Fishermen and Their Nets (Luke 5:1-11)
Fr. Patrick Reardon · September 30, 2008
In today’s story from the fifth chapter of Luke, my brothers and sisters, we learned of the apostles lending their fishing boat to Jesus so that he could preach from the boat to the crowd that was assembled on the shore. Actually it formed a natural auditorium. They’ve actually done experiments just west of Capernaum. It was a group of American college students; it was a term paper or something. They went over and they moved boats back at various distances from the shore and they found that the voice carried further at a certain point. Jesus, recognizing this, used the boat as sort of a pulpit, a podium, in which to address the crowd there assembled in a semicircle on the seaside, the lakeshore. And then they go after the miraculous catch of fish.
It’s about the apostles I want to preach this morning, and we’ll make three points about the apostles as they appear in today’s selection from the Gospel. When we find them this morning, the text says they are washing their nets. Cleaning their nets is probably a better way of expressing it. Have you ever seen fishermen clean their nets after they have gotten all the fish out? The apostles didn’t have any fish in there anyway. In fact you’ll notice they were such good fisherman, that any time in the New Testament that they catch a fish it is regarded as a miracle. What are the nets full of? Branches, dirt, empty beer cans, the sort of things people throw into the lake. The nets are full of useless things.
And what are those nets? Those nets are the way that the apostles make their living. Those nets are their instruments for their relationship to the world and to life and they get dirty. They accumulate all sorts of completely useless things that get in the way. These men are feeling frustrated this morning. They’ve worked all the night and taken nothing. They’ve caught no fish, but their nets are filled of useless debris, and the men feel frustration and failure. Now there are times, my brothers and sisters, and it’s important to recognize the times, when each of us is called to sit down and clean out the net—all the useless things that our hearts and minds have accumulated.
You know, our minds are a lot like crows. They pick up anything that glitters to put in the nest and before long the nest is not even livable. There are people whose souls are that way, whose hearts have that affliction. It comes from living in the world and doing the things that we must do in the world. We accumulate all manner of useless nonsense. The apostles had an advantage over us. We have things like computers and televisions, other things to keep pouring into our souls what most of the time, at least lot of the time, is simply raw garbage, worse than empty beer cans. We become aware that our nets are full of trash. Our lives are full of junk, and junky thoughts, junky sentiments, and junky attachments. It’s important from time to time that we sit down and clean out the nets.
The Church, for example, gives us liturgical seasons which are devoted to net cleaning. We’ll be starting one of those in mid-November. The church gives us that time to clean our nets—not to put up Christmas trees. That’s for Christmas, it’s not for Advent. Advent is a time for cleaning the net. Lent is a time for cleaning the net. In fact the church even has a net cleaning session twice a week on Wednesdays and Fridays. These are times to examine the conscience, go through the soul and find out what in here is just a waste of time getting in my way and keeping me from catching fish and living a life that is pleasing to God.
Besides these seasonal times for cleaning nets each of us has particular times when we know it’s the occasion to clean the net. It’s important that we recognize these times in our lives when the Lord wants us to make an evaluation, to take an inventory of our souls, and to get rid things that don’t belong there, should not be there and that are of no use to us.
The second thing today I want to call your attention to is the apostles are told to let down their nets. The nets are now empty, let them down. And they do.
When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” (Luke 5:4-5)
It’s the act of obedient faith. Simon Peter, the usual spokesmen for the apostles, tells the Lord: “We’ve toiled all the night and taken nothing.” Oh is that a voice of the soul. How many times I’m times I’ve had to say that or write that—toil all the night and taken nothing. Sometimes that night may be thirty years long. Jesus says: “Let down the nets.” He gives no explanation like “I see a shoal of fish out there”, nothing like that, just “Let down the nets.”
And why do they let down the nets? Because they trust Jesus. That’s the faith. It is imperative that we do exactly what we’re told when we’re dealing with Jesus. It is imperative. Now I’m not talking about “I feel the Lord is calling me to this.” No, no, no, that’s a “fif”— a funny interior feeling. Very rarely does God do that that way. He speaks to us through the authority of the church or through the Scriptures. When you feel like you’re being called to do something, check that out with a spiritual father or a friend or somebody. That may not be the Lord at all. But when the Lord really is speaking, it is very important that we do exactly what we’re told and not ask questions or explain it to me first, because then we’re simply obeying ourselves and obeying our own thoughts and we’re not obeying the Lord.
In the second chapter of the Gospel of John the mother of Jesus tells the waiters at the wedding feast: “Do whatever he tells you.”
His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” (John 2:5)
Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. (John 2:7)
Don’t be so stupid as to ask for reasons. “Do whatever He tells you.” Now, what does he tell them? “Those six water jars over there—fill them up, fill them up.” Now suppose they had said: “Boy is that stupid”. I used to teach junior high French. I only lasted one semester… There’s nothing quite like having a thirteen year old sit there and tell you that the declension of son, sa and so forth is just stupid… That’s why the Jesus prayer was invented… “Fill the water jars with water. Fill them up.” Now suppose they had not done that. Then that last line of the story would not have taken place:
This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him. (John 2:11)
He would not have manifested His glory, unless there had been an act of obedience there. There are certain things that we must do, absolutely must do.
I know that Palladius was a heretic who was justly condemned but it appears to me that the anti-Pallagianism that sometimes affects Christians is just astounding. They pretend they don’t have to do anything because God does it all. Why then all through the Gospels is Jesus telling people to do things?
And He said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” So he went and washed and came back seeing. (John 9:7)
Suppose he hadn’t? He would have died blind.
Jesus said “Take away the stone.” (John 11:39)
“Roll back the stone from the tomb.” He’s not going to raise Lazarus from the dead until that stone is rolled back. Or the sixth chapter of John:
“There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two small fish, but what are they among so many?” Then Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” (John 6:9-10)
Somebody can come forward: “But all we have is five barley buns and a couple of sardines.” “Make the people sit down.” It has to be obedient (faith). Or in the last chapter of John:
And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” (John 21:6)
Lower the nets to starboard. They lower the nets to starboard and catch 153 fish.
This is the pattern my brothers and sisters, all through the scriptures, is that Jesus requires us to trust Him. He says: “Jump, I’ll catch you. Jump.” In fact He might not even say: “I’ll catch you.” He might just say: “Jump”, but He will catch us: Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep. (Psalm 122:4) He is our helper in times of trial. He is our rock, our fortress, our deliverer. (Psalm 18:2) We get through life by personal trust in Him. And He comes to us in those times when we are busy cleaning out our nets.
And then finally, Simon Peter again, the spokesman for the apostles. After Jesus has brought about this miraculous catch of fish. What does Simon Peter say to Him?
When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8)
“Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Simon Peter has now learned repentance and humility. Now how did he learn that? Well it could have come from I suppose all the nonsense he found in the nets. That can teach you a lot of repentance and humility when you examine your net and look at all the debris and trash you have picked up. But I think there’s a lot more than that here. Peter becomes aware of himself as a sinful man when Jesus manifests His glory and His mercy on what he has just done. It’s in the encounter with the holiness of God in Jesus that Peter becomes aware he is a sinful man.
You see the key to humility and repentance is not self absorption where I become more and more miserable when I look at all the things that make me miserable. We’re supposed to gaze at the glory of God shining on the face of Christ as we had in the 4th chapter of 2 Corinthians this morning. The vision of the glory of God shining on the face of Christ is what makes us aware that we are sinners.
In the Book of Job, the man after whom the book is named spends most of the book proclaiming his innocence. He argues with his three friends: “I don’t deserve this, I’m innocent. I don’t deserve this, I’m innocent. Let God come. Let’s have a trial here. I want him to prove that I deserve all this. I’m innocent.” Over and over again, “I’m innocent”. Job says this time and time again, page after page: “I didn’t do anything. I’m innocent”— proclaiming his own righteousness. Then God gives him a vision of Himself. Remember the famous voice in the whirlwind, the voice, the presence in the whirlwind? Job meets God and what does he say?
“I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye hath sees You. Therefore I depreciate myself, and I waste away. I regard myself as dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6)
There’s the source of his repentance and his humility. “Now my eye hath seen Thee and I hate myself.” What happened to all this righteousness of his own? The righteousness of God is revealed in Christ Jesus our Savior. It’s in that righteousness of God that is revealed that we learn who we really are and we take an entirely new assessment of ourselves.
In the 6th chapter of the book of Isaiah, Isaiah has the vision of the Lord, remember that? In 742 BC:
In the year the king Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up. The house was full of His glory. Around Him stood seraphim; each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried out to another and said, “(Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh) Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.” (Isaiah 6:1-3)
The seraphim—seraph means to burn. The seraphim are the fiery ones. And what does Isaiah say?
So I said “Woe is me, because I am pierced to the heart, for being a man and having unclean lips, I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for I saw the King, the Lord of hosts, with my eyes!” (Isaiah 6:5)
He’s not aware at all how sinful he is until he receives the glory of God shining on the face of Christ. The 12th chapter of the Gospel of John refers to that scene in Isaiah 6. Isaiah wrote these things when he saw Him and beheld His glory. Isaiah sees the Lord Jesus Christ lifted up high and exalted in the temple. The glory of God shines from the face of Christ, and God’s mystic prophet in vision sees Him, and beats his breast. Woe is me.
We are not worthy, we know we are not worthy but how do we know this? Not by meditating on our shortcomings. We know this by gazing at the glory of God in the face of Christ.