… 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.
Last weekend, we decided to take drive across town to check in on the lot, or ditch patch as we call it, where our new house is going to be built this year. On our way, we drove through downtown and encountered a large collection of tractor trailer, pick up trucks and SUVs with Canadian flags adorning them and lots of “freedom convoy” labels. It was a some unexpected drama that has captured our national attention. Last week, as Jesus confronted us as we were tired and edgy, he reminded us that no matter the messes that human communities find themselves in, that God continues to come and meet God’s people. This journey through this season after Epiphany has taken us from the the banks of the river Jordan, to the wedding at Cana, to the synagogue in Nazareth for the past two weeks. But now we end up in the boat with Jesus and his disciples.
Today, the drama of this scene in Jesus’ story can be lost on us prairie dwellers. Last week Jesus was almost thrown off a cliff, while today he seems to go for a gentle boat ride. We are used to snow plows and SUVs, to eating beef, pork and chicken. And so when we hear that Jesus gets Simon to take his boat out and fish, and then Jesus provides overflowing nets, it seems like a nice story, a quaint story about Jesus making life a little easier for Simon and his companions. But dig a little deeper, and we begin to see that this is not just about Jesus providing fish. Today, Jesus is just as offensive as he was a week ago, and today, Jesus isn’t the only one in danger of losing his life.
As Jesus begins to get more famous, people begin to follow him around. The crowds press in on him to hear what he is saying. And this time they press him right to the edge of the Lake, so when Jesus can walk no further, he hops in a boat, into Simon who will later be named Peter, and continues to teach. Simon has caught nothing and is going home for the day. Yet when Jesus hops in his boat, he obligingly takes him out a few feet. Simon would have seen that Jesus was an important teacher with all these people coming to hear what Jesus had to say.
Yet, when the sermon ends, Jesus doesn’t ask to go back to shore, instead he tells Simon to go out into the middle of lake. The preacher in the boat tells Simon the experienced fisherman to do exactly what fisherman don’t do. They do not go out on the lake in the middle of the day. They fish at night, near the shore by lantern light. This is how they have fished for generations. Simon is not impressed with this teacher fellow sitting in his boat. In fact he begins to refuse,
“Look teacher, we have been fishing all night, our nets need repair, maybe you should stick to speeches and let us do the fishing” Simon has just met Jesus, but it doesn’t take him long to use that impulsive mouth that he will become known for. But then, Simon changes his mind part way through his refusal and says, “Well I guess it won’t hurt, so if you say so Jesus”.
We aren’t too different than Simon, we often wonder if God actually knows what is going on. Like Simon, we find it easy to stick to the routines and to stick to what we know. Even when sticking to the routines leaves us with empty nets. Yet, God is calling us away from the safety of the shore, out to the deep water, out the unknown.
The unknown is scary and terrifying. And these days we only have a certain level of tolerance for anything different, anything that demands something of us. The issue at the core of the freedom convoy and any protest against COVID-19 restrictions or mandates has often begun with the resistance to this calling into the unknown, the unfamiliar. Masks are uncomfortable. Staying home is boring and lonely and hard. Getting vaccinated might cause uncertainty.
But our resistance to the deep water, to following Jesus away from the shore, to allowing ourselves some discomfort comes at a cost. Sometimes it might be missed opportunities, as a church it could mean missing out on reaching new people in new ways, and as we are discovering during this pandemic… refusing to do that unexpected, unknown thing is resulting in more people getting sick, more ending up in the hospital and more people dying… all for the stated reasons of freedom, but for the real reason of being unwilling to be uncomfortable for a while or give up something of ourselves for the sake of our neighbour.
God’s call to the deep waters can feel so risky that we would rather starve doing what we know.
But with Jesus in his boat, Simon decided to listen to the teacher in the boat. And imagine his surprise as he lets down his nets into the deep water and then begins to haul them back in. The weight of the net pulling back more than Simon ever expected, maybe more than he had ever experienced. And Simon tries to the get the net — and all the fish — in the boat, there is so much that he must call to his friends, James and John before the nets break, and still there is so much fish that they both begin to sink. If there was excitement at catching a lot of fish, it would have disappeared when the boats began to sink, in the middle of lake. The wandering preacher might have guessed where the fish were, but it wasn’t going to do Simon any good, if he drowned first. And yet, they catch an abundance of fish that they had never seen before.
But fish isn’t Jesus purpose. Jesus has so much more in mind for Simon… And though Simon doesn’t feel worthy, Jesus speaks the words that angels have spoken to those being called by God into something new, time and time again, “Do not be afraid.”
Along with Simon, Jesus is calling us out to the deep water today. And today, that call seems as crazy to us as it did to Simon, who knew better than to go far from the shore. And yet, God is doing something totally unexpected. Something that does not make sense to us. God calls us to die. God calls us to die in the waters of Baptism… but the call does not stop in death. God also calls us out of our ruts, out of our routines, out of the water, out of death and into life.
To a people stuck in the ruts, in the routine of what is safe and known, Christ’s call to risk everything in the deep water seems like too much to ask. But there in the deep water, Christ is giving us life. Life in the form of fish for fisherman with nothing, and today, life for communities contending with far too much sickness and death, life for people who are feeling caged up and alone.
Out in those deep waters God calls to us from those first promises made to us at the font “By the baptism of his own death and resurrection, [God’s] beloved Son has set us free from the bondage to sin and death, and has opened the way to the joy and freedom of everlasting life”. Out of death, God brings life. Out of drowning in the deep waters of baptism, God forces the breath of life back into our lungs and joins us into a community of newly alive people.
Certainly our instinct is to resist this call, to push back against the dangers that we think we see and feel in the unknown, in the loss that we believe will come with giving something of ourselves.
But like with Simon, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.”
Because we do not follow this call alone. We do not go out into the deep waters alone. We are not in this boat called the church all alone. Jesus is with us in the boat and Jesus has much bigger purposes for us. Jesus is preparing us things that entirely new.
We don’t know what is far from shore, what is out in the deep water, but Jesus does. Jesus knows where we need to go, and what path we need to follow. Jesus knows what must be done for the sake of a hungry and dying world.
So no, this story today is not a quaint story about a little boat ride and catching fish. It is about the fear and uncertainty that come with following Jesus, with stepping out of what is comfortable and known, of being willing to risk, to be uncomfortable, to give of ourselves.
But it also the story that always comes after, “Do not be afraid.”
It is the surprising story of God’s surprising abundance given for us, nets full of fish, salvation found in the waters of our baptism, new opportunities out in the deep water.
It is about following God’s call into unknown AND of God’s promise that wherever we God, Jesus is in this upside down boat with us.