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 by the Sea. We don’t know why: whether Jesus was already there or Jesus went to where the people were. The fishermen, in from a night’s work, are 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, they may have been glad to see Jesus. Maybe they were comforted as they listened to Jesus teach while they cleaned their nets. Maybe they were 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, defeated after an unprofitable night of work.  They are probably cold and hungry. You can hear the plea in Peter’s words to Jesus:  “Please don’t send us out again.”  Why put out the effort? 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.

Maybe we, too, are tired.

We’re tired because 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.  Maybe Peter was too tired to argue, his words 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!” I wonder how many of us find ourselves in this place.  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? #Luke5 Click To Tweet

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.

Jesus doesn’t just 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 hear Jesus laugh with Peter when they were hauling in that load of fish.  I see Jesus smile as Peter called out to his friends to come back out to the deep water. 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.  Because this tired, sweaty, fishy Jesus is also Immanuel, God with us.

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?

Jesus is with us in each of them.  How will we respond?

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


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Prayers for the People: Scripturally Based Prayers for Worship Prayers for the People is a collection of prayers for worship. These prayers offer the worshipping community fresh perspectives for praying the words of Scripture, using current language and references. Cross-referenced to the Revised Common Lectionary, pastors seeking to lead their people in prayer have found a relevant and beautiful source for worship planning.

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