That fish was how big?
When Jesus called the disciples to come and follow him, did they already know him? Or, at the moment he called them, was he a complete stranger? As I read the call of the disciples in Luke, I think that they knew Jesus. More than merely knowing Jesus, Luke tells us that the fishermen had already seen Jesus in action: teaching, healing, and casting out demons. The moment of their call to follow Jesus came later. All of this suggests that becoming a follower of Jesus is not just a matter of knowing or of being amazed at what Jesus can do. There is something more.
As Luke tells the story of "The Miraculous Catch of Fish," I watch Jesus’ face closely. It's the twinkle in this eye that catches my attention. He looks like the good friend of these fishermen who has just presented them with the best gift ever. He is impatient to see them open it, and yet he is relishing the moment, watching these friends every step. At the beginning, they are definitely not getting it, but he knows they will. And when they do, he wants to be watching.
This gift, wrapped up as a miracle, is the moment when Jesus will reveal himself to them. It is like the moment when Clark Kent lets Lois Lane see that he is really Superman. It is like the moment when Spiderman lets Mary Jane see his real identity. Except for one huge difference: All Superman and Spiderman wants was a little romance-American-style. When Jesus reveals himself to be the Son of God, he will call these fishermen to leave their nets and follow him all the way to the cross. This is the way Jesus does an Epiphany. You don’t just SEE that Jesus is the Son of God and then make a few notes for the book you'll write some day. When these fishermen see that Jesus is the Son of God, they must lay down everything and follow him into the life he will show them. SEEING, REALIZING, THEN RESPONDING. THAT’S EPIPHANY.
The story really began in the chapter just before this one when Jesus came to Capernaum at the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. It was the city of Simon the fisherman.
1. There Jesus went to the synagogue. While he was there a man with an unclean spirit stood up to confront Jesus, crying out in a loud voice, “I know who you are; you are the Holy One of God!”
2. Later, Jesus went home with Simon for Sunday lunch and there he learned that Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a high fever. Again, Jesus spoke to the fever, it left her, and she was well.
3. Then, later that evening the people of Capernaum brought their sick to Jesus at the doorway of Simon’s house. And he laid his hands on them and healed them.
All of this is to say that Simon had plenty of information about Jesus. He knew that Jesus taught with authority, and he knew that Jesus could heal the sick and cast out the demons which caused illness. Like us, he had plenty of information about Jesus. But Jesus was not showing Simon all of this to amaze him, he was showing him all this TO CALL him.
So, not long after the events on the Sabbath in Capernaum, Simon and his friends were back to their work as fishermen. Jesus was back to his work as a traveling teacher. It was morning, Jesus was just getting started; Simon and the others were just finishing a night of fruitless fishing. The fishermen are tired and disappointed; they will not have anything to sell at the market today.
As Jesus walks along the shore of the lake, a little crowd starts to follow him. They want to hear; perhaps they hope to see him do something like he did in Capernaum on the Sabbath. Finally, Jesus stopped on the edge of the water and began to teach in earnest. The crowd continues to grow until it seems that they will push him into the water. So, Jesus steps into one of the boats so he can push off a bit and continue his teaching. Imagine the scene: the tired fishermen cleaning up from a night of work, the interested crowd is straining to catch every word, and they are all listening to Jesus there on the edge of the lake. There is plenty going on, but no one expects a miracle – not here, not now.
Then, when Jesus finishes teaching, he turns to the fishermen:
4 He said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." 5 Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets."
Of course, he knows enough about fishing to see that they had caught nothing. And even now, if you are watching, you can see the twinkle of anticipation in Jesus’ eye. You can see the beginning of a smile creeping into his face. He knows what he about to do, and Jesus is obviously enjoying the moment.
Simon takes the net he has been cleaning and gives it a toss. He is good with a cast net; he does not waste the effort. And yet you know that his heart is not in it. He does it to humor this traveling preacher, this Jesus. “Get a crowd, and these traveling preachers think they can do anything,” he grumbles to himself as he tosses the net.
But, immediately the joke is on him. The net comes alive with fish. They nearly pull him into the water in their effort to escape. Simon shouts to the others, and together they begin to grab the wriggling fish and get them into the boat. Visualize the scene: fishermen shouting, fish flopping everywhere, boats tipping at the weight of the catch. Jesus is sitting where he was, just watching the scene unfolding before him. And imagine that huge, delighted smile covering his face.
It is at this point that someone shouts, “O my God! Look at all these fish!” And Simon begins to repeat the shout, but as he looks up at Jesus, he catches the smile and understands the gift that Jesus has just dropped into his lap. So, Simon repeats the shout but punctuates it differently. And it comes out, “Oh, my God!” It is a moment of recognition that the demons had been right all along; this IS the Holy One of God. It is a moment of realization that Jesus has presented this gift to him and to them and now waits to see how they will respond. You see, Simon realizes that JESUS WANTS RELATIONSHIP with him and with them. This, my friends, is pure Epiphany. Seeing, realizing, then responding.
II. 8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken;
When you find yourself in the presence of the Holy, you have to humble down. We are not "buds" with the Almighty, and we will never drop by heaven to drink a beer with the Creator. It is time to set aside all claims to status; it is time to realize like Isaiah in the Temple that the best of us would be completely undone. So, Simon says: "Go away from me, Lord," as his way of saying, "How can you offer me relationship? I cannot possibly deserve any place in your company."
A. Simon might have been a fisherman, but he was also a great theologian. He was a great theologian because he looked at the events unfolding around him and realized the role of God in them. And he realized that God was dealing with him through these events. It rightly scares him to death. This is doing theology.
Simon had just witnessed the events in Capernaum; his own relative had been healed by Jesus’ command. He had INFORMATION about Jesus. But, this time he was not merely interested or curious. He was not merely an observer of the events unfolding around him; this time he understood that he was caught up in the event of the miracle. He was a great theologian.
At Ministers’ Convocation this week, Dr. Tom Long, from Candler School of Theology said that we are enriched when we can think theologically about the events unfolding around us. Great events occur around us frequently, but when we choose not to reflect on what these great events show us about the work of God among us, then we are impoverished by that failure.
[Q:] Recently, there was a great earthquake in Haiti; the death toll according to the Haitian government has reached 200,000 souls. What does this great earthquake tell us about our place in God's creation? Or what does it tell us about the character of God's creation? Pat Robertson, on his TV program, claimed that this earthquake happened because the Haitians made a pact with the Devil. It was a claim that got him a storm of criticism. If he is wrong, as I believe he is, what is the correct interpretation? Take it to Sunday School/Sunday lunch and search your convictions about God and the scriptures. Like Simon Peter, you be a better theologian.
There are many excellent examples of this; actually we do this all the time:
1. When we come to marry, the State of Tennessee only sees a contract between two people. But, good theologians that we are, we often marry here in the church before God. We DO NOT HAVE TO BEGIN our marriages here, but do it so that we can claim language ordinarily reserved for God for ourselves and our most basic relationships. God is the maker of COVENANT; God is a God of LOVE and LOVING-KINDNESS. We claim these words for ourselves when we marry. That is a theological act.
2. When we give birth to our babies, the world sees biology in action. Doctor Spock might see another book sale. But, that is not enough for us. We bring our babies to this altar where we claim the promises wrapped up in baptism for them and for ourselves. With water and the laying on of hands, we claim, more than biology, that this child is a child of God, marked as precious in the sight of God. This is a theological act.
3. When we come to the Table, we share bread and a drop of juice. If a stranger fell asleep in the church and woke up just in time to see everyone coming forward to receive, that stranger might think, “O boy, they’re serving snacks!” But, good theologians that we are, we find at this table a place among the followers of the one who went to the cross for our salvation. We find at this table a sharing in his death that we might live. Taking the bread and cup is a theological act and a great witness to the world.
It is not enough to know the details about Jesus' life and ministry. It is not enough to stand amazed at the wonders of creation. It is not enough to come to the Table and enjoy the snack of bread and juice. Like Simon, we must realize that these mighty events are calling us to a relationship with Christ.
1. They call us to faith.
2. They call us to service.
3. They call us to witness.
The miracle of the Lord's Table is unfolding around you even now. What will you do with Jesus?