The grace, mercy, and peace of Christ Jesus rest upon each and every one of you this day.
Who here likes being told how to do their job? Nobody?! Not exactly a big surprise, is it? Nobody enjoys hearing how they’re somehow derelict in their duty, especially when the person doing all the talking and criticizing knows NOTHING about the job they so arrogantly criticize. But…let’s face it: Even when the advice is actually coming from someone who may have experience in that particular job and actually knows what they’re talking about, it still stings. Maybe it stings less when it’s coming from such a knowledgeable person (and not from some clueless know-it-all), but it still stings nonetheless. When you think about it, the stinging, annoying advice doesn’t even have to be career or vocation-specific. Being told how to do the “little things” in life can sometimes be more irritating and trying than anything else. “Here’s how you should load the dishwasher. You’re mowing the lawn wrong. Here’s how you should do it. This is how laundry is done the right way.” You and I both know that its often these little “constructive criticisms” that cause the greatest tension and create the biggest problems.
Now, with this mindset in place, I want you to put yourself in Simon Peter’s shoes for a moment. Here was a guy who made his living and supported his family as a fisherman. I often picture Peter as the proverbial Alaskan or New England fisherman; a real no-nonsense, tough-as-nails old salt. These are guys who know how to do their job. I know NOTHING of that type of fishing. I know NOTHING of that job…other than what I’ve seen on a TV show. Being able to identify the Gorton’s fisherman on my box of fish sticks from Walmart doesn’t make me qualified to give deep sea fishermen advice. Guys like me don’t tell guys like that how to do their job, unless guys like me are looking for a fight. Yet, Jesus has the nerve to tell a boatload of fishermen—tired professional fishermen who had already fished all night long and didn’t catch a thing—how to do their job. “Put out to deep waters and let down your nets for a catch.”
The fact that a “land-loving” carpenter’s son is giving professional fishermen advice is enough in itself. However, one must also consider the very advice that Jesus was giving. Not being professional fishermen ourselves, we tend to miss the sheer craziness of Christ’s words. Put out into deep water and let down your nets? Guys: That’s not how you do it! The type of fishing these guys engaged in with the nets was performed in relatively shallow water. This wasn’t a deep-sea sort of venture. This wasn’t like the commercial fishing we see nowadays where crews put out and recover miles of deep-sea nets with heavy machinery. Their tackle and their equipment was made for close-to-shore fishing. If you wanted to catch fish as a first-century fisherman, you tried to cast your nets where the most fish would be, which is typically in shallower, warmer water at night, when the fish are most active.
Think about that for a moment! Jesus was telling these professionals to do the exact opposite of what everyone else has always done. Jesus is telling these professionals to do something completely outside the norm! “Put out into the deep water in the middle of the day and cast your shallow-fishing nets out for a catch.” Yet, here’s the thing. They did it. You don’t hear Simon Peter say, “No offense, Jesus, but I’m the captain of this ship. I know fishing. I’ve been fishing this lake since I was old enough to walk, and I don’t think this is a good idea. We don’t have the right equipment. We’re not in the best spot. We’re not out at the right time of the day. I know this lake better than you do.” You don’t hear any of that, do you? Instead, we simply hear, “Master, we’ve toiled all night and didn’t catch a thing! But because You say so, I will let down the nets.” I think we often miss just how profound this statement of faith really is, so profound, in fact, that Martin Luther called this a greater miracle than the miraculous catch of fish itself.
You see, we have a distinct advantage that Simon Peter and the rest of the disciples didn’t have. We have the gift of hindsight. We know how the story ends. The story, however, was still being written with these guys. They didn’t know or understand that Jesus was preparing them to do the work of evangelism and outreach by teaching them a very important lesson through something as simple as fishing. How could they know? They weren’t even called yet to be His apostles. They were just ordinary, everyday fishermen. They couldn’t see the future. They couldn’t know that Christ’s lesson would have great meaning and profound symbolism until well after all this had transpired and they could look back and say, “Oh…it all makes so much sense now!”
And what kind of meaning and symbolism are we talking about here? Well…it should come as no surprise that the image of the church—the image of God’s people—has always been that of a boat or a ship, going all the way back to Noah, but especially made clear in this particular Gospel lesson. What about the nets? I know its very popular nowadays to hear congregations putting on “net-fishing events” in their communities. They boast of casting their nets out into the community by having barbecues and paintball tournaments and providing a great coffee bar and movie nights and every fun thing under the sun, all in an attempt to add more names to the roster. And people do come out for the free stuff. They get caught up in those nets. However, those are man’s nets that are being cast. That’s how man says you need to be a successful fisherman of men. Those aren’t the nets that Jesus was teaching about. That’s not the catch Christ is looking for.
The nets in this lesson have always been understood to symbolize God’s means of grace—His Word and His Sacraments. That’s what Christ was teaching His future apostles. That’s what Christ still teaches us today. “I know it sounds crazy. I know that the rest of the world says different. They have better tackle, better equipment, better methods, and different spots to fish, all in the name of worldly success. That’s not My way. That’s not My will. I give you all you need to make disciples of all nations. Listen to Me. Use what I give you. Cast those simple nets of Law and Gospel; those simple nets of Word and Sacrament out into all the world when and where I command—even into those seemingly craziest, most unproductive spots, and let Me provide.”
Guys: Look around you! By many standards, doing what we do here seems as foolish as casting out shallow fishing nets in the middle of the day in the deepest, coldest water. Yet, we do it. Why? “Because You say so, Lord. Because of Your Word and command, we fish Your way.” This has been our modus operandi, and our Lord has richly provided! I readily admit that I don’t have much to give you here. We don’t have what everyone else has. However, I freely give you all that Christ gives me. I give you Christ. I give you His full counsel—His Law, which says that each and every one of us are sinful and deserve nothing but death and damnation. I give you His life-giving Gospel, which says that each and every one of us are completely redeemed and forgiven because of His all-atoning death and resurrection. I give you today His very body and blood, not because you’ve earned it, but because our Lord says, “take and eat for the forgiveness of all your sins.”
It is because of these humble, yet powerful, life-giving gifts of Christ that I end today’s message with the simple Gospel proclamation that you are God’s greatest catch. He loved you so much that He willingly ransomed His own Son’s life for yours. Folks: It is this Gospel net which He used, through the working of His Holy Spirit, to catch Simon Peter, enabling him to respond to Christ’s outlandish command in unquestioning and obedient faith. It is the same Gospel net that He used to bring you into the life and salvation of His ark—the Church, and the same Gospel net He continues to use to strengthen you and keep you in the ark of all believers. And it is this same holy net of Gospel that He arms and equips you with in your daily vocations as baptized children of God to be faithful fishers of men.
May God grant you the humble, peaceful obedience of unquestioning, saving faith so that you, too, can confidently cast out His Gospel net, when and where He calls you to do so in your daily lives. “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men. Do not be afraid, for I am with you always, even to the very end of the age. Let go, let down My nets, and let Me work.”
Because You say so, Lord. AMEN
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