Return to the Depths

On the shore of the Sea of Galilee at Peter's Primacy, Israel

On the shore of the Sea of Galilee at Peter’s Primacy, Israel

One day Jesus was standing beside Lake Gennesaret when the crowd pressed in around him to hear God’s word.  Jesus saw two boats sitting by the lake. The fishermen had gone ashore and were washing their nets.  Jesus boarded one of the boats, the one that belonged to Simon, then asked him to row out a little distance from the shore. Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.  When he finished speaking to the crowds, he said to Simon, “Row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.” – Luke 5:1-4 (CEB)

It’s morning, and people have begun to gather. We don’t know why they gathered by the Sea: whether Jesus was already there or whether Jesus went to where the people were. The fishermen are in from a night’s work, cleaning their gear so they can go home. Peter and his co-workers haven’t caught anything. So they have nothing to sell and nothing to take home to their families.  They are tired and empty-handed.

Peter and the others may have been glad to see Jesus. Maybe they were comforted as they listened to Jesus teach while they cleaned their nets. They may have been pleased that Jesus asked to use their boat. Then Jesus told them to go back out and fish.

Simon replied, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.” – Luke 5:5 (CEB)

We know about the miracle that will come – but they didn’t. They are tired, at least a little defeated after an unprofitable night of work, probably cold and hungry. You can hear it in Peter’s words to Jesus – almost a plea not to be sent out again. Why put out the effort? Why go through all the work again? Why go through the same process as the night before – why expect a different result? A lot of work for nothing. A lot of work to fail. And I imagine that Peter has no energy for this; no desire to take that boat back out to the deep water.

And I wonder if in his innermost, most honest thoughts as he hears Jesus’ command that Peter is sorry Jesus was there in his boat. Sorry that Jesus knows his name. Because Peter is tired.

We’re in the last days of Lent, the last days of this winter – and maybe we, too, are tired. Maybe we’re tired because wherever we are, we know we aren’t anywhere near the last days of the season in which we find ourselves – that whatever it is that leaves us tired, defeated, cold and hungry, feeling like a failure – isn’t near its end. And maybe, we, too, are just a little sorry that Jesus got into our boat this morning. Because all we want to do is clean our nets so we can go home, crawl into bed, and sleep away this bad night. But Jesus tells us to go back to where we’ve been – a place of fruitlessness, of failure, of exhaustion – a place that seems to be without hope – and that’s the last thing we want to do.

But Peter goes – because Jesus said so. Would you have taken your boat back out and gotten your nets dirty again? After all, Jesus is a carpenter not a fisherman. Peter has seen him heal but that doesn’t mean Jesus knows anything about fish. Or was Jesus testing Peter? Maybe Jesus just wanted to see if he’d be willing to go.

Maybe Peter was too tired to argue, his statement to Jesus not so much a statement of obedience and faith but the emptiness of a person without hope, too worn down to put up a fight. Even if it isn’t about the fish – couldn’t this wait until tonight? After a little rest…

In the original language, Jesus says, “Return to the depths!” And I wonder how many of us find ourselves in this place. And whatever our circumstance, we have no desire to go where Jesus is telling us to go. We wonder about omniscience and holy wisdom – because why is Jesus sending us to the last place we want to go right now? Why is Jesus sending us now? Can’t it wait?  Where is this rest and light yoke that Jesus promises because it doesn’t feel that easy right now.  But Peters says, “Yes, Chief,” and goes.

And Jesus goes with him.

So they dropped the nets and their catch was so huge that their nets were splitting.  They signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They filled both boats so full that they were about to sink.  When Simon Peter saw the catch, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!”  Peter and those with him were overcome with amazement because of the number of fish they caught.  James and John, Zebedee’s sons, were Simon’s partners and they were amazed too. 

Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” – Luke 5:6-10 (CEB)

Jesus doesn’t get out of the boat and watch from shore. Maybe Jesus just sat there and watched Peter work, but I don’t think so. I think Jesus helped pull that net in (but Peter threw it out himself because Jesus probably can’t toss it out was well as Peter and it was Peter’s labor to bear). I believe Jesus laughs with Peter when they were hauling in that load of fish – that Jesus smiles as Peter called out to his friends to come back out to the deep water and help. Jesus probably smelled like fish and sweat by the time they were done.

And it’s this sweaty, fishy Jesus that Peter turns to, and falls down at his feet, no longer calling him “Chief” but “Lord” – and tells Jesus to go away. Peter may have wanted to tell Jesus to go away a few hours before, but for different reasons. Now, as tired as Peter is, he suddenly sees Jesus – and himself – clearly.

What a strange response to the Incarnation. The Incarnation is about God being one of us. And Jesus was: tired, sweaty, fishy. But he is also God with us. And in that moment, Peter realizes both.

As soon as they brought the boats to the shore, they left everything and followed Jesus. – Luke 5:11 (CEB)

There are three commands in this passage:

  • Return to the depths! – Where is the place Jesus is guiding you to go?  The depths may be a difficult place or just a commitment to go all in.
  • Go away from me, Lord! – Is there joy, struggle, pain, freedom in our response?
  • Do not fear! – What do you need to remember that Jesus has already overcome so that you may overcome your fear?

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