Deep Water

Deep Water

Luke 5:1-11

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he 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. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ 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; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. 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.

Sometime you have to get away from the shore to understand the sea.  I remember the first time I got far enough away from land in the ocean to no longer be able to see the shore.  It was disorienting.  I had a compass.  That helped.  I was scared.  That didn’t help.  But I can relate to Simon.  He was probably pretty reluctant to get so far out to sea that the sea controlled him more than he controlled the sea.  This Jesus character wasn’t a waterman.  He was a carpenter – a landlubber.  Simon knew the water.  He’d been fishing all night – the best time to fish.  Simon was a fisherman and being that gave him his identity.  It was what he knew.  He was an “expert” – not much left to learn.  Simon’s identity and expertise gave him a sense of security and control.  Without that to navigate off of, he was lost.

My dad had a saying, and it usually came before something unpleasant.  He would say, “Boy, you’re in deep water now!”  It meant that I was in big trouble.  And I think it is a good metaphor for what happened to Simon out on the water that day, and I think it has a powerful meaning for us who are being called out into the mission. We are being called into deep water. So what does this passage have for us?  What is it telling you individually and us collectively?

I can relate to Simon.  I’m sure a lot of us can.  I spent a good portion of my young life competing for the spot of “big man”.  I had to try it all on.  I was a “tough guy”.  That’s different from being a tough guy.  I was willing to take on all comers.  You know where it got me?  It made me lonely, tired, always looking over my shoulder, never satisfied, and empty.  You know where it got me, and everyone else who is out there playing that game?  Deep water.  That’s where it got me.

Simon is the “big man” among the fishermen – the alpha male.  He is boastful and blusterous.  He is tough and strong.  And he is the “big dawg”.  Simon is not unfamiliar with Jesus.  He knows who Jesus is and something of what he is capable of.  Maybe that’s why he agrees to go out into deep water to begin with.  But he doesn’t yet know at all that who Jesus is will take Simon into water so deep that it swallows whole everything he believed himself to be.

Jesus is a landlubber – a carpenter.  What does he know about catching fish?  Simon’s been a fisherman his whole life and if he says it can’t be done, it can’t be done.  He’s the “big dawg”.  He is staking his whole identity on the fact that he’s been fishing all night and hasn’t caught anything, and Jesus may know more than Simon about people, but he doesn’t know more than him about fishing.  Simon doesn’t realize that Jesus isn’t making a wager.  He’s not saying, “I bet I can find us some fish.”  He’s making a promise.  He’s giving his word.  But unlike people, Jesus doesn’t make promises with his hope – which is really just another form of laying odds.  He promises and backs up those promises with his actions.

Luke is careful to emphasize the proper response to the miracles by consistently linking the miracles with the teaching of Jesus, often with a repeated emphasis on the “Word of God.” “What Luke is doing is to say that Jesus was not simply making empty promises but that his word was corroborated and supported by his deeds” (J. Tashjian).

When Jesus asked them to push out from the shore and try fishing again, there is an interesting response from Simon that moves to the heart of Luke’s concern here. First, Simon rather mildly objected that they have already tried that and failed. We might have expected a more strenuous objection from a professional fisherman as a carpenter instructed him how to fish! Yet, Simon was prepared to try again based solely on the word of Jesus (“if you say so,” literally, “at your word,” v. 5), and we don’t know why.

Jesus stood before Simon as the very contradiction of everything that Simon had thought defined Simon’s personhood:

  • his masculinity – men have to be right!
  • his knowledge of the sea and of fishing – he had already tried, and no carpenter should know fishing better than he did.

Simon had staked a lot on his prowess and found that the distance between his prowess and the power of the one who stood before him was more than his ego could bear.  The miracle awed the others in the boats.  But it broke Simon.  Jesus confronted Simon with his inadequacies – none of us stand very easily in that light.  And the confrontation pushed him to look inside himself and to not like what he has seen.  His response is confession.  Simon sinks to his knees, self-defeated by his own ego.  It turned out that he wasn’t “all that”.  The one that that came as the biggest shock to was himself.  There is a term for what has happened to Simon here – may it happen to us all!  Simon was humbled before the Lord.  Whatever big deal he is in comparison to his peers,  he (and you and I) is no big deal at all in comparison to Christ.

Simon Peter was humbled here in the one area of life where he should be in control – the one area where an inadequacy would be the most devastating. His reaction was to take the easy way out – to run away in shame.   His first move was to push Jesus away so that he would not have to face him and his own embarrassment. “Go away from me Lord!”

It is always easier to push away people who love us enough to show us ourselves.  It is the very reason that the people of Nazareth pushed Jesus away.  It’s the very reason that highly religious people are the hardest to work with sometimes.  Jesus sometimes confronts us with the inadequacies of our own religions.  If that “religiosity” is the very center of our identity and it does not hold up, then we are broken.  It wasn’t secular people who handed Jesus over to be killed.  It was highly religious people.  The ones who sold Jesus out to the Romans were people who were to religion what Simon was to fishing.

Yet in Simon’s moment of humiliation, something about Jesus’ personhood allowed Simon Peter to know that he was not under the expected kind of judgment  –  the kind Simon himself probably offered to men he saw as less than himself.  Because of Jesus’ way of being and the way that he confronts him, Simon is able to come face to face with himself for the first time in his life and to see himself as he really is – limited.  He is able to tell the truth from the lie for the first time in his life: “I am a sinful man.” It is grasping this truth and telling it that marks a turning point in Simon Peter’s life, and becomes the gateway to faith and the humble spirit of the mission.

Jesus doesn’t start trash-talking like the world does.  He doesn’t rub it in or lord it over Simon.  He responded, not with condemnation, but the totally unexpected words: “Don’t be afraid” (v. 10). Don’t be afraid of what?  Of himself.  Of the truth.  Of the fact that he, like all of us, is a sinner.  That he is no better than any of us.  As Simon lay at Jesus’ feet, reduced to the humility of a child, Jesus responded with the grace and love of a parent reassuring a child who has lost all confidence in himself that though he has found the end of his own abilities and talents, he still has value and worth.

In that moment Jesus redefined who Simon was. He would no longer be the fisherman on the Sea of Galilee catching fish for a living, but he would now be God’s own fisherman, living with every ounce of energy to fish for human souls. We might make the mistake of focusing on the miracle of fish, but this was not a miracle of mere fish.  It was the death of arrogance and self-importance in Simon Peter – the death of the only self that Simon knew, and the rebirth of Simon Peter as a true son of God and brother of Jesus Christ.  It changed all those who saw the change in Simon more than any catch of fish ever could.  When you see someone change who you never thought could change, it changes you.

All that we have seen in this passage is a symbol of the mission of God’s people in the world. Your value and worth are no longer defined by your own efforts and success in your worldly jobs.  Since you have been called out of the boat by Christ, you are Christ-ian and therefore becoming Holy.  Everywhere that you now go is Holy because you see God everywhere.  So no job you are now in is secular, but Holy, and no longer defined by the successes that you can conjure up with your own abilities.  Success is now defined by the mission of Christ and the power of the Spirit moving in you and the people and world around you. Called by Christ, you are now defined by the power of God at work in your lives in carrying out Jesus’ work in the world.  Everywhere you go is deep water now.

As we come to the table today from out of the mission field, knowing that when we leave this place today we will go back out into the mission field, let us come in the same kind of truth that Simon Peter found himself in as he lay at Christ’s feet and cried out, “I am a sinner.”  And let us come also to this table today hearing Christ’s own voice in our hearts responding to our brokenness with God’s Words: “Do not be afraid”.  Amen.

(Sermon preached by Max Ramsey 2-5-07)

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