February 10, 2019
In this week’s gospel reading, we jump forward a little bit. Last week, the people of Nazareth wanted to throw him off a cliff for preaching a vision of the Kingdom of God that extended beyond their idea of the boundaries of the Kingdom - a vision for the kingdom that included the Gentiles. From there, he goes to Capernaum, he cleanses a man with an unclean spirit. Then he goes to Simon (soon to be known as Peter)’s home and heals his mother-in-law of a life threatening illness. A “report” began to spread about Jesus and the deeds of power he performed in that place. We begin to see a shift from the crowds wanting to kill him to a crowd eager to hear (at least for now) this person who reportedly heals the sick and has authority over demons. So a crowd forms and begins following Jesus, as we hear today, “pressing in on him to hear the word of God.” He gets in Simon’s boat and teaches from the boat.
He then instructs Simon to go “into the deep water” to cast his nets for a catch. Simon reluctantly agrees. It’s the “well, I tried that already, but if you say so, I’ll humor you” response. We’ve all likely been there - we’re trying to solve a problem. Someone tells us to do something that we had already tried, and we do it just because we hope that this time will be different. Or maybe we do it to “prove” them wrong.
My pap was a woodworker; he loved his scroll saw and he taught me how to use it. Not long after he died, I went over to his workshop to make something. I didn’t know what. Perhaps random cuts in the wood would turn into something. In my grief, I needed that way of connecting with him - even if I just cut out a random design. So I start up the machine, put my foot on the pedal, and brought the wood to the blade. Well, the dang blade broke. Pap never taught me how to replace it. So I found the manual and the special tool that went with this particular model. Put the new blade in. Okay. Great. I start up the machine. Put the wood to the blade, and the blade pops out of the top clamp - which was frightening to say the least. I put it back in, mess with it a bit. I start up the machine, put the wood to the blade, and it pops out again. I go through this cycle several times before getting my Dad (who didn’t know either, but I was at the point that I needed another set of eyes on the problem). I forget what solved the problem, but Dad’s suggestion was something I certainly tried before. Yet, I did it to show my Dad that it didn’t help - the “see this is what I’m talking about” attempt. And it worked. Of course. Dad shows up and magically it works.
That’s kind of how I imagine the scene. Simon goes to the deep. Maybe out of exasperation. Maybe to prove that there really aren’t any fish there - “see, this is what I’m talking about.” (Why would he expect this venture out to the sea to be any different?) Or maybe, just maybe, it goes out of this nagging hope that this will be the thing that finally actually works. We don’t know. But he goes. He goes to the deep. The deep - a place that represented for people a place of chaos - symbolized in the first creation story by the watery abyss that was present before God created the earth. The sea is untamed, it is wild, it is unpredictable. Getting in a boat, heading out to the deep, fisherman put their lives on the line (and in the hands of the deep) to provide food for their families and their villages. Jesus sends Simon back out there - out to the deep - after an exhausting and exasperating night of catching nothing.
Yet, instead of going away from Simon, instead of being pushed away by Simon’s sinfulness, Jesus gets closer. In the words of Nadia Bolz-Weber, in her book Accidental Saints, “Never once did Jesus scan the room for the best example of holy living and send that person out to tell others about him. He always sent the stumblers and sinners. I find that comforting.” Here, he brings Simon - a sinner - into a deeper relationship with him. Jesus calls this man - along with James and John - to follow him as his disciples, and to send them out to participate his mission in the world. He calls Simon and the rest to venture out into the chaos of the world, telling them that from this point forward they would be fishing for people - bringing them into this reign of God that has broken into this world through Jesus. They will be in the midst of the chaos of the world as it is, a world ruled by Romans - who kept the peace of Rome by way of the sword, a broken world marked by oppression and violence. And this journey through the chaos of the world will lead to the cross (and even to their eventual deaths as well, as Peter was likely martyred in Rome during the reign of Emperor Nero). Yet they are called, and they drop everything to follow Jesus. They enter into the chaos again, with the trust in the one calling them and the confidence that the gift that they had experienced is not just for them, but that the gifts of God are for others. They are called to expand their nets so that all are brought into the reign of God. They trust that the abundance of God (and the life that comes out of it) is greater than the chaos that they will experience.
Instead of being pushed away by our sinfulness (or by our attempts to push Jesus away), Jesus comes closer to us too. Jesus calls us - stumblers and sinners alike - to follow him and to participate in God’s mission for the world. My Hebrew professor, Dr. Klein, in Seminary used to say God’s final word to God’s people is always yes. That is the Good News. As Christians, we trust that Jesus is God’s yes to God’s people. In Jesus, God shows (once again) God’s commitment to being in an intimate and life-giving relationship with all of humanity. In Jesus, we have a God that enters into the chaos of our world, risking everything, even death, to enfold us all into the reign of God that is continually breaking into this world here and now. We have the gift of living on this side of the resurrection; we see that neither death nor chaos have the final word, but rather life and love in Jesus - God’s yes - has the final word. Therefore, nothing - not even our sin - can push Jesus away from us or prevent God’s inbreaking of the kingdom. God’s final answer to us is yes. That indeed is Good News.
Today, that yes from God in Christ calls us into the chaos of our world. We are called to step out intothe deep. Like Simon, James, and John - we are called to trust the one who brings life out of chaos. We trust that God is faithful and that even in the midst of the chaos of our world, God is bringing forth abundance and life. We are called to see and to witness to the abundant life from God all around us - sometimes in the most ordinary of places. We are called to participate in the life-giving work of Christ in our world. How do we expand our nets - so that all around us are enfolded in the grace and love that are markers of the Kingdom of God? I don’t think this passage is about purely getting more numbers in the pews. Rather, this passage points to an expansive vision of who is included in the net - who is included in the Kingdom of God. Perhaps, we’re called to do the things that seem ridiculous. Perhaps we’re called to do the things that we’ve tried before (and thought couldn’t work again). Perhaps we’re called to try things that we’ve never tried before. Regardless, we’re called to expand our nets - to make the love of God known to all people, everywhere.