The collect and readings for today, the Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, may be found here. The gospel appointed for today is Luke 5:1-11:
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
It has been a long night for Simon. He has done everything a good fisherman is supposed to do, just like he had been taught. He has been doing it like this for years; night after night, week after week, season after season. But tonight is different. The usual routine did not work this time. The net is empty. Simon caught nothing. Not one fish.
Now I am not a fisherman but I remember times like that and I will bet you do too. Times when we have done everything right, gave it our best, did all we could, said our prayers, lived faithfully, worked hard. We did all this and our nets still came up empty and we were left entangled in disappointment, doubt, sadness and grief, anger, fear, confusion.
A few years ago a gentleman told me, “I sold my ranch and now I do not know what to do. I do not know who I am.” His nets are empty. Another person told me told me about the disappointment and pain in her marriage. More empty nets. The death of a loved one always seems to leave the nets of our life empty. Empty nets are not, however, the final reality for us.
The antidote for empty nets is deep water. “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch,” Jesus says. But frustration, fatigue, and despair sometimes make it difficult to leave the shore. Sometimes it seems there is nothing to do but to sit on the shore and wash our empty nets; nets that now serve only to remind us of what we did not catch, symbols of the one that got away and what we have lost. Simon protests, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” Simon’s initial protest turns to resignation. It is the resignation of one who has nowhere else to go, nothing else to do.
Though Luke writes about a lake, boats, nets, and fishermen this story is about more than fishing. It is a story of life and transformation, Simon’s and ours. Jesus is calling Simon to a new life, a new way of being. This happens in the context of fishing because that is what Simon knows best. Jesus comes to us in the ordinary everyday circumstances of our lives. Whether we are fisherman or land lubbers we are asked to put out into the deep water and let down our nets for a catch.
But there is something about depth that is frightening. Deep water is risky. You cannot touch the bottom. You are in over your head. You cannot see the bottom or what might be down there. People drown in deep water. And that is the point. The deep is the place where we both drown and swim. It is the place where we are buried with Christ and raised with Christ. It is where we experience the fullness of our baptism, the fullness of divine life.
Too often, however, we are content to stay in shallow water. It is safe, comfortable, and familiar. If it gets too scary we just step out. But shallow water is the place of empty nets. The deep is exactly where we must go. It is what we need and it is what the world needs.
The world does not need smarter people, harder working people, or more beautiful people. The world needs deep people. People of depth who are willing to be transformed; people willing to go to the deep end, to get in over their head, to reach where they cannot see, to stand where they cannot touch bottom, to trust beyond their understanding and fear. That is the place to which we are invited this day.
Every day that we put out into deep water becomes a new day, a day of creation. For just as in the beginning “the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2) so today the Son of God and Simon are moving upon the face of the water. A new creation is about to take place. Jesus will take Simon deep water fishing. He will re-create Simon and his life. He will teach Simon a new way of fishing and show him a new place to catch fish. Jesus will give Simon a new use for his empty nets.
The empty nets of Simon’s life will be lowered into the depths of divinity and Simon Peter will bring up divine abundance, abundance that stretches his life to the limits. He is not, however, simply bringing up a great many fish. Simon Peter is bringing up the gifts of God – love, compassion, wisdom, mercy, forgiveness, peace, hope, healing, a vision for the future. The deep is always the place of sacred transformation, a place of new life and abundance beyond quantity.
But there is something else we need to know about the deep places. When Jesus took Simon deep water fishing he did not say, “Let down your nets and see if there’s anything here.” He said, “Let down your nets for a catch.” You see, in the deep water the catch is always guaranteed.