The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany – Luke 5:1-11
“Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
I am going to begin by giving you a few guideposts that I hope will help you understand and follow where I am going with this sermon.
- First, while today’s gospel (Luke 5:1-11) is a story about fishing, it is not about fish.
- Second, even though Peter and the others came to the lake to catch fish, there was something else they wanted (even if they didn’t know it).
- Third, this is a story about life and how we live, and by that I do not simply mean what we do.
- Finally, I think this is a story about desire; a desire beyond fish, a desire beyond even Jesus, what we might call a “desire beyond desire.”
Those are my guideposts for you. And I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if you might be thinking to yourself, “What in the world is he talking about?” That’s a good and legitimate question but stay with me because I am asking you and myself to “put out into the deep water” where we can neither see nor touch the bottom, where we can’t know what might be down there or what might be coming to us from the deep. Peter and the others surely had no idea what would happen when they let down their nets, neither do we.
On the surface it would be easy to hear today’s story (Luke 5:1-11) as one in which Jesus fulfills the desires of Peter and the others; the desire to catch fish, the desire to be successful, the desire to make a living. I don’t think that’s a correct reading of this story. I don’t think that’s what happened. I think there is more to this than fish, success, and making a living. Here’s why I say that. What did they do with the fish, their success, the money they would have made at the market, once they got back to shore? “They left everything and followed [Jesus].” They walked away. Those things were not the end of the story but the beginning of the story. Their initial desires took them to the lake but it was a “desire beyond desire” that called them beyond the lake.
We know what that’s like. We’ve experienced that too. You’ve probably had times when you said, “If only I could …” and then fill in the blank with whatever it is you thought would fulfill you; “go here, do this, get that, find the right woman or man, have a child or grandchild, get that job or promotion, buy a new house, be given a particular opportunity.” And then one day you went, you did, you got, and maybe it turned out exactly like you wanted or not at all like you expected, but either way you were left with a yearning, a feeling there was something more, a desire for something else. Hasn’t that happened to you?
That doesn’t mean those things we desired were bad or that we were wrong. It just means that even within those there is a “desire beyond desire.” I can’t really define for you what I mean by that so let me give you three examples.
- I remember graduating from law school and thinking that if I could just pass the bar exam, get a good job, and make partner then I would be set. About six years later I was the newest and youngest partner in that firm. Things were going well and all I wanted to know was, “Is this it? There’s got to be something more than this.”
- My marriage has never been better than it is right now. I can’t imagine how it could get any better or be more complete and at the same time I feel a restlessness, not for someone else, but for more of Cyndy and what we have.
- I have wanted to be a priest since elementary school. I like being a priest and I am happy in this parish. It’s a dream come true, and yet I feel a tugging, a calling, not away from but beyond my priesthood.
Those are just some of my experiences of “desire beyond desire.” You could probably tell of similar experiences, times you felt that deeper desiring, something calling and pulling you.
You and I also know, however, that not every desire comes true, gives us what we want, or leaves us happy. That’s not how life works. You’ve experienced that side of life and so have I. Most of you know that I’ve been divorced. Most of you know that Cyndy’s and my son died about ten years ago. I get it when Peter says, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.” And I’ll bet you do too. It was the “desire beyond desire” that kept me going, that would not allow me to say, “This is it. It’s over. Let’s just wash the nets and go home.”
It was the “desire beyond desire” that let Peter answer Jesus, “Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” Jesus knew Peter had a deeper desire. Jesus did not magically fill Peter’s nets. He touched Peter’s deeper desire. And that’s what he does for us. We all have that deeper desire.
Jesus also experienced that “desire beyond desire.” I think that’s what he was talking about when he told the disciples, “I have food to eat that you do not know about” (John 4:32). It’s what was going on when “he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). It was what he was seeking in the Garden of Gethsemane when he said, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
We want to connect with and be known by something beyond what we can acquire, gain, or accomplish for ourselves. We want meaning and fullness in our lives. We want our lives to matter and count for something. We want to feel alive. We want to be whole and complete. We want to experience and live in the good, the true, the beautiful. We want life abundant. Isn’t that how you want to live and what you want for yourself and those you love? That’s our “desire beyond desire.” Jesus is not our “desire beyond desire.” He is the voice and the calling of our “desire beyond desire.” He points to, guides, and accompanies us to our “desire beyond desire.” He is continually wooing us into our “desire beyond desire.”
What if those places in which we feel stuck, frustrated, empty, restless, disappointed, as if we’ve missed the boat, are the deep waters into which we are to let down our nets? Jesus did not let Peter and the others run away from their exhaustion, their disappointment, their empty nets. He sent them back to the deep water to let down their nets for a catch and they “were amazed at the catch of fish,” “so many fish that there nets were beginning to break.”
Are you exhausted and frustrated with your life? Good. You’re hearing the “desire beyond desire” calling you. Do you feel unfulfilled and restless? Congratulations. You’ve recognized that there is something more. Do you feel stuck and like you’ve missed the boat? Great. That’s another chance to “put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Do you feel amazed at and blessed by your life, and wonder how it could ever get any better? Perfect. That’s an invitation to “desire beyond desire.”
So instead of washing the nets and going home let’s open our eyes, our ears, our hearts to the deep waters of life. Let’s be attentive to what lies below the surface. Let’s make ourselves open and available to the “desire beyond desire.” It is always unfolding before us and it is never just one thing. It comes to us in a thousand different ways. It changes throughout the seasons and circumstances of our lives.
That “desire beyond desire” is why we still cast our nets even after a night of having caught nothing. It’s why we struggle to do the right thing and to live with integrity. It’s why we forgive and make amends. It’s why we speak for justice and the dignity of every human being. It’s why we open our hearts and risk loving. It’s why we get up each morning and “put out into the deep water.”
I don’t know what this “desire beyond desire” is for you. And I don’t know what form or shape it might take for me. But I know this. There is always something coming to us in what we desire, something more than what we know or can name as our desire, something that will stir the pot of our present desire and take us beyond our usual fishing grounds. That something is our “desire beyond desire.” And it’s happening in your life and my life.
Every day something new is coming to us. And we better be ready. That’s not a threat. That’s about the promise of new life, the gift contained in our “desire beyond desire.” Let’s not miss it. Let’s stay awake and alert, expectant and hopeful. I don’t want to miss it and I don’t want you to either. Let’s “put out into the deep water” of our lives and “let down [our] nets for a catch.”
What do you say? All aboard!?
This sermon was inspired by John Captuo’s writing on “desire beyond desire” in The Insistence of God, A Theology of Perhaps (Bloomington, IN.: Indiana University Press, 2013), 82-85.