“‘Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.’”(Luke 5:4)In the name …
Peter, Andrew, James and John are fishermen by trade.Now we’re from western Mass, not from a place like Gloucester.If we fish at all, it’s most likely associated with sport and leisure.Out by the coast where there are commercial fishermen, however, fishing is a trade.It’s hard work; it can be unpleasant; and it’s often dangerous.It’s also what pays the bills.Have a good day and the work seems worthwhile.Go through all of the work and come back with nothing though, and all it is, is exhausting.Fishing on the Sea of Gennesaret was not an occupation for the weak of body.It entailed hour after hour of hoisting heavy nets overboard, then dragging even heavier nets back into the boats.This labour could take place all night long if the nets kept coming back empty.By the time these boats pulled into shore at dawn, the four men on them would be completely fatigued, and Luke says they have little to show for their efforts.And still in the tropical heat of the new day they would have to wash and mend their nets, and clean and sell whatever few fish they had caught.
This is the background that’s left unstated but assumed when we read today’s Gospel account of Jesus preaching from the boats of these fishermen.Early in His ministry Jesus was already drawing in great crowds of people.They all wanted to hear Jesus.They’re probably hoping to also see some miracle performed.The people in the crowd don’t want to miss anything and this is causing them to push in closer and closer to Jesus.Finally, Jesus pulls a bit offshore by preaching in one of the boats so that He is not crushed by this surge of people.These are the boats of Peter, Andrew, James and John, the fishermen who have toiled all night long and have nothing to show for it.
In appreciation for their help, Jesus tells these now completely exhausted fishermen, “‘Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.’”They had cleaned their nets.They had worked all night long for nothing.Now Jesus tells them to row back out “into deep water” and to do it all over again.They had no luck at night when the fishing should have been better than now during the day.We all know how the story turns out, but what we might miss in all of this is the psychological drama taking place behind the scenes in the minds of the four fishermen.They are exhausted.They have worked fruitlessly through the night.If you’ve watched the Paul Newman movie Cool Hand Luke, you hopefully remember the scene where to break him down the jailers make him dig a huge pit in the yard, and then as soon as he’s done they order him to fill it up all over again.This kind of senseless labour is debilitating in a way much more exhausting than working for a purpose, but for Jesus’ miracle to take place they had to cooperate.They had to do their part.They had to fight against their exhaustion, and they had to fight for purpose.
We here today are slowly but surely preparing ourselves to approach the cross of Jesus.The cross is such a selfless and lonely example of all that Jesus has done for us that we can sometimes forget that it also expects us to do for Jesus.We see in the cross that Jesus redeems us, that He pays the price for our salvation.And sometimes this message becomes so loud and clear that we forget that we are also expected to do our part.And so in these weeks of Pre-Lent as we get ourselves ready for the 40 days that will take us to Good Friday and the death of Jesus, we are confronted with the example of the exhausted fishermen who not only listen to Jesus but who also follow through and do what Jesus asks.The message of the Gospel is to present us with the question of whether we are willing to trust enough in Jesus’ words to exert ourselves for Him, to work for the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth, to add whatever we can do to make this world less evil and more God-centered.It asks us to trust, as did the fishermen, that our efforts as directed by Christ have purpose.
Today, for example, marks the 20th anniversary of the Souper Bowl of Caring food drive.One youth group in one church started this effort, and now it reaches across the country.This didn’t only happen because of the grace of God.This happened because the grace of God inspired people of faith to work for this worthy cause.It would have failed if believers did not put faith into action.Now my few canned goods aren’t going to feed too many families, but all of us when we are inspired by God to work together can make a huge difference for the good.I want us to leave with these final words from St. Paul that we read earlier:“By the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me has not been ineffective.Indeed, I have toiled harder than all the others.Not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.”Jesus, as we will meditate upon throughout Lent, gave everything that God could offer for our salvation, but that doesn’t mean that He has given everything that we can offer for our salvation.Jesus’ complete sacrifice on the cross doesn’t mean we have nothing left to do.It means that we are also called to do what we can, and when we’re completely exhausted or feel that our help is too small to accomplish anything of substance, then we have to trust in Christ as did those four exhausted fishermen.We can never think it’s all right to do nothing, so that we, with Paul, can say, “His grace to me has not been ineffective.”And for this we pray in Jesus’ name.Amen.(+)