“Master, we have worked all night long, but have caught nothing”
It sounds like Simon Peter and his friends had been struggling to keep their business afloat (sorry!). Making a living from fishing, then as now, was a difficult thing to do.
And there were times when no matter what they did, or how hard they worked, no fish came. And when that happened there wasn’t enough to sell and there wasn’t enough for their families to eat. So sometimes they had to borrow money to make ends meet, but then they had to pay it back out of the proceeds of the fishing over the next few months, so they had even less money to live on.
So when the boats came in that morning to find Jesus there on the beach, perhaps they might be forgiven for a bit of hesitancy. They knew him, of course – he’d been around the village of Capernaum for a while. He’d spoken in the synagogue and healed a man with a mental illness. He’d even healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. So that was good…
So when Jesus told him to put out into the lake again and let down the nets they’d just cleaned, it’s not surprising Simon Peter protested – “Master, we have worked all night long, but have caught nothing”.
After two years of Covid, when we’ve had to suspend much of our activity as a parish and haven’t had a lot of energy to start new things in case they just got cancelled when the rules changed, perhaps some of you feel the same about All Saints. We’ve worked to keep our parish going, but it’s hard, and last year we couldn’t make ends meet. We know we need to address the concerns and needs of our town community too. We need to do some fund-raising, and we need to attend to our building maintenance, and we need to have time together to build each other up.
Yet, actually, some of us are finding it harder to get to church these days, and the demands of family and our day-jobs take up all our head-space so that we perhaps feel a bit like Simon Peter. I confess there are times I feel like that at the moment, too.
So what’s the Good News in the gospel this morning for us, then?
Well, look what happens next in the story. Simon Peter sees the look in Jesus’ eye. He sees, perhaps, confidence, hope, faith. And so he says, ‘Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets’. He makes the decision, and of course, when he does, the nets fill up to bursting with all sorts of fish. Enough fish to pay off all their debts. Enough fish to sell at the market. Enough to preserve for winter. Enough to feast on.
And he realises that his protest and his doubt were stupid. He realises that, knowing Jesus, he should have trusted. But his first instinct is to shy away. And of course that’s not the last time he would do that over the next three years he was with Jesus.
But rather than tease him, Jesus accepts him just as he is. Jesus calls him away from the nets to follow him. Jesus calls him by name, along with James and John. And they would become the core leadership team in the new ministry that was beginning and would be with Jesus to the end and beyond the end to a new Way that would become the church. And the people for whom they fished ended up not trapped in a net, but freed unto new life.
The nets full of all kinds of fish were a sign of that abundant life we lead when we follow Jesus, when we trust.
So now, in 2022, we are called once more to put down our nets as a parish and as individuals. And as we’re signed up to promote the full breadth of inclusivity, we want to welcome all to that abundant life.
So here’s a sign to remember that call of Jesus to us:
It’s a fish – and it’s a very ancient way that Christians used to recognise one another. One person would draw a curve on the ground, and if the other person drew the other curve they’d know they were Christians.
And those odd symbols in the middle? Well, that’s a word in the common Greek language spoken in the time of Jesus – Icthys. It means fish. So it’s a picture of a fish with the word fish on it. But there’s more…
Each letter of the word stands for another Greek word – “Iēsoûs Khrīstós, Theoû Huiós, Sōtḗr” – or Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour. So you see, the fish was a sign about Jesus, and about what he has done for us – saved us. Saved us from ourselves like he did Simon Peter. Saved us into abundant life for our community.
The good news this morning, then, is that we can trust that call of Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour as he calls each of us by name to follow him.
We may have been through a long night of fishing and catching nothing in our lives over the last couple of years. But now’s the time to push back out into the deep water and let down our nets once more.
As we do that, and do it more and more, I believe we will receive all that we need. We will grow more inclusive. We will see a surplus in our funds that we can share. We will see our community service work flourish. We will see our buildings mended and developed. We will feast together with our brothers and sisters in our town.
Derek Lancaster, LLM