Luke 5:1-11; Isaiah 6:1-8
The miracle of the huge catch of fish (Luke 5:1-11) comes as Jesus finishes speaking to the great crowd of people gathered on the edge of the lake. He suggests to the owners of the small fishing boat that he has been using as a platform so that he can be heard by the crowd, that they cast out into deeper water and put down their nets to see what they might catch. But the fishermen have been out fishing all night with little or nothing to show for it. “Oh, alright then” Simon, the owner of the boat says reluctantly. They put down the nets and are literally overwhelmed by the vast catch of fish that fills the nets. Simon the owner is awed by this and falls at Jesus’ feet and states his feelings of complete inadequacy and unworthiness at the scale of this miracle catch.
The miracle followed the talk Jesus gave. His teaching was refreshingly simple and straightforward. It wasn’t complicated, and not hedged round with ‘ifs, buts or maybes’, not tied up with rules and regulations. “Love God and love your neighbour” (Mark 12:30) or “Do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God” (Micah 6:8) would be two summaries of what he was saying. It was all about love and being kind to others.
The miracle involves a net. The net can be seen in different ways.
It engulfs the fish and scoops them up. So it’s like the embrace of the love of God, it’s huge. The net has to be cast, thrown out. You and me, we throw the net out. It’s sent out with no conditions to everyone and anyone. So the net is like a giant invitation to come on board (not so welcome if you’re a fish I grant you!)
What about the invitation we are casting out there into our communities? Jesus promises us a big catch.
The size of the catch of fish in the net re-enforces the fact that everyone recognises goodness when they see it – everyone. Jesus’s teaching resonated with his listeners, and when his words are heard for what they are, they still do today. Like a tap-root of some great plant, the characteristics of justice, humility, kindness and love reach deep down into our souls. We don’t always respond in the right ways, but we recognize them as good and wholesome all the same.
I am convinced that for many non-church goers, notions of ‘God’ are coated with layers of religiosity, conditional, qualified and bounded, so exclusive and somehow linked to disapproval. The church in many people’s minds bears a message that you are “never good enough”; perceived to be more eager to condemn than to affirm. Keen on notions of sin as moral failure, guilt and shame rather than to speak of healing, acceptance forgiveness, encounter and blessing.
As Jesus stood on that boat talking to the crowds, he was inviting them with a message that was warm, welcoming, accepting and about new beginnings. His appeal was to the goodness within each person, his understanding of their lives AND his talk of a heavenly father who welcomes the lost, the oppressed, those who thought there was no way back for them.
This is our message of today to everyone in our communities, and this is what we are doing: Come as you are, bring who you are, no pretending. God sees through the pretence and his arms are wide open in welcome.
He sees within each person that small divine spark he planted in each of us. Come and have that spark fanned into a flame. Come, offer what you have been given by God, back to him, and discover the huge haul of love that God has for you.
And as sure as eggs are eggs, your response will be the same as Peter’s. It’ll be the same as Isaiah’s (from our first reading), a sense of unworthiness, the acute and urgent need for a new beginning. And that is OK.
Whenever people encounter overwhelming goodness and love, there is a tendency to feel inadequate, we know this from our own experience – do we really deserve such affirmation and acceptance?
But this isn’t about you and me. It’s all about God and his love, that the gulf of separation, of inadequacy has already been bridged by the outpouring of His love for you in Jesus Christ on the cross.
This is the message. This is our appeal. The appeal of simple goodness, mercy and love. Bring what you’ve got. The embrace of God’s love is as big and far bigger than the net that scooped up those fish in the nets.
And in the face of such acceptance, our pride, our embattled separateness will crumble, replaced by a hunger and thirst for rebirth; and in that rebirth, we are turned around to become fisher folk ourselves.