Primary Text (5th Sunday after Epiphany, Year C): Luke 5:1-11
I don’t really like fishing; I don’t really know much about fishing. I’m simply not a fisherman, and I don’t really hang out with fishermen. That is, except my nephew, who actually has a fish mounted on a plaque. I “yay” big, as they say. I do know, however, that fish stories are supposed to be flattering to the fisherman, relating how they hooked the big one that got away or caught so many in one day that they had to give them away. Fishermen talk a lot about the bait they use, the casting technique, and, as I gather, reels are important.
Today, however, we hear a different kind of fish story. This story is about professional fishermen coming up empty after fishing all night! It’s a story about the son of a carpenter commandeering a boat, preaching a sermon,and telling the professionals where to fish.
“Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
First, let me say that it can be very easy to hear today’s story as one in which Jesus simply fulfills the desires of Peter and the others – the desire to catch fish, the desire to be successful, the desire to make a living. However, that is probably not the best, fullest, or the most appropriate reading because, frankly, there is obviously more to this than fish, successful fishing, and making a living. Notice carefully what happens in the story after the haul of fish, after their boats begin to sink with the weight of fish caught in the deep water, after Simon Peter and his partners (James and John) brought their boats to shore! What did they do with the fish, their success, the money they would have made at the market?
“They left everything and followed [Jesus].”
They walked away. This was just the beginning of their story! They might have gone to the lake the night before to make a living; but, a deeper desire took hold, discovered in the deeper water, that called them beyond the lake.
So, there are two interlocking parts to this homily: The first part is a discovery in deep water. One thing to learn from this story is why some people don’t catch fish, and the answer, at least in this fishing story, is that some people don’t catch fish because they refuse to go into the deep water. Jesus told Simon Peter, “Let’s leave the shallows and go to the deep water.” That’s where you will catch the fish!
Jesus is, of course, presenting a spiritual metaphor when he uses fish and fishing as examples Any number of principles, themes, or characteristics could be substituted for fish: love, wisdom, justice, peace, healing, forgiveness, redemption, salvation, and reconciliation, among so many others. Those things we want in abundance! But some people (perhaps, the “Pharisees”) don’t “catch” these things because they simply refuse to go out of the shallows and into the deeper water where the increase is.
But deep water is a risk! Shallow water is pleasant, tickling the ankles when we walk in it and gathering the small minnows. You can see the bottom in shallow water. Remaining in the shallows is tempting because it’s easy and doesn’t cost much; it doesn’t take a whole lot of courage. Deep water takes the leap of faith! Going to the deep water means listening to the words of Jesus, the son of a carpenter, over and against your own perceived wisdom and knowledge. Jesus is always inviting people to the deeper end of things. The deep water of faith is where those things we say we want are swimming around. The shallow is where we begin the adventure, not where we finish. Deep water is where we have to go to get what God has for us.
The second part of the homily, locked into the first, is this: What happens next? What happens after the deep water? Remember that this story is not really about the fish. Instead, at least in my reading, the story is about what happens to Peter and the others – it’s about their deeper desire that they discovered in the deep water. It was this deeper desire that let Peter answer Jesus,
“Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
We want to connect with and be known by something beyond what we can acquire, gain, or accomplish. We want meaning and fullness in our lives. We want our lives to matter and count for something. We want to feel alive. We want to be whole and complete. We want to experience and live in the good, the true, the beautiful. We want life to be abundant! Isn’t that how you want to live and what you want for yourself and those you love? That’s the deeper desire that I am talking about, and Jesus is the voice calling, pointing to, and wooing us to, guiding and accompanying us to our deeper desire.
What if those places in which we feel stuck, frustrated, empty, restless, disappointed, as if we’ve missed the boat, are the deep waters into which we are to let down our nets? Jesus did not let Peter and the others run away from their exhaustion, their disappointment, their empty nets. Instead, Jesus sent them into deeper water to let down their nets for a catch and they “were amazed,” “so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.”
Are you exhausted and frustrated with your life? Good, because that is a deeper desire calling you! Do you feel restless and unsatisfied? Great, because now you’ve recognized that there is something more! Are you stuck? Have you failed to reel in any fish? Do you feel lost? Awesome, because this is the chance for you to “put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Do you feel amazed, filled with wonder, blessed by life, and joyous? That;s perfect too, because that’s an invitation to live your deeper desire..
So, instead of washing the nets and going home let’s open our eyes, our ears, our hearts to the deep waters of life. Let’s be attentive, open, and available to our deeper desire. But remember that it is an ever-unfolding thing and it is never just one thing, coming to us in myriad ways throughout the seasons and circumstances of our lives.
Indeed, the deeper desire is why I keep casting my nets even after a night of having caught nothing. It’s why I struggle to do the right thing and to live with integrity. It’s why I seek reconciliation with my neighbors and join my fellow sojourners. It’s why I speak for justice and the dignity of every human being, and why I open my heart to the risk of love.
I don’t know what the deeper desire is for you, and I don’t know what form or shape it is taking in me. I do know, however, that there is always something coming to us, something more than what we know or can name or can even imagine, something that will stir the pot of our present desire and take us beyond our usual fishing grounds.
Every day something new is coming to us, and we had better be ready! That’s the promise of new life, the gift contained in our deeper desire found through the deeper water. Let’s not miss it. Let’s stay awake and alert, expectant, and hopeful. I don’t want to miss it and I don’t want you to either.
So, let’s “put out into the deep water” of our lives and “let down [our] nets for a catch.”