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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Show Me The Fish!

Fifth Sunday After Epiphany


One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.


When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”


Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”


When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.


When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.


Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Luke 5:1-11


In August of 1989, President H.W. Bush took his family to their summer home in Kennebunkport for a 19-day vacation. As soon as he arrived he hopped into his 28-foot fishing boat, “Fidelity,” to go out and catch a mess of bluefish as he’d done many times before. He didn’t even mind the flotilla of boats full of reporters that followed him to record his expected angling successes.


But President Bush didn’t catch a single fish that day – nor the next day – nor the next – nor the next! While those around him were getting strikes, the President was striking out. And the media reported it daily. By the 10th day without a nibble, a local newspaper began publishing a “Fish Watch.” Every day the paper ran a drawing of a bluefish inside the universal symbol for “no” – you know, the red circle with a diagonal line through it – and gave the number of times the President had gone out without catching a fish.


This spurred Bush’s staff into damage control. A White House press official claimed that although Bush hadn’t caught any blues yet, several members of the Presidential fishing party had caught fish “under the President’s very careful tutelage.” But the press continued to report his catch of the day: “Zero!”


Finally, with only one full day left of his vacation, President Bush landed a 2-foot, 10-pound bluefish to put an end to his embarrassing jinx. Reporters and Secret Service agents in boats about 150 yards away began honking their horns and cheering. It was victory at sea! Paul Bedard, a “Washington Times” reporter, said the news was “like the end of a war.” When the “Fidelity” returned, the mood at the dock was as wild as election night – his first one! Barbara Bush thrust her fist high in the air in celebration. Grandchildren kissed him. Relatives shouted for joy. It was a great victory for the President!


As a lot of us know, it’s frustrating to fish and fish and catch nothing. It’s like the man who fished all day with no luck, so he stopped at the fish market on the way home and bought three nice fish. “Before you wrap them,” he said to the clerk, “toss them to me one at a time. That way I’ll be able to tell my wife I caught ‘em!” :( I guess fishermen are all alike. Someone has said that the only thing that casts doubt on the miracles of Jesus is that they were all witnessed by fishermen! :)


In our Gospel lesson we read that Peter, James, and John had fished all night and had caught nothing. And they weren’t fishing for the fun of it. Fishing was their livelihood and it was serious business. Fish from the Sea of Galilee was an important commodity then, and still is today. Bethsaida, on the north-east shore of the Sea of Galilee, means literally the “house of fish” – and it was the home town of Peter, Andrew, and Nathanael.


After a day of fishing, fishermen still had to mend and wash their nets, repair and maintain their boats, preserve the fish, and bargain with local merchants to sell or trade the catch. It was hard work! They’d been fishing all night because fish come closer to the surface at night, when the sun isn’t shining on the water. They were tired. And they were frustrated. They had worked all night and had nothing to show for it. They were discouraged!


And then Jesus tells them to “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch”! A carpenter that they’d only known for a short time is telling professional fishermen to go out in deep water, in broad daylight, to catch fish with nets! I’m sure that didn’t make much sense to Peter, James, and John. But they did it. They trusted and they obeyed. And their trust and obedience was rewarded beyond their wildest dreams. They caught so many fish their nets began to break and they almost sank two boats! And Luke tells us they moved from obedience to astonishment.


Simon Peter falls to his knees and cries out to Jesus, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” And Luke writes, “Peter and all his companions were astonished at the catch they’d taken.” I should think so! Astonished – astounded – amazed – with a touch of fear thrown in. And that led to humility, because we can’t be full of ourselves when we’re in the presence of Jesus!


How about it, you school teachers, Sunday School teachers, people who train others on the job: If you had to choose between a super-intelligent but arrogant student, or a student of average intelligence who listened to you with great respect and attentiveness, which would you prefer to teach? We can’t help but notice that Jesus didn’t choose the most educated, or the most respected, or the most influential people to assist Him in His ministry. He chose the ones who were willing to follow Him. And following Jesus requires humility and obedience. “Trust and obey,” the old hymn tells us.


But having said that, isn’t it interesting that even though Peter must have heard Jesus teach and preach before, he didn’t really believe in Him until they caught all those fish! Isn’t that just like us? No matter how much we agree intellectually that Jesus is the Son of God, few of us are willing to fall down on our knees and call Him, “Lord,” until He’s done something to personally affect our lives. Peter obviously respected Jesus and even trusted Him. Before we invest in something, we say “Show me the money.” Before we buy a new computer or car, we say, “Show me the numbers.” And in his own way, Peter was saying, “Show me the fish!” before he would give himself over completely to Jesus. So Jesus showed him the fish – and Peter was astonished!


And he was also transformed, for we read, “They pulled their boats upon shore, left everything and followed Jesus.” They left everything and followed Jesus! They left their homes, their jobs, their friends, their families, their routines, their stability, their security – everything! They didn’t know where they were going. They didn’t know what Jesus wanted them to do. They didn’t have any idea how much they would suffer. All they knew for sure was that Jesus was who He said He was. He was the Lord! And He said, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” And that’s all they really need to know to trust and obey.


So let me ask you: Do you have that kind of complete trust in Jesus? That you would leave everything for Him? I believe there are many here who would answer, “Yes, I would. If Jesus came to me personally and asked me to leave everything for Him, I would do it.” Then let me ask you another question: Would you live daily for Him, here and now?


There’s a true story about an early church father named Origen, a third-century theologian. When his father was arrested for being a Christian, Origen was 17 years old and on fire with desire to follow his father and share in glorious martyrdom. His mother pleaded with him not to go, but the head-strong boy didn’t want to listen to reason. So his mother did what she could – she hid all his clothes! Origen stormed and protested, but she wouldn’t tell him where they were. He couldn’t leave the house naked, so he was unable to volunteer for martyrdom! Now isn’t that interesting? Origen was brave enough to be martyred, but not brave enough to go outside naked! If he had, he would have been arrested and imprisoned even quicker – but he wasn’t willing to do that!


I suspect that talking with a friend about our faith is, for many of us, the equivalent of going outside naked. It makes us uncomfortable. We feel exposed. We declare that we would give our lives for Jesus if He would ask us to; but to risk embarrassment for Him is asking too much! That’s sad. The Disciples were willing to leave everything, including their friends.


They obeyed Jesus. They humbled themselves as fishermen and listened to the instruction of a carpenter about where and when to fish. They were astonished when He rewarded their obedience. And then they were transformed. Becoming new people as they followed Jesus. This is the usual progression of discipleship. We rarely get converted by a burning bush or a blinding light!


As we’re faithful in our daily walk with Jesus, listening to Him in His Word and talking with Him in prayer, we begin to do the little things He calls us to do. Then we begin sensing His presence in our lives, and we become astonished by His goodness to us. And then, as we grow closer to Jesus, most don’t literally leave everything to follow Jesus, but rather give everything to Jesus in order to follow Him: their homes, their jobs, their friends, their families, their routines, their stability, their security – everything!


That’s the story of a faith walk with Jesus. Like those fishermen of old, our Christian growth all begins as we obey Jesus in the little things. Then, as we learn that we can trust Him, we give everything as we follow Him.


May the Lord help us to trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.


Amen

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