Weekly Seeds: Caught

Sunday, February 6, 2022
Fifth Sunday after Epiphany Year C

Focus Theme:

Focus Prayer:
Abundant God, who fills our nets, open our senses to discern the catch, to recognize the plenty in the water, and to cast our nets boldly in the waters you have prepared. Amen.

Focus Reading:
Luke 5:1–11
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

All readings for this Sunday:
Isaiah 6:1-8, (9-13)
Psalm 138
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Luke 5:1-11

Focus Questions:
1. Have you been fishing? Why or why not?
2. What is that experience like? Describe it or imagine it.
3. What are you hoping to catch (personally or in your faith community)?
4. What is your net made of? Does it need constructing or reconstructing?
5. Who is with you to receive the bounty from the net?

By Cheryl Lindsay

Fishing presents one of those activities that can be an occupation or a hobby. Both contribute to well-being. Both may include the same routine and functional consideration. The same supplies may be utilized, and the same skills developed. But, an occupation (job, career, or vocation) is different from a hobby. The requirements and expectations to earn a sustained income are greater even if the rewards aren’t necessarily more. After all, hobbies may prove to be even more life giving and sustaining than the actions that provide our financial resources. Our work may enable us to “make a living,” but often our hobbies encourage us to “make a life.”

I know people who love to go fishing, but I confess I don’t know anyone who holds the occupation. From the hobbyist, I’ve learned that, for them, their time fishing is mostly relaxing with the occasional moment of excitement. It doesn’t matter to them if they don’t catch a large number of fish. The activity is more important than the output. They aren’t dependent upon their daily net to feed themselves or provide for their family. They might be disappointed by a small catch, but their lives don’t depend upon it. It’s not a job; it’s a hobby. Our responses change when our purposes are different.

But, what happens when the two intersect? When our avocation also serves as our occupation? When we love what we do? When we’re engaged in a professional or occupational field that we’d do even if we weren’t paid for it? When that thing that makes our life also allows us to make a living? Could that be what our calling is all about?

This week’s focus scripture continues in the early days of the public ministry of Jesus. He’s teaching a crowd that “was pressing in on him to hear the word of God.” Evidently, word of him had spread. Jesus went viral through word of mouth like the sharing of a TikTok video on social media. You may remember the Ice Bucket Challenge on social media several years ago. The concept was simple: share a video of someone pouring a bucket of ice on you, tag it so that the video would be identified with the challenge, and finally, nominate someone else to accept the challenge. During the height of this challenge, you could barely log onto a certain social media platform without your entire feed being overtaken by these videos. It started as an idea to raise awareness of ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It wasn’t intended as a fundraiser, but with increased awareness and some debate about the efficacy and meaning of the challenge as it continued to spread, donations began to flow.

Looking at it objectively, why would anyone voluntarily–and eagerly–invite someone to pour ice over themselves? It would be simpler and far more comfortable to make a donation and post a link to the ALS Association or another affiliated organization.

The Ice Bucket Challenge became a movement. And, people get caught in movements. There was excitement and energy around participating and watching people you knew engage in this irrational yet relatively harmless act. I was tagged and accepted the challenge. It was fun and exhilarating and well worth the seconds of physical discomfort that was no greater than falling in the snow during a storm, which as a Northeast Ohioan, I’d experienced countless times.

This encounter happens in the midst of the crowd’s press toward Jesus. Luke’s narrative, perhaps more than any of the other gospel writers, witnesses to the inauguration of the Jesus movement. In this portion, we observe Jesus begin to tag those he first called into the journey. Luke’s account expands upon Mark’s detailing of events to attach the miraculous haul of fish to the call of Simon (who will become Peter) and centers the narrative there:

Beginning with verse 4, the crowd disappears, and the story centers exclusively on the interaction between Jesus, on the one hand, and Peter and his companions, on the other. Told by Jesus to lower the nets for a catch (5:4), Peter decides to act on Jesus’ word and against his own experience. 6 The outcome is a miraculous catch. Still, the miraculous abundance of fish is not simply an answer to the lack of fish resulting from a futile night of fishing. From the way the story progresses, its silence about what happened next to the abundant catch, it becomes clear that the real interest of the story is in the identities of its heroes. Peter’s reaction in verse 8 expresses his new awareness of who Jesus is (“the Lord”), as well as his corresponding self-awareness (“a sinful man”). Finally, Jesus reveals to Peter and his companions who they are (10b) in relationship to him: from now they will be catching people. By leaving their boats behind and following Jesus they act out their new identity. (Sławomir Szkredka)

This passage is about the attractional quality of Jesus’ teaching–the action of it as much as the content of it. We know from their future interactions that even Jesus’ closest companions, who were given privy to more knowledge and revelation than anyone else, did not fully grasp the content of his teaching. The mystery, often abstract quality, and countercultural nature of the words of Jesus did not prevent them from continuing the journey. While they had close proximity to him as Jesus used their boat as his pulpit, they didn’t drop everything to follow until after the demonstration took place.

It’s not about the fish. They aren’t the real catch here. But, there’s something about the act of fishing that Luke finds instrumental about telling the story of the beginning of Simon becoming Peter as a momentous event in the emergence of the Jesus movement:

Fishing in Jesus’ time occurred, as it does in this story, as a cooperative effort of several people (and often multiple boats) dragging a large net under the water to scoop up fish and haul them into their boats. This fishing is indiscriminate. There is no attempt to feed the fish or lure them with trickery or individual skill. The net ensnares them en masse, and they are hauled into the boat. This fishing is commercial, intended to secure the livelihood of those who will eat or sell the fish….This fishing is risky. If the endeavor fails, the crew goes hungry. This is not fishing for recreation; it is fishing for survival. (Jon L. Berquist)

Fishing has life and death consequences. Those fishing don’t have the luxury of hobby. If the fish aren’t caught, they don’t eat. If they fail to successfully cast their lot, they have not fulfilled their function. I think the reason I participated in the Ice Bucket Challenge when I usually ignore such things, was because it was attached to a larger purpose. The time, energy, discomfort, and even embarrassment had meaning and benefit.

Jesus attracted many crowds, but he didn’t focus on doing so. Jesus spread the good news of liberation, restoration, and hope, and that message cast a wide net.

As they fished, Simon and his companions did use a single line–hoping to snag a single fish at a time; the net is designed to bring in a large haul. That was necessary, because, again, this is no hobby. They depended on the bounty to meet their needs. The tradeoff in initial efficiency meant that at some point, that haul must be sifted and sorted. Random objects and creatures not fit or desired for consumption would be discarded. Maybe, their buyers were looking for a certain fish and they had to sort them by type. Even if everything caught in their nets were of equal value, that did not mean they were the same.

On this particular day, the fish aren’t there. The nets are empty. Jesus instructs them to go deeper and casts the nets again. The abundance nearly overwhelms them. It only takes a little encouragement from Jesus to make them aware that they’ve become the bounty. Jesus cast a wide net in the crowd that day; and they happened to be in the boat. Jesus talked to a lot of people, but with these future disciples he went deeper and cast the net again.

This text is often used as an illustration about evangelism and invitation in the Christian life and community. In that view, we’re often encouraged to cast wide nets, but of course, the lesson in this particular story is that even when you do that with skill and experience, you can still end up with empty results. The lesson here may be that in order to catch followers of Jesus, we have to go into deeper waters and cast those nets again:

It was to the proclaimed Word of Him who is the Word of God that the people flocked. They gathered around Him to hear the Word of God (an expression peculiar to Luke to describe Christ’s proclamation), that is, the Good News of the kingdom of God (see Luke 4:43). So many and so intent were they to hear the message of the One whose word was authoritative and powerful, they crowded Him to the point where He had to develop a new strategy to address the multitude. (Leroy E. Vogel)

The Word caught Simon, James, and John to the extent that they let everything else go. They followed Jesus and became the first steps that launched the movement. They would use the skills they had and transform them into new use. They would also learn to do so much more beyond their imagination. Amazement and fear, wonder and doubt, skepticism and confusion would assail them at varying times and to different degrees. They would witness the heights and depths of Jesus’ ministry, and eventually, they would carry the mantle of leadership under his authority and with his anointing. But, it all started on this day when they were caught.

Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
There was a finished silence after that so that for the first time they could hear the wind picking at the pine trees. It made Pheoby think of Sam waiting for her and getting fretful. It made Janie think about that room upstairs—her bedroom. Pheoby hugged Janie real hard and cut the darkness in flight. Soon everything around downstairs was shut and fastened. Janie mounted the stairs with her lamp. The light in her hand was like a spark of sun-stuff washing her face in fire. Her shadow behind fell black and headlong down the stairs. Now, in her room, the place tasted fresh again. The wind through the open windows had broomed out all the fetid feeling of absence and nothingness. She closed in and sat down. Combing road-dust out of her hair. Thinking. The day of the gun, and the bloody body, and the courthouse came and commenced to sing a sobbing sigh out of every corner in the room; out of each and every chair and thing. Commenced to sing, commenced to sob and sigh, singing and sobbing. Then Tea Cake came prancing around her where she was and the song of the sigh flew out of the window and lit in the top of the pine trees. Tea Cake, with the sun for a shawl. Of course he wasn’t dead. He could never be dead until she herself had finished feeling and thinking. The kiss of his memory made pictures of love and light against the wall. Here was peace. She pulled in her horizon like a great fish-net. Pulled it from around the waist of the world and draped it over her shoulder. So much of life in its meshes! She called in her soul to come and see.
–Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

For further reflection:
“People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing.” — Trevor Noah
“I am an expression of the divine, just like a peach is, just like a fish is. I have a right to be this way…I can’t apologize for that, nor can I change it, nor do I want to… We will never have to be other than who we are in order to be successful…We realize that we are as ourselves unlimited and our experiences valid. It is for the rest of the world to recognize this, if they choose.” — Alice Walker
“The fish trap exists because of the fish. Once you’ve gotten the fish you can forget the trap. The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit. Once you’ve gotten the rabbit, you can forget the snare. Words exist because of meaning. Once you’ve gotten the meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so I can talk with him?” — Zhuangzi

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Minister for Worship and Theology (lindsayc@ucc.org), also serves a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below this post on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.