Sermon Briefs: Luke 5:1-11
In The Humanity of the Call of God, Allan M. Parrent calls for culture's renewed awareness of the transcendence of God. He sees in the call of Peter, James and John, as in Isaiah 6:1-8, a confrontation between the finite and sinful, and that holy and infinite.
Certain responses are appropriate to such encounters. There is the human inability to respond in any way but: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man." Divine initiative intervenes to quiet, forgive, and to call to discipleship. And, with this, humanity is able to accept the call, forsake all lesser commitments, and serve God.1
Thomas Whiting uses the words to Peter, "Put out into the deep, and let down your nets" (5:4) as a call to reflection on significant things--in particular, about God, ourselves, and what Christ means to human life. In Get Out Where It's Deep, he suggests that for many life is not working out, because they flounder in shallow understandings.2
Similarly, Karl Rahner uses the text to urge understanding life in new ways. His homily, Love Sees the World as a Parable, speaks of the text as containing the whole of human life. All is here: Day, night, failure, success, bitterness, blessing, the Lord, we. Rahner sees before us a parable teaching us to observe life, for our daily round is "full of holy significance, a preparation for greatness."3
One of life's realities is frustration, where for all of one's effort, it adds up to nothing. Thomas Troeger in Exhausted but Empowered recounts the frustration common to us all as we labor in occupation, family, community service, the church. With Peter we say, "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing" (5:5).
However, even in exhaustion, Peter continues, "But at your word I will let down the nets." Troeger finds the response involving more than second effort. Energy and hope to continue comes at Jesus' word--his creative word. It is by God's grace that in times of bitterness, sacrifice and danger, when strength has failed, that there comes to us a presence. And with God's gift of grace, we are empowered to persist.4
Two sermons focus on the reaction of Peter to the encounter. In Fish Story, John Brand says that here we have a story about captivity--a captivity resisted by Peter at every turn. While Jesus teaches, Peter washes nets, working at not giving Jesus recognition. Surely, he notices the one who recently healed his mother-in-law, but he throws himself into his work, avoiding intimacy. Peter's defenses continue. When Jesus commands him to launch his boat, Peter does so silently. Told to sail into the deep he replies, "Master, we toiled all night." From silence he moves to stiff respect, then to fear: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man."
Peter wants his life back, his independence, his safe distance. "Leave!" he says. But Jesus stays. And Peter suffers, in the words of Elie Wiesel, the "great privilege to be defeated by God." For as Brand concludes, "If God can't have us, anybody can."5
Joseph Donders, too, points to the danger of being touched by God. For as he preaches in Touch and God, you are going to be caught. "Because to be touched means to be sent, to be sent by him, who in his singlemindedness is thinking of only one aim: His kingdom to come."6
Robert John Versteeg examines the cost--not only for those who follow, but also for those who don't. In The Nets of Zebedee he imagines the father as he, forsaken, watches his sons leave. He recalls James and John's mother asking Jesus for positions of honor for her sons. Maybe they were caught, Versteeg says, in their own nets of security and success.7
In Called to Follow Robert Terhune looks at Jesus' call of uneducated fishermen. Why did he call such to follow him? Terhune notes that early believers were called disciples of "The Way." A missionary to Japan, he tells that in Japan, one practices Judo, the way of self-defense, or shodo, the way of the brush, calligraphy. They are called "the way of" because they require a lifelong commitment to a master teacher. Patience, persistence, and endurance is essential.
Being a disciple of Jesus demands equal commitment. Uneducated, yes, but these fishermen had the humility to be taught. And the patience, persistence, and endurance required for followers of the way of Jesus were qualities well known to those who fished for a living.8
Edmund Steimle's sermon When the Lord Smiles on You is instructive for our response to the blessings of God. Uncharacteristic of most responses to good fortune, Peter is seen kneeling down in the mess of fish, crying out with his sin. Once he recognized the bountiful catch as the blessing of God, he lost all interest in the blessing. He could only think of the giver, his unworthiness in God's eyes, and that which God had for him to do. Happiness now rested not in good fortune--God's blessings often bring not good fortune but suffering--but in doing the work God has for those he calls.9
1. Allan M. Parrent, "The Humanity of the Call of God", Pulpit Digest (1978), pp.58-61. 2. Thomas A. Whiting, "Get Out Where It's Deep," Pulpit Digest (1979), pp. 381-385. 3. Karl Rahner, "Love Sees the World as a Parable," Biblical Homilies (New York: Herder and Herder, 1966), pp. 38-40. 4. Thomas H. Troeger, "Exhausted but Empowered," Abingdon Preacher's Annual 1991, ed. John K. Bergland (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991), pp. 56-60. 5. John M. Brand, "Fish Story," Pulpit Digest (November/December 1989), pp. 34-38. 6. Joseph G. Donders, "Touch and God," Jesus the Way (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books), pp. 68-73. 7. Robert John Versteeg, "The Nets of Zebedee," The Christian Ministry (February-April 1989), pp. 37-38. 8. Robert M. Terhune, "Called to Follow," Abingdon Preacher's Annual 1991, ed. John K. Bergland (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990), pp. 38-40. 9. Edmund A. Steimle, "When the Lord Smiles on You," Are You Looking for God? (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1957),