Sermon Ideas For Luke 5:1-11 Part 1
The call of the first disciples in Luke epitomizes the unexpectedness and disruptive power of God's summons. The narrative is structured around the contrast between the mundane tasks of economic survival and the utterly explosive and novel invitation to labor for God. The story serves as a paradigm of the trans-valuation of human values by the call of God.
From the perspective of Simon, Jesus' declaration that he will henceforth "catch man" is absolutely unanticipated. Neither Simon nor the sons of Zebedee are described as searching for a vocational change. They do not appear to have been discontent with the fishing industry. Simon is not portrayed as suffering from spiritual restlessness; it is not as if he had been anxiously longing for a more satisfying mode of existence. He is not traveling on a spiritual journey. The only preoccupation which is mentioned is the desire to wash the nets. In this narrative pattern God's gracious call to service is prevenient, quite independent of any human preparation to receive it.
The drama of this pericope also revolves around the contrast of the hiddenness of God and the manifestations of divine power. Accordingly, it is appropriate that the church has often viewed this passage as an Epiphany text. Simon's night of fruitless fishing and subsequent cleaning of professional equipment are not treated as a medium of God's transforming presence. Simon's fishing activities are religiously neutral; they are not vehicles for knowledge of God. But suddenly God's power bursts forth. The same context, the letting down of fishing nets, now becomes transparent to the divine presence. As in the breaking of the bread at Emmaus, the curtain is pulled aside from ordinary reality. The veil of the mundane world which had hidden God is abruptly torn asunder, and the divine power shines through. Reality becomes luminous, shot through with mystery and miracle. Astonishment is the only appropriate human response to these moments of epiphany.
This presence of divine power elicits not only awe but also a feeling of unworthiness. Simon Peter exclaims, "Go away from me; Lord; I am a sinful man." Simon feels acutely uncomfortable and humbled when confronted with divine power. There is no indication that this is due to anything particularly shameful he had done. Nor is Simon's desire to escape from this presence attributable to any specific fear of harm. It is not as if Jesus is threatening Simon with retribution. Rather, the context suggests something similar to Rudolf Otto's "creature feeling." The explosion of the divine presence relativizes ordinary concerns. The daily cares and woes of human beings are set in a new context which destroys their claim to ultimate significance. One's own life seems of much less consequence when viewed from the perspective of the vastness of God's mystery and power. Simon's habitual, comfortable sense of self cannot continue when confronted with the transcendent.
Finally, the divine call is absolutely transforming. The lives of Simon and the sons of Zebedee are radically reoriented by the experience. Their customary concerns lose their importance. Even the goal of earning a living is divested of its power to give life direction and purpose. Now satisfaction and fulfillment are to be found in following the divine call, not in the quest for vocational success. Simon and the sons of Zebedee leave everything to follow Jesus. A drastic reprioritizing of values is evident here. The quest for worldly security epitomized in the pursuit of a career and the attention to survival needs is abandoned. The disciples become itinerants, following God's lure. They embrace a life of homelessness, with no security other than the sustaining power of their mission. The old life is abandoned and a new life of service begins. In a similar fashion, the claim of God upon all our lives is absolute and must function as the focal point which orients our lives. As H. R. Niebuhr pointed out, any ultimate attachment to a lessor loyalty, be it family, nation, or culture, is idolatry. Only trust in and devotion to the call of God has the depth and expansiveness necessary to give a coherent shape to our lives.