Sermon Ideas For Luke 5:1-11 Part 3
Despite the legendary tragic ending of the apostle Peter, Christian art is kind to him in the depiction of a man of strength and humility and courage and simplicity. Even his denial and betrayal do not seem to wear him down, nor are they foreshadowed in renditions of his calling by Jesus. If Jeremiah is a man suffering the weight of being right but being unable to love, then Peter is the one who retains his appeal because he represents the repentant sinner able to make mistakes and accept forgiveness; and so the strength of his leadership resides precisely in the flaws of his character.
Raphael captures the essence of this ingratiating humanity in his painting "The Miraculous Drought", designed for the Sistine Chapel but destined to be traded by
conquering soldiers until its current residence in London.1 Peter is repentant to the point of pleading; Andrew is drawn inexorably to the power of Jesus, while John is merely curious, and James is only busy, and Zebedee is just trying to keep the boat afloat; the whole composition perhaps a parable of the Church. Jesus seems almost impassive; with a quiet kind of insistence that belies his own depth of conviction. Compared to Raphael, the other representations are far too impassive: From the modern but expressionless serigraph of Sadao Watanabe2 to the flat, emotionless six th century mosaic in the Church of S. Apollinare Nuove, Ravenna, Italy3 to the somber gold-leafed 14th century Byzantine wood painting of Duccio di Buoninsegna.4
Perhaps the stark simplicity of stained glass better portrays the moment of the disciples' decision. "The Calling of Peter and Andrew" by Gabriel Loire of Chartres, France, in this century reflects a fiercely determined pair of disciples; perhaps that's what it takes to pursue a calling.5
Luke's Gospel has Jesus sitting down to teach, but Johann Heinrich Hoffman depicts Jesus as standing in the boat (a la George Washington crossing the Delaware?).6 True, the painting is idealized and romanticized--halo and all. But its charm is in the including of a variety of responses on the part of the impromptu gathering: Children playing with minnows in the foreground, a dog on a man's lap and a baby in a mother's arms; curious listeners and hostile monitors, the suspicious and the wary together; the skeptical and the incredulous alongside one another; the rapt and the distracted side by side. So it is with hearing the folly and scandal which is the Gospel.
But another way to read Luke 5:1-11 is to depend on the admiration and amazement on the faces of the brothers, and the animation in the person of Jesus, even if, in the case of the painting by G. deDreyer7, this is a post-resurrection Jesus, for surely the exegetical homework has led the reader to conclude that there is some speculation about conflagration. It may not preach, but it might instruct, to realize that the disciples were just as dumbfounded here as in John 21. We may leave it to the redactioners to figure out whose memory was hazy, and to the dy-mythologizers to de-historicize the miraculous. In the meantime, we might consider Baroccio's light-and-darkness contrasting, where Jesus stands, extending his hand to a kneeling Peter, as if ready to lift him up from the mire of his uncertainty; and there's Andrew in the background, stumbling over the boat, not quite in the picture but hurrying to get in it while still focused, somehow; as if scrambling toward Jesus would, in fact, excuse all stumbling along the way.8
A calling is an unpredictable thing. Something that is to be followed at great risk to the comfortableness and solitude and serenity of the life preceding it. Whatever else the life after it might be, it will not be peaceful. But the calling of God demands that duty be valued beyond comfort, and faithfulness higher than ease, and steadfastness above security. The mournful but poignant hymn, They Cast Their Nets In Galilee was not included in the new hymnbook, but despite its archaic language, deserves repeating here:9
They cast their nets in Galilee Just off the hills of brown; Such happy, simple fisherfolk, Before the Lord came down.
Contended, peaceful fishermen, Before they ever knew The peace of God that filled their hearts Brimful, and broke them too.
Young John who trimmed the flapping sail Homeless, in Patmos died. Peter, who hauled the teeming net, Head down was crucified.
The peace of God, it is no peace, But strife closed in the sod. Yet, brothers, pray for but one thing-- The marvelous peace of God.
1. Albert Edward Bailey, The Gospel In Art (The Pilgrim Press, Boston, 1946), p. 141. 2. Frederick Buechner, ed.,The Faces of Jesus (Simon & Schuster, 1974), p. 104. 3. Ronald Borwnigg, Who's Who In The New Testament (Holt Rinehart & Winston), p. 26. 4. Richard I. Abrams, An Illustrated Life Of Jesus (Abingdon, 1982), p. 55. 5. Samuel S. Walker, Jr., The Life Of Christ In Stained Glass (Walker & Co., 6. Cynthia Pearl Maus, Christ And The Arts (New York, Harper & Row, 1959), p. 168. 7. Ronald Brownigg, The Twelve Apostles (Macmillan, 1974), p. 62. 8.