Text: Luke 5:1-11 (Historic)
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.
Although at first glance, today’s Gospel reading contains a single miracle, the miraculous catch of fish, in fact, there are a whole slew of miracles.
The events in today’s text not only changed the life of an obscure fisherman named Simon forever, it also forever changed the world. For this event led Simon from his secular career to enroll in seminary, to study theology for three years at the feet of a professor who also happened to be God Himself. Simon Peter’s studies were not simply in order to figure out the meaning of life, or to learn a new trade, or to help people lead happier lives. No, he studied from his master for one reason alone – so that he would catch sinful people like fish in a net, preach to them, and save them.
And notice what Seminarian Simon learned on his first day of classes: not how to conjugate Greek verbs, not Luther’s Small Catechism, not the right way to hold one’s hands to officiate at the Eucharist. No, Simon has something even more basic than that to learn: that Jesus is God, and that Simon is a sinner.
And what a way to learn! Jesus didn’t merely blast away at Peter, telling him what a rotten sinner he is, and by contrast, that Jesus is divine, perfect, and holy. Although Jesus had every right to do so, and sometimes he does use this kind of preaching, on this day, Jesus takes a different approach. He never uses the word “sin.” He says not one word about his divinity. As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words, and with an action, Jesus proclaims law and gospel, fills Simon with the conviction of his sins, brings about Simon’s repentance, calls Simon to a new life, calls Simon into the Holy Ministry, and begins to lay the foundation of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church on the foundation of the apostles.
Not bad for a morning of fishing!
But let’s back up to the beginning of the reading. We find something interesting. The whole reason Jesus is in a boat in the first place is a practical consideration: he needs the elbow room. He is surrounded by “multitudes” that is, large crowds of people. And why are they there? St. Luke tells us they “pressed about Him to hear the Word of God.” They are hungry to hear God’s Word, and where better to go to hear it than to God Himself, to the Word Himself? The Holy Spirit, who as Jesus tells us, is like a wind that blows where it wills, is drawing crowds of people who yearn to hear the Word of the Lord. It is the first thing in the morning, in the middle of the work week, and yet, crowds are assembling, having forsaken their morning routines, to that they may hear preaching and teaching.
Simon was wrapping up his third-shift fishing job, having had a bad night. He and his co-workers worked all night long, and accomplished nothing. It’s no wonder that Simon is a little grumpy. He’s probably very tired, he may be anticipating having to go to creditors to buy time to pay his bills. He may be dreading having to tell his wife that he worked all night for nothing. Obviously, his mind is not on spiritual matters, on this popular preacher who now asks to borrow his boat for a makeshift pulpit. Simon allows Him to borrow it while he goes about the tedious and messy job of cleaning the nets.
At the end of the preacher’s sermon, he asks Simon for another favor: “Simon, take your boat out into the deep waters, and let down your nets.” In other words, Jesus tells Simon to take his newly-washed nets, put them in the boat and sail out a ways, and go back to work after working all night. Simon’s less than enthusiastic response seems more than reasonable. However, after sighing and grumbling, Simon remarkably (and miraculously) agrees to the request of the preacher. This is how preaching is, dear Christian friends! It is miraculous. It looks crazy to the world, but preaching is different than all other forms of human discourse – preaching is supernatural, it creates faith. And look at the leap of faith Simon takes! He agrees to do what our Lord tells him – and notice why: “Nevertheless, at your word I will let down the net.” Although my reason tells me this is crazy, although my own will wants nothing to do with this, although my own flesh says “no,” nevertheless, because of Your Word, Jesus, I will do as you say.
Of course, what happens next is yet another miracle.
Simon and his men carry out our Lord’s seemingly silly request, his command that defies reason, and look what happens! They caught so many fish that the nets began to break and the boats started to sink. It must have been a comical sight to the crowded church on the shore to see a small group of fishermen running around like the Keystone Kops trying to bring in the catch. And all this on the word of a preacher.
But to Simon, this was no laughing matter. This was not merely a great turn of events that overturned a night of financial hardship. This wasn’t really about fish and work at all. There was something more at work here, and Simon realized it in the blink of an eye.
First of all, he sees right away who Jesus is. He is not merely another wandering rabbi, not just another carpenter’s son. Not just another Jewish preacher. Simon is in the presence of God Himself – very God of very God. For only the Creator has this kind of authority over creation. And the next thing Simon realizes is that he has no right to be in the presence of God, to stand toe to toe with God, to look God square in the face. Simon has no right to wear a “Jesus is my homeboy” t-shirt, or put a bobble-head of Jesus in his rear window. Simon would never put on a CD of “contemporary” Christian music that reduces Jesus to a “boyfriend” figure, or comic book hero. No, Simon does the only thing a convicted mass murderer can do in the presence of the Judge who has the right to have him executed. Simon falls to his knees in fear, in worship, in reverence.
Being in the very presence of the divine is too much for Simon, who pleads for Jesus to go away. I am too sinful to be anywhere near You, O Lord. I am dirty and filthy, and You are immaculately clean. As was the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament when he was taken up into the throne room of God, Simon is convinced that being in the presence of the Holy One will be fatal. Simon’s act of worship begins with confession!
And notice what follows confession. Jesus absolves him. Jesus tells him that the thing making him afraid is no more. You have nothing to fear, Simon. For as John the Baptist declared, and as we repeat every Sunday when we poor, miserable sinners also encounter the physical Jesus at this altar: “Behold the Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world!” Jesus doesn’t tell Simon he is wrong to be afraid, Jesus doesn’t tell Simon to get up off his knees and stop worshipping him. Not at all! Instead, he takes away the very thing that instills fear in Simon. He absolves Simon.
Next, he calls Simon into the Holy Ministry. He tells Simon in so many words, “You’re going to be a second-career seminarian, and the skills you learned as a fisherman will help you in the ministry.” Jesus doesn’t use the “pastor” metaphor with Simon right now (that is to say, he doesn’t tell Simon he will be a shepherd of sheep). Rather, Jesus compares the Office of the Holy Ministry to another worldly profession: that of a fisherman.
Fishermen are gatherers. They are not salesmen with a pitch. They are not debaters winning people over with argumentation. No, a fisherman simply casts out his net, and what he catches he catches. Some will never be caught, some will be caught at first, but will wiggle away. And some will land squarely and securely in the net. The fisherman’s job is to take those in the net, and draw them out of the water. And notice what happens to the fish when they are taken up out of the water: they die. This doesn’t look like a very good metaphor for the Christian life, or does it?
When a Christian emerges from the waters of Holy Baptism,
And our sinful, natural reaction to being netted is to flap about trying to escape. Our corrupted flesh seeks to get away, to, in the words of Jesus, save our lives while forfeiting our souls. But in spite of our will, our rebellion, our flapping about on the floor of the boat, our merciful Lord knows what is best for us. He provides fishers of men for us to keep us in the net. Our merciful Lord continues to command his servants to cast out into the deep and catch men in the net of the Good News.
Every Sunday, we are privileged like Simon Peter to gather about the boat of the church, to physically see Jesus in Flesh and Blood, to hear his miraculous and cosmos-altering Word proclaimed. And we like Simon Peter have the opportunity to again kneel before Jesus and confess “I am a sinful man,” and to hear our Lord and God say “Do not be afraid. I forgive you all your sins…”
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.