Jesus’s invitation to go deeper

The Rev. Tracy Heilman
Thursday, February 28, 2019
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Rev. Tracy Heilman

Journeys in Faith

When I was in middle school, my mother took anthropology in college, and she shared with me the eyeopening definition of “normal,” as whatever you experienced growing up.

One’s own experience defines what is normal.

Consider Luke 5:1-11, in which Jesus asked Simon to pick him up from the lake-shore so he can preach to the people.

When Jesus had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. . . . But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’s knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken . . . . 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.

What can we learn about the significance of this event when we look through the eyes of a first century fisherman? First of all, according to Bruce Malina and Richard Rorbaugh, experts in First Century Palestinian Society, we should be aware that fishermen were another of the low-class sort with whom Jesus spent most of his time. Fisherman had to work in the middle of the night, away from families, in order to have fresh fish to sell in the morning.

The lake where Simon and the others were fishing was a Royal Lake, meaning it was under the control of the Roman Empire. Fishermen would be required to pay a fee to fish on the lake, and they had to sell their catch back to the Roman authorities — at government-set price.

These peasants who did the fishing were able to keep only the leftovers for their own families. It was subsistence work, which gave them just enough to feed their families but not abundantly.

When Jesus finished speaking to the people, I suspect that Peter was tired and wanted to go home. He did what Jesus asked, but perhaps grudgingly, rolling his eyes at this man who didn’t understand fishing. Yet this man leads them to their biggest catch.

What does Peter see in that success that makes him call himself a sinner? Unwarranted success? Having more than enough? Doubting Jesus? Doubting himself? It is a transformative moment for Peter, an “epiphany.” His life changes forever as he “leaves everything and follows Jesus.”

What does Peter leave behind? We think of his boat, nets, small business, security. But maybe Peter leaves behind his fear, or his reticence to try again. Maybe he leaves behind a way of life that is all about survival, but never about God’s abundance.

Where do we find ourselves in this story? Is God calling us to leave the safety of the shallows to “go deeper?” What might we have to leave behind, in order to follow Jesus? Like Peter, there are plenty of reasons for us to doubt what Jesus calls us to do.

Just how far does Jesus want us to take this “loving our neighbor” thing? Surely it applies just to folks like us, who have the same values and history as ours? We’re sinners.

How could there be room for sinners in the work of Jesus? Like Peter, we’re probably scared to death of how our lives might be transformed if we take Jesus at his word and be willing to let go of everything we’ve ever known.

Friends, I think we are in the boat with Peter and Jesus. We have to decide if we want to accept Jesus’s invitation to go out into deeper waters. Shall we put aside our fear, our comfort levels, doubts and excuses? Let’s go deeper into our Sacred Stories, deeper into our world’s pain, deeper into the heart of God. Let’s discover just how far we are supposed to spread God’s abundant love and grace.