5 Epiphany – February 6, 2022
So, with the crowds pressing in, Jesus sees fishermen washing their nets and their boats nearby on the shore, and he gets into Simon’s boat and asks him to put out a little way from the shore. This way, Jesus can comfortably teach the crowds from the boat without being smothered by them in their excitement. When he’s done teaching, he turns to Simon, and tells him, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
Simon’s response begins with an old, but common, point of view: they had fished all night and caught nothing, so why should they expect anything different? Yet they do what Jesus says to do. In the midst of an unpromising situation, the future apostles let down their nets.
There are so many directions we can go with this story today. But what captured my attention was that Jesus directed Simon to “put out in the deep waters”. The deep waters. And perhaps therein lies an important message for us.
Simon’s reply acknowledges the reality of limits and scarcity, but also his willingness to listen and try again. Jesus’ mentioning of the “deep water” implies that there may be unexplored areas of potential beyond our perceived limits of resources, knowledge, and energy. And the response to this willingness is immediate; suddenly they have more fish than two boats can handle.
Let me repeat….‘Deep water’ implies that there may be unexplored areas of potential beyond our own perceived limits.
I can relate to Simon’s wearied response. As Luke describes the scene, it’s early morning, and Simon Peter is cleaning his fishing nets after a miserable night out on the lake. He and his partners have worn themselves out, casting nets from dusk till dawn into the dark water. As the sun rises, they have nothing to show for their efforts but sore muscles and weary hearts; their nets are empty. Then Jesus shows up, steps into the boat, and winds up telling his would-be disciple to “put out into the deep water.”
“Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” Sometimes I feel like I’m suspended in the gap between those two fierce sentences. It seems that these times have us all living in the gap between weariness and hope, defeat and faith, resignation and obedience. Life can be difficult, for sure. Even the most diligent and hardworking of us can land up on shore some mornings with empty, stinking fishing nets tangled in our fingers, wondering what the heck went wrong.
“Put out into the deep water..” Think of our spiritual lives, of our souls, as this biblical image of deep water. Shallow waters are safe places in our lives and in our hearts, where we can put our feet on the ground and keep our heads well above water, and where everything that is there is easily visible to the eyes. The deep waters, though – there is so much there that you might never see or know it all, and you can’t touch bottom, and you have to work harder to stay afloat, but some of the most fascinating things are found in the deep water. You can spend all your time in the shallow waters, but is that satisfying, does that provide soul-searching healing? Jesus is telling us to “put out into the deep water”. Dig deeply into your soul for parts of who you are that you never knew were within you.
Where are we spending our time in the waters of our soul? It is so easy to spend all of our time, all of our lives, in what God would consider the shallow waters. Not digging deep. Not taking risks. Not exploring the unknown. Keeping our feet firmly planted, never heading out to the deep where we’d have to rely on having Jesus in the boat with us in order to make it through.
It is personal, relational work—deep water work—where healing and plenty follow. It is personal and relational work that mark the encounters of the disciples with Jesus and with God’s people. The interplay between teaching, healing, and call continues. Looking forward, there is death, and then resurrection.
Fish weren’t the only catch of the day; Simon and his companions were hooked. Captivated. Called. And that’s what miracles are meant to do: they meet us at our point of need, but they don’t leave us there. They call us to move from being recipients to being participants, to share in the ways that God pours out Godself for the life of the community and the healing of the world.
However much Simon Peter thinks he knows Jesus, he only now realizes that he doesn’t really know him, that he’s only just beginning to realize who and what Jesus is, and that it scares him a little. Each time we experience sheer grace, we are simultaneously joyful and a little afraid, struck by how much more we’ve received than we deserve or even imagined. Wondering how such blessings came our way and realizing we are caught up in something so much bigger than ourselves.
Jesus says to Simon “Do not be afraid.” Note that Jesus doesn’t say, “you are forgiven.” Which is perhaps a little odd, because Simon Peter just said that he’s a sinner; yet it’s also wonderful, since it reminds us that Jesus forgives sin, for sure, but also offers so much more. In this case, comfort and encouragement.
Jesus is still coming to us to call us to things we can’t imagine, to put out into deep water. To look more deeply into our own souls, into our hearts, into our lives. Jesus isn’t finished calling people who know their sins and doubts and fears and inadequacy, firsthand. Richard Rohr has said, “You can tell a lot about someone by what they do with their pain…do they transform it or do they transmit it”. Your wounds are not your fault, but their healing is your opportunity. Go deep. Go deep with Jesus by your side, and you just may find an overabundance of resources.
I’ll close with a wonderful blessing written by Jan Richardson:
BLESSING IN THE CHAOS
To all that is chaotic
let there come silence.
Let there be
of the clamoring,
of the voices that
have laid their claim
that have made their
home in you,
that go with you
even to the
but will not
let you rest,
will not let you
hear your life
or feel the grace
that fashioned you.
Let what distracts you
Let what divides you
Let there come an end
to what diminishes
and let depart
all that keeps you
in its cage.
Let there be
into the quiet
that lies beneath
where you find
you did not think
and see what shimmers
within the storm.
from The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief
Image: “Stories Move in Circles“