Into the deep

Peter’s story – Luke 5:1-11

They say that the definition of insanity is doing exactly the same thing in the same way and expecting a different result. But what was I to do? When the stranger stepped into my boat and demanded that I push off from the shore I thought that at least I could make a little coin after a long night of catching nothing.

You see I’m a fisherman by trade. As is my father. As was his father before him. I come from a long line of fishermen who have lived by the tides and, sometimes, died through the fickleness of the sky and stormy sea. 

Over the years our business has grown. Each night, my brother Andrew and I take out our boat with some hired men to fish for tilapia and carp and sardines which we dry for sale or export as fish sauce through the Mediterranean. The Romans just can’t get enough of it! Which is about the only upside to their occupation of this holy land, I think. 

Often, the sons of Zebedee – James and John – accompany us. We like to think there’s safety in numbers but out on the sea when a squall suddenly blows in, no one is safe really. That’s why, each evening, before we head out some of the help cooks a light supper over a fire on the shore while we carefully check; first, the nets so that nothing will escape them through some small hole; then the boats so that no lives will be lost through some small carelessness. 

We take our time. The boats are 8 metres long and 2.5 metres wide and we run our hands over every inch of oak and cedar that stands between us and the deep deep sea.

This night was no different. We chatted as we worked getting hundreds of feet of netting stowed away tightly, wondering how much we would catch, wagering which boat would net the biggest haul, bickering cheerfully over which direction to head out in as the sun began to set.

But the laughter faltered as the hours passed and, time and time again, we muscled the long nets into and out of the water. Time and time again, we pulled them in empty, rowed a way aways, and tried again. 

The silence deepened with the darkness until I wondered how long a night could last. How many times could I move and sweat and hope and guess in the vast emptiness? 

The sun’s first light was not a blessing but signalled, at least, an end. Yet the faces around me were grim with the knowledge that there was nothing to take back home for breakfast, not this day – and maybe not tomorrow nor the day after that. Because business can’t be good when you have nothing to offer.

James and John reached home first. They were already rinsing their nets when we pulled up beside them. I thought to myself, “They look so worn out; so weary.” 

That’s when I noticed them – a large crowd, loud and lively. Their energy and joy rubbed salt into the wound of our emptiness and despair. And that’s when the stranger stepped in. Uninvited. “Someone famous?” I wondered, as he spoke to me about using my boat for a bit to teach from.

As he spoke to my friends and neighbours – for I knew many of the faces transfixed by his words – I felt some of my tiredness ease, some of my anxiety settle. He spoke of a kingdom not like any kingdom I had ever heard of, or dreamed of, where sorrow and suffering was replaced by God’s shalom shining upon everyone. 

And I started to think “It’s really quite nice being out here with him – on the water under open sky and the warmth of the sun for a change, instead of in the dark working and waiting and hoping and praying for a good catch and a safe return and a fair price at the market.”

But just as I start getting comfortable, he turns to me and orders “Launch out into the deep.”

The men grumble. They remember that they’re tired. They just want to go home and get some sleep. So do I, really, but he promises a great catch and I want to see if he’s for real. So I agree. 

We row, we cast, we pull. But the nets don’t move. Backs strain; a few curses fly. I wonder if they’ve gotten caught on something – here in the deep and unfamiliar waters to which he guided us.

And then, a gleam of silver; no! a silver stream – never-ending – shining in the sunlight. We pull and we pull but the nets are so heavy we can’t get them in ourselves.

“John!” I shout. “Over here James!” Andrew exclaims – and our partners rush to join us. Soon our boat is full of fish. And so is theirs! There’s no room to work, to sit, to put the nets without us sinking. 

That’s two tonnes of fish! A month’s wage!! Never had we caught so much … never all at once. It’s impossible. A miracle. A promise fulfilled just as this man Jesus had said. 

I can’t help it. I fall to my knees with astonishment. Who is he that speaks with such authority of what will be? And why would he choose to get into my boat, into my life; to lead me into the deep, to this place of unimaginable blessing? I am full of wonder and shame and the awkward realisation that I am just a sinner unworthy to enter his kingdom, a fisherman unfit to be in the presence of such greatness.

Yet that is all he asks me to be: a fisher of men. 

“Come follow me,” he invites us. “Just as you are. And I will make you into so much more than you have imagined. If you have courage to launch out into the deep, to leave behind you the ordinary and the everyday of what you have known, to do the same thing in a different way, you will find a purpose and a power to your life that you thought impossible.”

And so Jesus comes into our lives today.

While we are doing the routine work of cooking or cleaning or tidying up, he comes.
While we’re earning our living, he comes.
While the very life we seek is slipping through our fingers, he comes.
When we’ve tried our best and have nothing to show for it, he comes.
When we’re tired and frustrated and ready to give up, he comes.
When the night seems long and the day doesn’t bring relief, he comes.

And every time, he comes, he calls with the invitation:
“Thrust out into the deep.”

Sometimes, we resent him for it feels less like a request, and more like an order. Sometimes, we’re slow to respond because we just want to rest for a while. Sometimes, we doubt that he has the power to keep his promises. Sometimes, we don’t even hear him because we’re too caught up in the push and the press and the noise of the crowd. Sometimes, we’re afraid to leave behind what we know, what we’ve accomplished, what we’re comfortable with. Sometimes, we stubbornly demanded that we be blessed before we bless another.

But each day, light dawns. 
And Christ shows up on the shore.
And he knows where we’ve come from 
and he meets us where we’re at
and he climbs into the midst of our circumstances
and he points to the deep unknown
where the miracle waits
and the growth
and the promise
and the glorious liberty that awaits each child of God 

who chooses not to be
desk bound,
root bound,
earth bound,
bound by sin,
bound by shame,
bound by fear.

Into the deep …
a deeper awareness of the world,
of our neighbour,
of the stranger struggling through life’s storm …
of who God is – to us, to them – 
of who and where and how God calls us to be …

Into the deep …a deeper experience of God’s kingdom coming closer,
of mystery and possibility,
of freedom and grace, 
of the transformation that takes place – not through planning or dreaming or willpower – but through the Spirit of God with and within us.  

Into the deep …
will you follow?