February 10, 2019 – Epiphany 5 C
1Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. 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!” 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. Then Jesus said to Simon, “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.
Everybody has an origin story, whether you’re a comic book superhero or a complex person in the flesh. I’ve always been fascinated with the stories of how they got from Point A to Point B and the many stops along the journey. I often wonder if they ever thought, when they began the journey, they would end up where they were. Nelson Mandela, for example, began his life as a cattle-boy, tending the herds outside his village of Qunu in British controlled South Africa. He was the first in his family to have a formal education, having been sent to a missionary run school at the age of 7. Eventually, after graduating, he found work as a mine worker, a clerk at a law office, before becoming a lawyer himself. He took up the cause of the African National Congress and their work to gain independence from the British and the racist apartheid policies. This was why he was arrested multiple times. Still, he persisted, he used what skills and tools he had available to him, and he continued to support the cause of South African independence and oppose systemic racial oppression. Once the apartheid government fell in April of 1994, he was elected president. Of course, this is just the highlight reel of his life – his story is much more complex than what I’ve just described – but the reality is that a cattle-boy became president of a newly liberated country. He lived by the principle of one of my favorite quotes from him: “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived; it is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
I believe we have some other examples of this sort of story in our readings today. We find Isaiah, a man who feels utterly unclean and inadequate becomes a powerful prophet. Paul, the apostle who was once a sworn enemy of Christianity. And Simon Peter, James, and John, simple fisherman who came face-to-face with Jesus and accepted his invitation. Each of these people have found themselves somewhere they, by all rights, ought not to be. Yet, they are remembered and here, 2000+ years later, we are gathering and pondering how God used them and how they show us God’s love and glory.
This is just one more way in which God upends the way we think the world works. It is easy to look at the end results and believe that they were always that way – always a prophet, always a king, always a disciple, always powerful, always faithful – but we are reminded time and time again that God is in the business of surprising us.
Nowhere is that seen more clearly than in the person of Jesus Christ. Our gospel reading shows him turning the tables. He is preaching from a boat to the crowds who followed him and, when he is done, he tells the men kind enough to lend him their boat to throw in their nets. But the thing is that you didn’t fish during the day. They had just fished all night, Simon Peter tells him, and they caught nothing. In the heat of the day, fish swim deep to keep cool. It is only at night that they come up and are accessible to the nets the fisherman used. It made no sense to cast nets now – they were tired, they were hot, and they were probably just ready to sleep off their unsuccessful night. But they were as obedient as they were hospitable, and they cast their nets. What follows is so unexpected that they are immediately convinced of Jesus’ power and they drop everything and follow him.
It’s really easy to see this as some amazing test of faith, which I suppose it is. It’s easy to see them as giants of faith, which I suppose they are. But here’s the thing that’s really interesting. They already had the nets. They already had the words. They already had what they needed to witness the miracle of God’s love and God’s power and to proclaim what they’ve seen. When they felt God’s call and responded, it isn’t as though they changed overnight. They were the same people with the same gifts and the same weaknesses and the same prejudices. They were loved by God the same. The biggest change is that they now saw a new way to use their nets. “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”
If being a Christian means anything, it means that we have a new way to use our nets. Christ died and rose for you before you could ever see it, though. You did nothing to earn that love or that life. It did not make you change to earn it. God did not wait until you asked the right way or lived the right life. In the waters of baptism, you are given this life. It is a gift and it is given freely. In the empty tomb of Christ, eternal life is yours. Growing in Christian faith, then, does not mean having more eternal life, but rather learning to live in eternal life now. It means throwing in your nets and trusting that God can and will do something with them.
So throw in your net, whether that net is really your voice or your passions. Throw in your net, whether that net is your sufferings or your joys. Throw in your net, whether you think that what you have or who you are is worth anything. Each of us is given ways to help and serve, just as each of us is helped and served by others. You have been given a place in the kingdom of God and you didn’t do anything to deserve it. And you have been given skills and tools to help make the kingdom known and felt in the world around you in concrete, tangible ways. You have a net and Christ invites you to throw it in, not to convert people or convince people to think like you, but to show people that the love you have, the grace and mercy you have been given, is for them, too.
Maybe your net looks like a dining room table, where people are welcomed and fed. Or perhaps your net looks like a skill or hobby that you can use. Or maybe your net is your very self as you care for others. But the result is the same – the love that you have been given is now yours to give to others. The grace of God, the mercy of God, the justice of God is yours and that is what we share when we throw in our nets.
It strikes me that the humble beginnings of Isaiah, Paul, Simon Peter, James, John, Nelson Mandela, and Christ himself is the story of all of us. Ultimately, it’s the story of grace in the midst of whatever may come. It’s the story of God redeeming those who are so often ignored – the poor, the uneducated, the outcast, and the unworthy. Each person, regardless of who they are and whether or not we value them, is priceless and treasured as a creation of God. And that is true of you – Christ’s love is yours, eternal life is yours, his presence in the midst of pain, suffering, joy, and happiness is yours. So do not be afraid. Throw in your net. Amen.