Ancient rope came as a loose weave of palm, hemp, papyrus or flax fibers. You can’t leave natural fiber nets lying in the bottom of the boat; it will rot. So Peter’s crew carried the heavy wet nets from up the docks, past the empty scales at the fish market, to the drying racks dotting the hillside. They had pushed off with high hopes and dry gear. Seine netting stretched out 600 to 850 feet long and ran down about 16 feet deep. The top of the net held wood floats, the bottom employed rock weights. You sailed or rowed your net around, unrolling it and seeking to encircle the fish and drag them in. Peter could have used 15 foot casting nets tethered and rock anchors. You swung the circular net over your head releasing it like a lasso. Perhaps they had done that all night long. Either method is a lot of hard work to catch nothing. Mark tells us that James and John had ‘hired hands’; Luke tells us Peter had partners. So Peter and the Zebedee boys not only lost their time and toil, they had to pay the hired help as well. So when the sun rose, ending a night of dangerous and difficult work, all their efforts cost them money.
Jesus enters the scene as the sun rises and these commercial fishing people hang up their tools calling it a day. The Carpenter turned Rabbi makes the most curious suggestion, “Row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.” We love to judge Peter and the church, but Peter does not rebuff Jesus or cite his years in the fishing business with some colorful dock talk. A weary Peter only answers, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.”
Peter knew Jesus. I am sure Peter met Jesus in worship. Luke 4 tells us everyone was amazed to hear Jesus preach in the Capurumiam synagogue. After worship, Jesus went to Peter’s home for lunch, and there healed his sick mother in law. Now, news of the healing spread quickly. By nightfall, the crowds brought friends and family needing healthcare, and Jesus healed them. Luke tells us “they were all shaken” by Jesus’ presence and power. And so after an unproductive night, Peter takes down the drying nets and casts them in the deep waters, where they would not even touch the bottom, perhaps because Peter was amazed-or maybe shook awake– by Jesus’ healing and teaching.
And so they wearily row out into the deep waters and unroll 800 feet of nets where and the fish might swim right out from under the net. And the floats begin to dip and weave with a catch. As the sailors draw the nets in, the waters come alive with the buzz of fish. The nets begin to tear apart with the amazing payload. Peter’s crew signals for their partners, the Zebedee boys to bring over their boat. I wonder if the Roman Coast Guard required a little yellow metal plate with the maximum number of persons and gear allowed in the boat. Don’t laugh; Peter and the Zebedee boys paid a lot of taxes and fees to fish those waters. As the fish piled up, the boats begin to sink down toward the water line with the weight of a massive pay day.
Luke says “everyone was amazed”. What do we do when God blesses our business? Do we see the spiritual when we land the big account, catch the big fish, or grab the corner office? I love that Peter does not say, “I want to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus, for letting me pocket this victory.” Notice, Peter does not write a syrupy spiritualized self-help book Fishing with Jesus- Godly Principles to Catch Your Ideal Life! No, Peter falls to his knees into a posture of worship.
Peter lacks pompous piety, smug spirituality, or idolatrous over identification with his own holiness. Peter kneels, knowing he stands before something beyond himself. Seeing the Holy, Peter knows he is not holy. Peter is awake.
What awakens us?
Nets buzzing with profits, drop Peter to his knees.
The Milky Way’s glory opens Abraham’s eyes.
Laughter wakes Saria’s hopes.
God wrestles until the dawn breaks Jacob.
Three days in a whale’s belly can’t wake up Jonah.
A burning bush ends Moses’ slumber.
Freedom stirs Myriams’ dance on the Red Sea shore.
Tree roots holding tight on the canyon’s lip call out “Creator”.
A baby babbles an invitation to join her Ode to Joy.
Dying hands, held by hands she once held, resound “The greatest is Love”.
Anyone with courage enough to forgive,
strength enough to love,
or hope enough to recover,
Awaken my soul to God,
who is beyond us, with us, and for us…
Who shakes us awake. .
“Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!” I have said that without the words, after dreaming some impossible and holy. Have you recoiled at the the idea that God might use you to heal the world? The risk is too great! Leave me! Lord, I would help with that, but my mother-in law has been sick and I got this crew to pay– leave me? Lord, I am not strong enough, loving enough, holy enough to follow you- leave me! Lord, when it is all on the line, I will deny you, so leave me before I blow it three times. Leave me, Lord, for when the rooster crows, I will be hiding under a blanket. Lord, when I am called to baptize uncircumcised Gentiles, I will look around in shame, hoping no one from the party of James reports me to the Council of Bishops? “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!”
Like Moses and Martin Luther, Elijah, and Ester, Peter feels unworthy and unable to help Jesus save the world. Frankly, pompous self-righteous folks make me nervous. I love that Peter does not feel up to the task- who does? More than that, I love that Peter does not see Jesus as a tool to build up his business. No, Peter sees something holy and is undone. “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!”
But no matter what Peter says, Jesus says to us: “Do not be afraid!” When Peter says, “I am a sinner,” Jesus does not answer; “yes Peter, you sure are a sinner. That is one of the four spiritual laws!” God never awakens us to abandon, forsake, or beat us down. God wakes us up to help lift us up.
God wakes us up so we can “keep awake, stand firm in our faith, be brave, be strong. And do everything in love!” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14). God shakes us so we can leave the spiritual slumber that slowly suffocates our soul in the allure of self-serving purposeless lives.
Jesus answers Peter’s ‘Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!’ with “Don’t be afraid.” Fear often tempts us to roll back over and do nothing. Fear whispers a lot of less-thans into our ears, and teaches us to believe we can. Jesus seems more focused on ending fear than condemning sinning.
“Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” God stirs us to give us a new way of being, a new way of living. Jesus blesses Peter’s fishing business, and then calls Peter to move out into the deeper waters of caring for people instead of commerce. Peter, do not be afraid to leave behind everything: a great business venture, at the height of its productivity, and follow a prophet who is without honor in his hometown and had no place to lay his head.
Many of us quietly turn away from the call of Jesus. We often are not honest enough to say “Lord, leave me alone!” We just turn to other things ignoring God’s call. But made in the image of God, God’s image lingers around inside of us, waiting for the time when we will really live for what God created us to do! Peter heard Jesus preach:“The Lord has sent me to bring good news to the poor, release prisoners, open eyes, liberate, end oppression and preach God’s favor.” That Peter leaves everything and follows such a Jesus is more miraculous than a bunch of fish breaking a net.
Think about the call and response.“Push out into the deep waters. Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner! Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.
they left everything and followed Jesus.”
When God wakes us up, God calls us into a new day. God shakes us to give us a new way of being. Awakened to justice, we work for justice. Being well fed, we remember to feed everyone. Being forgiven requires us to forgive. Being welcomed stirs God’s welcome for all. Experiencing wealth challenges us to create wealth for everyone. Finding hope, we give hope. Blessed by God, we become God’s blessings. Loved by God, we become God’s love. Forgiven by God we become God’s forgiveness. Awakened by grace, we become God’s grace.
So at the very moment Peter had the most, he left everything and followed Jesus, and found even more.
Therefore, dearly loves, let us wake up and follow Christ so that we can “keep awake, stand firm in our faith, be brave, be strong. And do everything in love!” Amen.