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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott

The readings for Sunday, February 7, 2010:

First Reading: Isaiah 6:1-8 [9-13]

Psalm: Psalm 138

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Gospel: Luke 5:1-11

Today's Gospel is one we must have heard a gabillion times, if we've been going to church for any amount of time at all. As the Gospel becomes familiar, perhaps the rich symbolic language loses some of its power. The symbol of the fisherman is one we find across church cultures; the mission of fishing for people, too, is one that most faiths hold in common.

Let's look at the Gospel again, to see what we might have missed. In these times of longer work days for those of us still lucky enough to have a job, I'm struck by the fact that Jesus comes to call Simon Peter and his friends and family during their work time. Christ, too, is on the job. The familiarity of this Gospel makes me forget that first verse, that Jesus is preaching when he slips into the boats. I wonder what the crowds who came to hear the word of God made of that?

The men in the boats have been fishing all night. They've caught nothing, even though they've worked hard, and I'm sure we're familiar with this scenario. To the men's credit, when Jesus tells them to cast down their nets again, they do.

I'm sure that many sermons will focus on what happens next, but let's take a minute to think about the implications of the empty nets. We like to assume that if we're doing Christ's work, our nets will be full. Yet many of us will struggle in situations where our nets are empty, again and again and again. Yet we must remain alert, always ready to cast those nets again. We're not allowed to give up. We're not allowed to say, "Well, I've done my best, so I'm going to fold up my nets and go home and sit on my couch for the rest of my life."

No, we must let down our nets AGAIN.

Look at what happens next: "And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, they beckoned to their partners in the other boats to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink" (Luke 5: 6-7).

Consider the fishing in the light of the metaphor that we've been hearing for so many years. If we are to be fishers of people, what kind of fishing are we doing? Consider that verb: they enclose the fish. It's a much less harsh image than the view of fishing that so many of us have, a trick lure, a savage hook. Greek scholars have noted that the word used is the same one used in the Old Testament for saving people from danger. Ann Svennungsen comments on this verb and our evangelical mission: "The calling is not to hook people and drag them in. It is rather to cast the net of God's love all around--open to all the world--and then wait with patience for the Spirit's work and to see if any are caught by God's vision and grace."
In this world of megachurches with their megabudgets, it is not easy to wait. It is not easy to put down our nets again into the exact same waters. But Jesus calls us to do exactly that.

Jesus also calls us to do even more. Look at the last verse. The men leave everything behind. As a teenager, I thought about how compelling Jesus must have been, to inspire that level of confidence. As a teenager, I would look around my church, and not see much evidence of that Jesus remaining.

Jesus calls us to leave our old lives behind. Jesus calls us to walk away from our lives of steady paychecks and families and to risk everything so that we can have lives of fuller joy. Are we to interpret this story metaphorically?

As a teenager, I saw people confessing to be Christian, but not acting very Christian once they left the Sunday service. I was surrounded by teenagers who went to Young Life meetings and then spent the rest of their time sneering at the rest of us. They believed deeply enough to burn their record albums, but not deeply enough to risk reaching out to the unpopular kids.

Jesus enfolds us in love, so that we can enfold others in that same love. If we truly commit to Christ as our behavioral model, we will soon be living lives we wouldn't have recognized in our previous incarnation: we will give away more of our possessions, we will reach out to humans who are lower on the prestige chain, we will champion the destitute, we will forsake the behaviors that undercut love (gossip, criticism, meanness of all kinds).

Cast down your nets. Cast them down again and again and again until you are a different kind of fish and a different kind of fisherperson.

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