Luke 5:1-11 – The Miracle of the Fish
Intimacy, Awe and Availability
Intimacy, awe and availability. The intimacy of a human God climbing into a boat, helping Peter to find food. The awe of the realization that before Peter stands the Holy One of God. Availability must be our response. Intimacy, awe and availability are our quests this morning..
In the exchange between Jesus and Peter in Luke’s Gospel, we have a very human Peter and a very holy, yet human God-in-Christ. Jesus approaches the fishermen in the wee hours of the morning. He does not stand on a pedestal like the Jesus in our altar window. No, he hikes up his clothes around his waist and wades into the water and scrambles up into the boat to be close to Peter. To be with Peter. To talk to Peter. They can smell each other. After addressing the crowds, he asks Peter to row the boat out to deep water.
Peter, mind you, is exhausted. He has had enough of that lake thank you very much! Peter and his companions have spent more than 12 hours out on the Sea of Galilee – in the dark, in the cold lowering and raising huge, wet nets by hand – back-breaking work. And have nothing to show for it. Not enough fish to even feed their families. And Jesus asks Peter to set out again to deep water.
In a moment of self-surrender and obedience, Simon Peter rows the boat out into the deep, unpredictable waters of the Sea of Galilee.
The key to understanding this passage is in listening to the exchange between Peter and Jesus.
Jesus asks Peter to put out into deep water.
“Master,” says Peter, “we have worked all night long, and have caught nothing…but at your word, I will let down the nets”
This is the first exchange. Peter almost objects. But he abandons control of the situation and then rows out in his faith, to the deep waters. This is a moment of trust. A moment in which Peter trusts this amazing man who has climbed into his boat. Perhaps Peter feels the warmth of Jesus’ touch or sees the glimmer of peace in Jesus’ eyes. Peter makes himself available to Jesus.
Peter does indeed lower the nets and we have a miracle of fish. Now set aside the charming illustrations of this scene from your childhood Sunday school books. A 1st century boat was recently unearthed at the edge of the Sea of Galilee. It was big. The boat was probably 26 feet long, 8 feet wide and 5 feet deep. The gospel says that the draught of fish was so large that two boats were filled nearly to overturning! There is no doubt that Peter saw this as nothing other than an astounding miracle. They went from no food -even for their families- to having enough to feed the entire town of Capernaum twice over! It’s a first century version of “Who wants to be a millionaire?”
Then this miracle brings on a second exchange between Jesus and Peter. In a sudden realization that Jesus has just performed a miracle before his very eyes, Peter’s suspicions of Jesus’ identity are conformed and Peter falls at Jesus’ knees and screams “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
Peter is not confessing his sin to Jesus – he is expressing his utter awe – his holy fear. His time of intimacy with Jesus combined with this astounding miracle, has been catapulted into spine-tingling awe. Peter’s realization of the difference between himself as a human and this Jesus who can do miracles is too much to mentally manage. In that split second, Peter glimpses the Holy, transcendent God-in Christ. At that moment, the veil between heaven and earth is stretched thin and Peter marvels at Holiness.
This holy fear is wrapped in love – in intimacy. It is hard for our ears to hear “fear” as a wonderful thing. The fear Peter feels is inspired by love and it is dispelled by love. The very best description I have seen of this particular kind of fear is to be found in the old children’s book The Wind in the Willows. In this little segment of the story, two characters “Mole” and “Rat” have an encounter with the Divine Piper at the Gates of Dawn. In this story, the “Friend and Helper” is a Christ figure just like Aslan is a Christ figure in The Narnia Chronicles.
“Suddenly, the mole felt a great awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head and rooted his feet to the ground. (This kind of fear) was no panic terror – indeed he felt woderfully at peace and happy – but it was an awe that smote and held him…(He) raised his humble head; and then, in that utter clearness of the imminent dawn… he looked into the very eyes of the Friend-and Helper … and as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered. “RAT!,” he found breath to whisper shaking, “Are you afraid?”
“Afraid?” murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love, “Afraid!? Of …Him? Oh never, never! …..And yet – oh, Mole, I am afraid.” Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship!”
This “mysterium tremendum” is the tremendous mystery of God – a mystery causing simultaneously both fascination and recoil. There is both intimacy and awe.
I propose that learning the art of life-giving fear may be the only real cure for being afraid.
The problem often is, however, that we become complacent . We stop praying regularly. We fill our lives with noise from too many cell phones, day-timers, emails, pagers, faxes, committees; ambition and her sister, work-a-holism. Soon the thunder of Holy awe becomes a distant thunder. And the peace of intimacy with Christ reverts to unholy fear – anxiety, worry, doubt, waste and consumption.
What we learn from Peter and Jesus, is that the fundamental prerequisite for participation in the Christian life is a willingness to set aside our own personal calculations and to make ourselves available for the mission in life God intends us to enjoy. Like Peter, our place is at Jesus’ knees. Humanity’s place is in God. Every act of love we do draws us into that presence.
It is wonderful for me to be here. It is a homecoming for me.
Our homecoming as Christians– our becoming who we were meant to be – is a matter of radical acts of love.
In the process of self-abandonment, we give ourselves over to God just as Peter did. And in response to our giving our own will away to Christ, we receive even greater love in return. Love from its molten core – its source.
In the words of my favorite theologian, Hurs Von Balthasar, this self-giving is “Liberation from the unbearable dungeon of my ego. The adventure I had always longed for. The perfect feat of daring in which I am sure to win all only by losing all.”
I have been away at seminary for three years. They have been hard and they have included hard work every Sunday and through both summers. There are more than 48 steps to becoming ordained in this diocese. What have I learned in my transition from corporate executive to candidate for Holy Orders? I will tell you:
God loves us through all the pain and sorrow and agony and joy of life. God’s delight is to serve us and to be our Holy God – intimate and awe-filled. Christ gave himself for us as a model for how we should live. In our fear and anxiety we try to build little empires. But the call on our lives is to give ourselves away. To give up total control to God. To love radically. As we see in today’s gospel, it is love which is the core of obedience. It is love which keeps obedience from being oppressive. When we let him, the Beloved woos us, and then His desires becomes our commands.
Daily, hourly, moment by moment, Jesus stands in the boat with us in our deep waters – in our frustration – in our compulsion to be in control – our compulsion to look all put together when, underneath, we are often falling apart. Jesus invites us to allow our wounds to show “rather than to hide behind a mask of rigid adequacy and slick confidence. Our calling is to become frayed around the edges of our hearts, without plucking frantically at loosened threads, tucking them in and out of sight.”
The Beloved woos us even now. Enjoy the intimacy Christ offers, Christ who searches for you and has known you since you were in your mother’s womb.
Experience the fullness of awe – That “Mysterium Tremendum”
And, in such an humble place, on your knees, with your hands open and up, you will be available in intimacy and in awe.
“RAT!,” he found breath to whisper shaking, “Are you afraid?”
“Afraid?” murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love, “Afraid!? Of …Him? Oh never, never! …..And yet …”