In the annual church cycle of service readings, meditation and prayer, we celebrated the Epiphany season and now moved into ‘Ordinary time’ * which considers the unfolding of Jesus’ day-to-day ministry.
“Epiphany” evokes a manifestation—a “showing”— recognition of a truth about something or someone. In the first episodes of the epiphany of Jesus—God shown to us—the “divine” side was perhaps emphasised, involving angelic visits (the annunciation to Mary, the heavenly host attending Jesus’ birth and summoning the shepherds) or a sign in the heavens (the star leading the Magi), or even the Divine voice itself (heard at Jesus’ baptism).
Another aspect of these early “showings”, as Chaplain Robin Fox took up in his homily to our congregation 27 January, were that they involved different types of people: the Messiah was coming not for the select few, not only for kings or Magi, but for everyone—in particular for the poor, the lowly, the disadvantaged, those who seem mere fodder in the machinations of temporal power, as if overlooked by life. But the promised redeemer coming as a baby born to an ordinary (if blessed) woman, laid in an animal trough, visited by shepherds; later attending temple alongside everyone else and, apart front a short period (40 days) of preparation alone before starting his teaching, completely immersing himself in full experience of our life– this was the true divine pattern incarnate in Jesus.
As he begins his ministry the divine is still very much in evidence, but again Jesus’ attention is with those in most need of the healing he has come to deliver, both physical (“earthly”) healing as well as spiritual (“divine”). We take this up with our lay reader Janet Berkovic’ sermon from 10 February, the theme shifting now from passive “existential” ‘showing’ to fully active ‘calling’, building on epiphany and carrying it forward, with scriptural leadup from the Isaiah’s call to prophesy (6:1-8) and St. Paul’s call to witness (Cor 15:1-11), now coming to Luke’s account (himself a physician):
“The story here in Luke’s gospel (5:1-11) opens with Jesus beside Lake Gennesaret (another name for the Sea of Galilee). He borrows a boat on the lakeshore that belongs to a fisherman named Simon. From it, he teaches crowds of people. They will not leave him alone, for they want to hear “the word of God.”
As the story unfolds, Jesus asks Simon to go out into deeper water and let down the nets for a catch. Simon does so; there is a great catch of fish; the catch is so great that others have to help bring the nets ashore; and the story ends with Jesus’ recruiting Simon and the others as disciples.
The main figure on the scene, apart from Jesus himself, is Simon, also called Simon Peter. It is his boat that Jesus uses. Missing from the account of those present is Andrew, his brother, who in Mark and Matthew is called at the same time. Other people mentioned in Luke are James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who are business partners with Simon. It is Simon Peter to whom Jesus speaks, asking him to go into the deep water. Conversely, Simon is the only person who speaks to Jesus. He addresses him as “master”. But after the miraculous catch, he addresses him as “Lord” (kyrios) at 5:8. Simon Peter is the only one whom Jesus addresses directly; and, interestingly, even at the end of the story when Jesus says, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people” (5:10), the verb is directly: “You, Peter”. And all of this happens in plain sight, in front of Peter’s mates, in front of a pressing crowd, eagerly waiting on the shore for Jesus to speak to them some more. It is far from a private job interview.
There are features of this story that resonate with other significant biblical calls. One is that, when Peter is called, he resists (“Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But, because you say so, I will let down the nets.”) Later, he is filled with guilt and shame (Go away from me Lord, I am a sinful man!) Just like Moses, for example, and in our reading today, Isaiah (“I am ruined! I am a man of unclean lips!”) It is a truly human reaction to feel unworthy and ashamed in the presence of our holy God.
But then, the miracle of the great catch is more than anyone expected. Exceeding expectations appears in other miracle stories too, as in the Healing of the Paralytic (Luke 5:17-26), the Feeding of the Multitudes (Luke 9:12-17), and the Wedding at Cana (John 2:1-11).
The story of the call of Jesus’ first disciples is fitting for the Epiphany season. Jesus has come into the world to reveal God and to redeem it. But he is known to us through the witness of his followers. The call of the first disciples marks the beginning of a movement that culminates in the founding of the church. The church did not come into existence through a group of people who wanted to start an organisation, or a charity. The church began with Jesus, who called ordinary people to follow him. Even in the Old Testament, the people God called were ordinary people, like Isaiah, who felt so unholy, so unworthy, so unable to speak God’s words.
Like Isaiah, Peter is hesitant and thinks that what God asks of him is too demanding. Nevertheless, Peter responds, and discovers surprises, the fantastic catch of fish, even though there were none around all night. By doing what Jesus asks him to do, he experiences epiphany.
And his response encouraged him, gave him strength in becoming a leader among the Twelve during the earthly ministry of Jesus and a powerful preacher and leader in the early church. Although he alone is addressed in this particular story, he was joined in response by the other disciples – they all followed Jesus – and we can assume that many of the observers on the shore did so as well.
The commission continues to be realised in the present. How might we understand it today? Here are some key elements in this story:
1) Acknowledgment of Jesus as Master. Isaiah and Peter both submitted their lives to God’s will, even though they may have hesitated, argued, or resisted. We must start here, by worshipping Jesus, the Son of God
2) Unexpected results. Isaiah became a great prophet, in spite of his feeling that he really couldn’t do anything much, and Peter became the Rock on which Jesus said he would build his church. We must not restrict God to what we can see at the moment. And further:
3) God totally exceeds our expectations. At first, when the fish came in, Peter stopped and called for the others to help him. Yet the fish kept on coming. How much do we expect God to do in our midst, right here? Bring in the odd fish? Or more? Only as much as we think we can handle? Or more?
4) God called them to use what they had. Just be yourself. Use your talents.
5) All change! Isaiah changed from ‘Woe to me’ to ‘Here I am. Send me’. Peter changed from grumbling about the poor night’s work to actually resigning from fishing and his livelihood to follow Jesus. If we stick too closely to what we know, what is familiar, or even what we are good at, God cannot act through us.
6) Do we think we know better than God? Isaiah was pretty sure God had got the wrong person. Simon was tired and even though he respected Jesus, he thought it was a waste of time to fish in the daytime. He was sure he knew more about fishing than a carpenter.
Are we comfortable in the shallows… ?
Even though God is calling us into deeper waters?
The deeper water is dark, over our heads, and it takes faith and courage to set out, but it is in the deep water that we CATCH what God has for us.
Sadly, many who claim to follow Jesus never venture farther than the shallows. They remain in a safe place, cast their nets, and wonder why the nets come back empty. But as we move deeper and deeper, we are in over our heads and . . . begin to be filled with blessings.
So, what is the real miracle of the story in Luke 5.?
Is it the net full of fish… ?
Or is it Peter’s epiphany, realising the bounteous deeps of God, beyond workaday understanding ? “
|So we learn that God often becomes manifest in the ordinary, even seemingly unnecessary events of our lives – in events whose purpose are not clear to us. Throughout history the church has continued to exist and carry on its ministry in spite of circumstances. The ancient image of the church as a fisherman’s boat tossed about on the sea, but sustained by the presence of the living Lord, is appropriate in every age.
At the Zagreb Anglican Chaplaincy, through our twice-monthly offering of worship and fellowship, we also often keenly feel these troughs and surges, ministering to the needs of coming and going of our congregation: often the subject of our prayers, for friends now scattered far afield, and those still on their way to us.
Through this website and Facebook and other of our available means — we cast our net . .
|* I’ve (Cliff) heard the term “Ordinary time” and wondered what it means or where it comes from. If I imagined it in the sense of normal, banal, blasé, I knew this couldn’t be right. So I looked it up: it comes from Latin “ordinalis”: “numbered” or “ordered”, marking non-festive or purgative time during the year, 33 or 34 weeks of these|
— Janet Berkovic; Cliff Stark —
20 February 2019
|Who? ME ? ?|