them “Do not be afraid” which is told to so many people in the story and life of Jesus is convicting and comforting at the same time. It is both an order of sorts about our human tendency to fear what we don’t understand and also a comfort and a promise of sorts that Jesus is bigger than the deep waters ahead. And so, they heard the order and felt the comfort and promise and they left everything on the shore and followed him.
So, I wonder today, if you have had the same kind of encounter with Jesus. Has he come to you and asked you to put out into the deep waters and try again? Do you feel hopeless that another outcome could happen, different from that which you’ve already tried unsuccessfully? Have you been obedient and entered those deep waters and heard Jesus say, “Do not be afraid?” What would your life be like, what would our lives be like, if we were obedient to Jesus’ call to enter these deep waters and then leave it all behind on the shore to follow him. How would this change our day-to-day life? Our relationships with family, friends, coworkers, people with whom we disagree? Our ministry to those we fear or don’t understand, to the least of these. If we could hear Jesus saying to us “Do not be afraid” would it make us braver people? Could we leave it all behind and follow him?
It took a lot of time and mistakes for Peter to grow into the disciple he would become. Some terrible mistakes, some painful rejections of Jesus himself, but those moments of Jesus’ power and grace and mercy overshadowed the mistakes and would form the foundation of Peter’s ministry and of the Christian Church.
Just like these disciples, we don’t need to be perfect, or to be sinless, or meet any holiness code or even to fully understand what is happening, to be able to serve God in this kingdom.
Come to Jesus as you are, flawed, scared, and wondering if you would make the grade. Put out into the deep waters and hear him say to you, “do not be afraid” but also hear him say,
“Perfect. You’re hired!”