I have never been much of a fisherman, but have always been fascinated by the skill and grace of those who have mastered the art of fly fishing, standing in a fast flowing river in their waders and teasing the trout or salmon to catch their ‘fly’, and when they do the battle begins to land the fish. It’s quite a sight to behold when the fisherman finally nets the fish.
Our Gospel story this Sunday tells a similar tale but with a difference. In this case Jesus is the ‘fisherman’ and his catch are the young men who become his disciples. Yes they too were fishermen, but this time they are the ones caught, but I should add that they were caught very willingly, for Jesus never forces us, but rather inspires us to join him.
Our reading begins with Jesus setting some boundaries with the crowd eager to hear him. Everyone wants to be close to Jesus. Everyone wants to hear, so Jesus asks Simon the fisherman if he could use his boat to sit in a little off shore in order to teach the crowd about God. In doing that he also teaches us that we are not to be doormats for others to walk on, and need to set limits and boundaries which will enable us to engage well with others.
By sitting on Simon’s boat, Simon Peter and his brother Andrew find themselves a captive audience. They might have been washing and mending their nets while Jesus spoke to the crowd but I’m sure that they were also listening to all that Jesus said and all that happens later confirms that. When Jesus had finished all that he had to say for that day, he turns to Simon Peter and in effect says, ‘Let’s go fishing.’
His actual words are quite evocative: ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’
Jesus will always be inviting us to go deeper. And how does Simon Peter respond? His default position seems to be to resist. That’s natural. Its something he shares with Moses and Jeremiah just to name a few, alongside us of course. We also resist God’s call and invitation to go deeper. We have a whole store of very valid excuses, ‘I’m too tired and depressed because we didn’t catch a thing last night!’ That was Peter’s excuse. We might say, ‘I’m too busy. I’ve got so much to do . . .’ or something like that.
However, in the end Peter sets the sail and out they go. He’s clearly not keen. It’s the wrong time of day to be catching fish. Any fisherman could tell you that. But then they get the surprise of their life when they haul in the biggest catch they have ever seen. It was so big their nets were in danger of breaking and they needed to call in their partners to help – James and John the sons of Zebedee. All this was too much for Simon Peter, for he immediately and instinctively knew that he was in the very presence of God and he found that pretty uncomfortable. He found it so uncomfortable that he says, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ Have you ever felt like that? Does this resonate with any experience you have had?
Peter certainly felt unworthy, even stained, in the presence of God, but Jesus doesn’t go away. On the contrary, Jesus stays, and shows us that God wants to be with us and while God sees us warts and all, knows our weaknesses and failures, sees our moodiness, our jealousies, our pride, God accepts us as we are. Yes, God loves us unconditionally, welcomes and invites us to share his life, his passion, his vision, promising us that as we take the step that Simon Peter takes, we will grow more fully in the image and likeness of God. This Sunday I will be speaking about the ‘Call to Worship’ and God’s invitation offered to us all.