Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Luke 5:1-11

It's fascinating to imagine this event from Peter's perspective. You're cleaning things up after a long, discouraging night of fishing with your partners. You're a little frustrated and a little worried, because if there are no fish there's no income. You work with the others to meticulously clean your equipment and deep down you're racking your brains to figure out what you should be doing different next time. A hubbub down the shoreline begins to intrude into your thoughts -- a crowd, and it's coming this way. Jesus emerges and, presumptuous, steps right into your boat! Then he asks you to push him out a few feet into the water, as the unruly crowd won't even give him a few feet of space. So you, maybe grumbling a bit under your breath, get into the boat. Jesus sits down, like any sensible person does in a boat, but also like a rabbi preparing to teach. And you're stuck. You sit there listening to his teaching, as long as he cares to go on. You're a captive audience. When Jesus finally finishes his teaching, he starts giving you fishing advice, and it's contrary to what you know to be good fishing practice. You don't find fish in deep water, and the nets won't enclose them that way! But you don't want to look impious or rude, so after a couple objections you play along. And suddenly a barren night's work becomes boat-filling fruitful. At that point, with nets at their tearing point and fish flopping all over your feet and the gunwales getting dangerously close to the water, you realize that this teacher is more than you imagined. God is up to something here, and you've been invited into the middle of it.

Suddenly Peter sees, really sees, Jesus, and he falls to his knees there in the pile of fish. Jesus recognizes a heart ready to receive his call, and he tells Peter he'll be fishing for people from now on.

A couple observations. First, Jesus very often shows up in your work. He often shows up in that moment when your good, meaningful work has become frustrating, when it feels unproductive and barren. He takes the tools of your work and he turns them just a little to use them, even temporarily, for his ends, and he invites you along. You find yourself in that moment focused in a new way on Jesus, and your understanding of him and his purposes grows.

Second, Peter narrowly missed a great danger. He could have been so stuck in his own frustration and fear that he missed an invitation to a greater life. When Jesus invites us to step out into something larger than what we've known in the past, very often our vision is too small and we completely miss the opportunity. Peter complains, he objects, but he is in the end obedient to Jesus -- both in the initial, small thing of pushing his boat out as Jesus requests, and then in the call to leave his nets and all they represented -- income, security, a niche in the local community, even family -- and follow Jesus for the sake of a greater adventure.

Third, this is not the first time Peter's been close to Jesus. Remember, Jesus healed Peter's mother-in-law from a fever. Jesus doesn't expect you out of the blue to drop everything. Can you look back and see how he has prepared you, how he has planted his love and his identity and his power in your life? Can you see where the seeds of this call have been dropped earlier so that when it comes, you've been given this preparatory grace?

Finally, Jesus speaks Peter's language. The great move of Jesus' incarnation is what theologians call "kenosis." It means "emptying" (see Philippians 2) and it's what God the Son, 2nd person of the Trinity, did to become Jesus of Nazareth, a human being who could sit in Peter's boat. In a tiny way, we see Jesus do this same kind of stepping down again and again: he frames himself and his call to Peter in terms Peter can understand. He doesn't sit down and give Peter a philosophy / theology class there on the shore; instead he reduces a life-transformation down to terms Peter can receive. Jesus knows that Peter will expand into greater truth, greater understanding, as he follows. Jesus does the very same thing with us.

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