Fishermen of the parish, take note! Jesus is the key to a big catch.
This gospel reading is St. Luke’s account of the calling of the first disciples. It is similar to how St. Matthew and St. Mark tell us the story. Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus called Simon Peter and his brother Andrew while they were fishing, and he tells them that he’s going to teach them to fish for people, and so they follow him. Quickly, they pick up two more: James and John.
These were the first disciples. We know that more were soon to come. Eventually Jesus would gather a fairly large number of disciples, far more than the twelve in his inner circles that we know as the Apostles. Jesus built quite a movement in his three years of ministry. The numbers waxed and waned, usually growing the more he fed people and healed their ailments, usually shrinking the more he talked about his own crucifixion. In the end, nearly all his disciples fled and hid as he died. And since his rising again, the numbers of his disciples have grown and grown, and now number more than a third of the people living on earth today.
But these were the first. Peter, Andrew, James, and John. Fishermen. Fishermen on the sea of Galilee.
Mark, Matthew, and Luke we know as the synoptic gospels. Syn, meaning togther or with, and optic, like optical, vision, seeing. These three give very similar views of the life of Jesus, though they aren’t identical. St. John’s gospel is different enough to be off in its own wonderful category of gospel, all mysticism and cosmic symbolism.
The synoptic gospels all give a similar version of the calling of Simon Peter and the first disciples. But only Luke tells us about the miracle. All night long, they have been out fishing, throwing out the nets and hauling them in empty. All night long. No luck. No fish. No fish. No food. No fish. No money. Frustrating.
Along comes Jesus, who borrows one of the boats in order to preach a sermon to the crowds. After they’d listened, pressing close to the shore so they could hear the Master’s words without getting their feet wet, Jesus tells Simon Peter to cast out his net. Peter protests — he’s tried that spot already, and who’s the expert fisherman here anyway?
But in come the fish. In come the fish. Over come the other boats and in come the fish. A miracle. A testimony to the abundance and plenty that the Lord provides. A testimony to the outcome of faithful obedience to the guidance of the Savior.
This of course astounds the fishermen, so much so that Peter does what we humans always do when we’re confronted by powers beyond our comprehension: he felt unworthy, which is to say simply that he was reminded that he’s not in charge of everything.
The disciples are convinced, and they follow. Jesus tells them that he’s going to repurpose their skillset: they’re good fishermen, but he’s going to help them fish for people instead. The fishermen will become evangelists!
Why did Jesus choose fishermen to be his first disciples, his first evangelists?
It was hard and dangerous work, as fishing always is. I suspect that they were like the fishermen I have known, a little rough around the edges, but with a deep spiritual curiosity. I suspect it is all those hours on the water looking for a catch.
Fish, after all, live in a foreign world beneath the surface of the water. They are elusive and invisible. Fishermen learn to read the subtle signs – the shift in the wind, the ripples on the water, the circling seagulls – that might reveal the fish hidden in the depths.
So it is with our search for God.
Perhaps Simon Peter and Andrew and James and John spent hours contemplating the source of all that they saw. Who made the sea? Who created the fish that live in the sea? Who fashioned me to live here in Galilee and to have this life? They studied the subtle signs for God’s hidden, elusive presence.
There is a question for you to ponder: what skills do you have, or talents, or facets of your character, that make you well equipped to be a disciple of Jesus, or an evangelist, or a leader, or a minister? We all have them. I wonder what yours might be.
You don’t have to be a fisherman to be a disciple or an evangelist. St. Paul wasn’t. The story goes that he was trained as a Pharisee, a Jewish religious scholar expert in study of the Scriptures, in debate and sound reasoning. He was also apparently a tent-maker. Not a fisherman. But he fished for people, and gather them in he did. He planted churches. He encouraged others. He wrote letters — imagine how many he wrote that we do not have preserved in our Bible! — and he built up the church.
He gives us today a summary of how this worked, and the heart of the Christian message, that event which alone renders the life of Jesus Christ unique among all other lives: “that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.”
It is the cross that stands at the heart of the Christian world: his dying and rising again that endorses and proves all of his teaching, his passion and resurrection that confirms his word about the coming of the Kingdom of God. And then the whole work of the church, from Simon Peter to the twelve to the 500 to the billions today: to proclaim this good news. In a world where death seems to have the final answer, once upon a time a man lived again!
Jesus called Simon Peter to use to use the skills and talents he had already been given, joined together with his witness of the full life and message of Jesus. Upon that rock was the whole church grown. What are your talents and skills, which you already possess, which we share with our congregation here present? And if we matched them up with the astounding and glorious story of Jesus, his birth, life, death, and rising — what amazing disciples, apostles, and evangelists we would turn out to be…