Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany

by Bear Wade

THE CATCH
Luke 5:1-11
(Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany)
Analysis by Michael Hoy

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


DIAGNOSIS: Caught in our sinfulness

Step 1–Initial Diagnosis: Catching nothing
The life of a fisherman (and many other professions) might find some analogous harmony with the adage of Forrest Gump: “Life is like a box of chocolates–you never know what you’re going to get.” At this juncture, Simon and company are not getting anything. They were “washing their nets” after a long, frustrating night of coming up empty. Ever have days (or nights) like that? But that emptiness is only symptomatic of a deeper emptiness in souls.

Step 2–Advanced Diagnosis: Pointless
Simon is well aware of what is involved in his work. It is not for lack of effort that he comes up empty from the previous night’s work. They probably did give it their best shot. But when Jesus commands them to cast out their nets, Simon’s response is a sign of his lack of faith. “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.” Leave aside the fact that Simon decided to follow through with the command anyway. The point is that Simon regards the task as pointless–and it is more of a commentary on him than on the command of Jesus. Without faith, he does not believe that there is more that can be done to change the circumstances of his life. He regards himself as subject to the fate of a bad day on the boat (or at the office). But it is more serious than that. Simon is too proud to concede that an amateur like Jesus may actually know more than a professional like himself. And in that pride, he is walled up in his emptiness.

Step 3–Final Diagnosis: Cast out, Sinking
What if the real problem is not only that some days you get lucky and some days you don’t, but that lucky or unlucky, we ourselves are caught in a net that we are unable to get out? In this case, the net is the truth of our sinfulness. In fact, we are probably not even be aware of our being in that net most of the time, because of its damning truth. That’s why we may prefer the language of fate or fortune, of being lucky and being unlucky. But no such luck here. The root of our problem may not be evident only when nets are coming up empty. It might even be more obvious when nets are coming up full–so much so that we are sinking in our boats. And all because the Amateur we have dismissed turns out to be the very ambassador of God. We, ourselves, are cast out from a good relationship with God. We are walled up in our emptiness because God has made it that way.

PROGNOSIS: Catching in Christ

Step 4–Initial Prognosis: Caught by Christ
Just our luck (damn!) that Jesus the Christ should happen to choose our boat to get into! Ah, but how blessed we are indeed that he did choose our boat! Being with us is the very way that Jesus casts out his own net to catch us. He too sinks with us, into the depth of the (watery) grave; but he rises above it to lead us beyond our emptiness into a life of fullness and total favor with God. That is the way that the net of our alienation from God is overcome as the final web. Jesus is the safety net for our empty souls in the midst of our death. We really did get more than we bargained for!

Step 5–Advanced Prognosis: Catching Christ
Simon and company come to catch (grasp) that promising presence of Jesus. Simon’s repentance, kneeling before his Lord, is his confession of faith that Jesus not only knows more about fishing, but also knows more about Simon. Because Simon now knows the depth of his sinfulness, he seeks to put some distance between himself and his Lord. Nevertheless, Jesus’ presence is with him, even in his confession. Jesus will not abandon Simon (or us). Having been caught in the love of our Lord, we are free to confess the truth about ourselves, about our lives, about our sordid emptiness–and in the repenting, the turning to Christ, to have the greatest catch of all! Jesus is our Lord, our rightful owner, by whom we are rescued!

Step 6–Advanced Prognosis: Catching others
The amazing thing is that Jesus finds a way to turn one vocation into something more than it was before. Now Simon and company, you and I, in following our faithful Lord, are to be about the labor of catching others in the gracious nets of God’s love. And there is no emptiness in that faithful following. There is the net income of souls replenished, lives renewed, hope restored. Catchy, isn’t it?

Author

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