St. Luke 5:1-10
by The Rt. Rev. Daniel R. Morse
Trinity Season 2007
I never really did any fishing until I was 30 years old after we moved back from Israel and I never owned a rod and reel until then. The father of one of my friends took us fishing one time when I was about 10 years old. He called us elevator fishermen because we kept lifting the pole to see if there was a fish on the hook. We didn’t catch any fish because we didn’t leave the bait in the water long enough for a fish to find it. We just wanted to make sure the fish hadn't stolen our bait.
When I first started trying to learn how to fish I checked a lot of books out of the library, but I still didn’t catch any fish. Then a student at the seminary where I was teaching had pity on me and took me fishing with him so that I could learn from him. He wasn't a pro, in the sense that anyone was paying him like the fishermen you see on television, but he was certainly a pro to me. He always called me “Black Cat” because I still didn’t catch any fish. Early one morning he and I had just started fishing when a small bass hit my lure. I jumped back so hard to set the hook that I almost fell out of the boat. When he saw how small the fish was that I finally pulled out of the lake, he said, "If you get that excited over a little fish like that, what will you do when a real fish hits your line?"
Jesus never went fishing, but He presumed to tell professionals how to do their job. So what we read about in this Gospel lesson is that the so-called professionals, Peter, James, and John, and the others who made their living fishing, went fishing with the real pro, who had never been fishing in his life. So the first thing I want to draw your attention to is Jesus and fishing.
I. Jesus and Fishing
This is a very good fishing story. It could make a very interesting Saturday afternoon TV show in the off season when there are no football, basketball, or baseball games on. Sportsmen run through the channels on the off season looking for something to watch when they don't want to go out and cut their lawn, they stop on fishing shows. The disciples had been fishing all night and had not caught a thing. Imagine surprise when this rank novice whom they hardly knew, this fellow named Jesus, walked up on the shore and said, "Hey, fellows, have you caught anything?" They, of course, had to say, "No, we've been fishing all night, and we haven't caught a thing." And this novice says to them, "Well, do it my way." Now they didn't really know this fellow. Jesus had been rarely seen moving around the fringes of the crowds, but they were not even his disciples yet. Imagine what was going through their minds when Jesus after finishing his lesson from Peter's boat on the shore because the crowds were pushing so much on them on them, turned to Peter and said, "Push out into the water, and let's go fishing." Peter said, "No, Jesus, you don't know what you're talking about. We're the professionals here. We've been fishing all night long, and we haven't caught anything. We're tired. we've just finished cleaning our nets, and we're ready to go home and sleep. But imagine the bigger supply when they actually caught fish, more fish than they had ever caught in their lives. Now, of course, they weren't fishing with a rod and reel, going for single fish. They were fishing with big dragnets, and they brought in a huge haul of fish.
Jesus would be the best fishing guide in the world because he made the fish, and he knows where they like to hide and what they like to eat. Some people wanted to make him king when they saw him feed 5,000 men (probably more like 15,000 people in all) with five loaves and two fish, when they saw him heal the sick and raise the dead. Many would also love to trivialize him by making him nothing more than a glorified fishing guide
What is the point of this story? Did Luke just run out of material and decide to stick the story in here to keep the interest up so that people would keep reading until he could figure out what the main point was. Is it just an interesting diversion? No, the point is there is a connection between the physical and spiritual world because same God made both and God rules over both. He uses the physical to teach us about spiritual things, which is exactly what Jesus does in this story. So secondly we want to look at this connection between the physical and the spiritual worlds.
II. Physical and Spiritual
Since God created the physical world it is a reflection of the spiritual world and of God himself. Some might say that fishing has nothing to do with spiritual truth except maybe that you have the solitude of several hours in a boat or sitting on a bank, and it allows one to meditate on God while you are not catching any fish. There is, they say, no connection between catching fish and spiritual or theological truth.
But you see, this story pulls back the curtain just a little to let us see that there certainly is a direct connection between the physical world and the spiritual world. We like to keep things in neat compartments. We like to keep our lives set up with these neat little sections—fishing here, school here, business over there, and religion separate from all of them. We don't want religion messing up any of the rest of our life. This story destroys all that, wipes away all those neat compartments that we like to set up. Jesus tells us that there is a direct connection between fishing and growing a church, for one thing. There is a connection between fishing, according to Jesus, and lots of other things as well. But Jesus says here, "You think this is a big deal, to catch all these fish. Well, henceforth, I will make you fishers of men. If you learn your lesson from this fishing outing that we've been on, Peter, then you will know how to succeed in growing the church. Because our natural tendency is to keep neat compartments and not see the connections, we need the Holy Spirit to open our eyes, change our minds, awaken our spiritual sense, so that God's creation will help us understand God's Word. Fishing will help us learn how to grow the Church. We need to ask God to remove the blindness so that we will be able to make the connection between the physical world and what God expects to learn from it about our spiritual duties and privileges. So then let us come specifically in the third place to fish and people.
III. Fish And People
You see, the disciples thought that Jesus was just taking them on a fishing trip. They thought, "O.K. The sermon is over, Church is out, and now we get to go back to doing what we are used to. We know about fishing, and Jesus tells us to push out into the lake." They had no idea there was any more to this than a simple effort to catch fish because they had been fruitless all night long in their attempts to catch fish. Of course, they thought it was pretty silly to try again. They were the professionals, so to follow Jesus instructions and try again was foolish. "We'll teach this ignorant fellow something. We'll go out here and show him that we really know what we're talking about. Peter says, "O.K. Jesus, whatever you say. At your word, we'll let the nets down again."
But Jesus took them fishing because he wanted to teach them something else. He was not really concerned about proving to them that he really knew about fishing. He wanted to teach them something else. He had been in charge of the night before. Jesus not only created the fish and created the Sea of Galilee, he created the sun and the moon and made the difference between the day and the night. Jesus knows everything about this. He wanted to teach them that the physical world helps us to understand the spiritual; that they should always obey him because he knows what he's talking about; and that catching fish teaches us about bringing sinners to salvation. He wanted them to know that when they pushed out from the bank and let down the nets, they were going fishing with the real pro.
Jesus, you see, is not teaching us to trick people into Christianity because as I said a moment ago, they weren’t fishing with lures at all. Using lures is a kind of evil way to fish, if you will, because you trick the fish. It's not like a good old virtuous dragnet where you just grab all of them and bring them into the kingdom. He wasn’t teaching them about techniques unless what he had in mind was a dragnet (Mt 13:47-50) and that building a church is like going out and just dragging everybody in. That is, by the way, what I think he was teaching them. What he was really teaching them was that they had failed following their ideas and using their own strength and wisdom. Jesus was there to teach them who the real pro was when it comes, not to fishing but to building the Church. A fishing trip is not successful unless you catch fish and lots of them. I can remember times that I went fishing that I came home maybe with one or two. I had spent all that time, all that gasoline to get to the lake, all my energy rowing the boat around, though I did have a little electric motor that I used on the small lake that I was fishing on--all that time casting the lures out, and I had come back with two measly fish. I could have saved all that money and time and gone to the grocery store and bought fish for a whole lot less than that. No, a fishing trip is not successful unless you catch fish and lots of them. Jesus is saying here to Peter and the other disciples, "You think this catch is big--your two boats are about to sink, and your nets are about to burst from all the fish in them. You think this is a big catch? You haven't seen anything. Just wait until I show you what it is to catch men. Just wait until you see the catch of sinners you are going to bring in!"
Now, we're still waiting here at St. Barnabas for such a big haul to come in. I'm not sure we'd be able to handle them if everyone in Bellville picked up the Bellville Times and saw our ad with our meeting times and all decided to come on the same Sunday. I don't know what we'd do with them. We'd have to move outside, I supposed. But you see, Jesus is telling us that in the whole scheme of things, the crowds will come into his Church. That happened on the Day of Pentecost and on days afterward. That happened in the history of the Church with the conversion of heathen Europe, of heathen Africa, of heathen China, of heathen America, of heathen South America, and on and on we could go. The huge dragnet has brought many people into the Church. We still have the Church today that is full of some rough fish. They're not exactly all the pristine fish we might like to have. Maybe if we are honest, we'd have to say that we're part of the rough fish as well. We can't brag too much about ourselves. Jesus still has a lot of work to do on us. But let us continue to thank God that his goal, his plan for the world, is the conversion of the world, to bring men and women and children into his Church, to catch fish. So let us continue to pray to God that he will use us as fishers of men, that he will make us successful in our work of taking the Gospel to our neighbors.