by Joan Fanshawe
(Based on Luke 5:1-11)
You have just heard a great little story – one many will remember from Sunday School times and may still have images in your mind from that time.
I love the idea of Jesus, desperate for a little space from which to speak to the crowds pressing upon him, just commandeering Simon’s boat. (Luke is still naming him Simon, but we’d better relate to this disciple as Peter – Simon Peter.)
And I love that Peter just lets him. I mean, he’d been fishing all night and probably wanted to finish cleaning up and get home to bed. But he takes Jesus out anyway. Possibly – no – probably, he already knew Jesus, and was used to this kind of thing.
In a previous chapter of Luke we hear that Jesus had healed many people and stayed at Peter’s house and healed his mother-in-law of a fever but the Gospels aren’t necessarily chronological on some of these story details. So maybe Peter was grateful and there’s not much he wouldn’t do for Jesus.
Or maybe he was just that kind of a guy, the kind of guy who would push out from shore even though he was dead tired, just because you asked. We don’t know. He just does it. You’ve got to love that.
When Jesus has finished teaching the crowd on the shore – note there’s no detail about the message, but I’m sure it would’ve been about the Kingdom of God, justice, liberty for the oppressed, good news for the poor – you know – love in action …
Jesus isn’t actually all done for the day. He tells Peter to push the boat out further into deeper water and with his partners put the nets down again.
After a slight demur, Peter again does something that doesn’t make sense … letting down his nets. After he’d been fishing all night and caught nothing.
Can’t you imagine the expression on the fishermen’s faces as they struggle to haul in this catch, call their friends to help, and barely get their nets to shore?
I even love the idea that however much Peter thinks he knows Jesus, he only now realises that he really doesn’t know him, that he’s only just beginning to realise who and what Jesus is, and that it scares him enough to make that confession:
“Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
And I love that Jesus says to him: “Do not be afraid.”
Do not be afraid!
This is the hallmark of Luke’s Gospel; maybe the hallmark of the Gospel. Jesus comes so that we don’t have to be afraid any more. I love that.
And then Jesus gives Peter something to do, something bigger and larger than anything he’d ever imagined.
“Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”
I don’t want to rush on past the importance of the message in this story, of finding abundance if you push out into deeper waters, if you are prepared to go to that deeper place with Jesus and discover that in the gospel of hope and love there is so much more. The story shows this very clearly. And I’m pleased to have moved on from earlier held ideas that this was the hook line and sinker – haul ‘em in-type fishing image that urged the recruitment of ‘unbelievers’ on to church pews.
And I loved waking yesterday to find Pastor Steve’s* contribution in my mailbox just the words to express what I was feeling:
To be fishers of people
is to let the great net of your love
down into their lives,
trusting that there you will discover
miracles and blessings,
and draw them out.
Now: somehow I wanted to segue this story into some pertinent words about our Waitangi Day; and the Treaty of Waitangi.
I haven’t found a segue, except to urge us all to go deeper, to put away previously held assumptions, to read more stories, history of our New Zealand beginnings, to acknowledge past injustice and support efforts to honour the Treaty.
Christian missionaries were very influential, with worthy aspirations at the preparation of the treaty. As followers of Jesus if we can renew within ourselves the faith and the courage of our forebears who first signed the Treaty, we may well rise to fulfil our true potential as one people.
A starting point might be to read John Bluck’s story recently published on the Radio NZ website**, which looks at pakeha identity today through the example a long forgotten missionary who came to New Zealand in the period shortly after the Treaty was signed. (This is the same John Bluck who authored the booklet circulating currently on Anglicanism.)
In going deeper myself I know I will have to confront some personal attitude challenges of impatience with the place we are at here in Aotearoa NZ. We have a lot of work to do before we can say we are one people.
From the beginning of trying to put all this together, Peter’s confession has been real for me.
Jesus’s response, “Be not afraid”, doesn’t mean – don’t worry. It means there is another way – and invites me to follow more deeply.
Sadly the promotion of being kind is being battered down in many quarters right now but doesn’t it underlie all this? We need to keep kindness alive.
I share this from a former Waitangi Day service:
If our sense of servanthood can overpower our sense of entitlement;
If our hunger for justice can overpower our selfish greed;
If our hope can be more relentless than our grievance;
And if our love can be more powerful than our litigation;
We will fulfil the greater promise of the Treaty of Waitangi:
One people, united.
Until then, we need to pray for peace, and to strive to deal with injustice and oppression.
Nā tōu rourou, nā tāku rourou, ka mākona te iwi.
We are all in this together.
*Steve Garnaas-Holmes at www.unfoldinglight.net
** Radio NZ: John Bluck interview