It’s not about the fish, of course.
It is about Simon’s willingness to follow Jesus’ direction, even though he surely knew a whole lot more about catching fish than Jesus did.
It is about the abundance.
It is about the response of those who pulled those breaking nets fish aboard their boats.
Mostly, I expect it is about the presence of Jesus, the Holy One, on that boat.
Indeed, it is not about the fish. Not really.
It is, rather, about what God can do, what God does do, in wholly unexpected places, in entirely unanticipated times.
Which is especially good news, it seems to me, for all of us who have been out “fishing these waters” for years and years by now.
And so it is in these last days I have been trying to put myself in Simon’s “shoes” (or sandals as it may be…)
I have tried to put myself in Simon’s shoes to experience his exhaustion, his skepticism, perhaps, his amazement at having been drawn under the influence of this itinerant teacher who suddenly commandeered his fishing boat on a morning when likely he wanted nothing more than to go home, get some rest, and get ready to start all over again.
I’ve tried to put myself in Simon’s shoes who followed Jesus’ unlikely direction and who suddenly hauled in the biggest catch of his life.
And I have tried to put myself in Simon’s shoes to wonder at what it must have been to simply walk away from a catch which surely could have set him up for the rest of his life.
Indeed, I’ve tried to put myself in Simon’s shoes. And so I find myself wondering now what ‘success’ or what long developed understanding of who I am or what I am particularly good at, I am being called upon to leave behind. And what — other than the very call of God — would possibly compel me to do so?
Indeed, what self understanding which has spent a life time developing is being transformed even now by the One who steps into each of our ‘boats’ and changes everything?
Because it is not about the fish, of course it’s not. Those just stand as symbol of what God can do in the most unlikely places and ways.
It is about calling each and all of us to a new and different life. And for those of us who have heard and responded to this call to get off our boats and go after Jesus before? It is, it seems to me, about doing so again. In new ways. Or in different ways. Certainly, in deeper ways.
I don’t know about you, but Jesus keeps on calling me out of the safety and familiarity of my ‘boat’ urging me to venture with him onto dry land. And while this has been true for as long as I can remember, I expect that a whole lot of times fear, or self doubt, or just plain obtuseness, kept me from hearing and responding. Now maybe I am getting old, so what used to frighten me doesn’t so much any more. Perhaps I am finally learning that God’s good gifts are the reason for whatever ‘success’ I have had anyway — as was surely the case in today’s Gospel image of all those fish. Or maybe I have gotten weary of ignoring the call. I mean, Jesus keeps climbing into my ‘boat’ anyway, regardless of how many times I have turned a deaf ear to his call before.
This is how it was for me in December. I got an invitation from a member of my congregation to come and talk to her 5th grade class about Christmas. They had a guest speak about Hanukkah a few weeks before and apparently it went well. I said yes, because I have learned to say yes, even to those things which terrify me, because I have found I am almost never sorry. I agreed to get out of the safety of my ‘boat’ and to venture onto dry land.
So yes, I was anxious about it. I have never felt particularly confident in my ability to present to children… especially children I have just met. However, having said ‘yes,’ it being December, I did not have much time to really think about it — nor to plan well for it. I found myself sending ahead a short video clip which I think tells the story well. I brought several small representations of the Nativity, which are particularly precious to me. At the last minute, I decided to let the class direct the conversation. I handed out slips of paper and invited their questions.
Here is what struck me as soon as I entered the room. This particular class of fifth graders was a whole lot more brown than white. I found myself shrinking inside to realize the video I would share was of a group of very white children retelling the Christmas story. On the other hand, I was grateful that one of my Nativity scenes was from Tanzania, so at least that balanced it out a little.
And no, I did not think it went particularly well. Perhaps this should come as no surprise that a group of 5th graders would be wound up a few weeks before Christmas. They did, however, jump into their assignment to write down questions they had about ‘Christmas…’
I was asked, for instance, why we have a Christmas tree, why we put a star on top, why we give gifts and why we have ‘Christmas’ at all. One wanted to know why the colors red and green are part of Christmas and another why Christmas is in December and another why Christmas happens every year on the same date.
The question that stays with me still is this: “Why does a chubby man break into your house at night?” Perhaps the questioner was being silly, but it haunts me still to know that for some, perhaps too many, the prospect of someone breaking into your house would be laden with real memories of experiences of trauma.
And this. The look on a young boy’s face when I shared (using my Tanzanian nativity) that Jesus was not, in fact, white. And he pointed at the back of his own hand and said, “Jesus would have been my color.”
Oh, I stepped out of the safety of my ‘boat’ in December. And as I said, I did not feel as though it went all that well. I am not sure that fifth graders will ever be my best ‘audience.’ Even so, having done so, I saw a piece of the world my neighbors see every day from which I am too often sheltered. And I found myself asking questions I had not asked before. Indeed, having done so once, I am wondering how my having followed Jesus even a little bit one morning in December will prompt me to get out of my safe ‘boat’ again. And perhaps again.
Indeed, what might it look like for us to be ‘fishing’ in new ways?
And what sort of humble posture is called for as we do so? Oh, in what ways are we driven to our knees as Simon was? As I was that December morning? Indeed, what am I called to repent of as I seek to more faithfully follow Jesus? And how then are we lifted up to follow?
I do not fully know the answers to these questions yet: not for myself and certainly not for the congregation I am called to serve. Indeed, I expect in these days I am simply going to just keep trying to ‘put myself in Simon’s shoes.’ I am going to keep watching and listening for where Jesus is calling me, calling us, to get out of our ‘boats’ and to become something, someone, entirely new. I, for one, cannot help but wonder what that might look like even tomorrow.
How about you?
- What might you learn about yourself, the world, the church, Jesus — if you ‘put yourself in Simon’s shoes?’
- What are you called to leave behind in order to fully respond to God’s Call? What might this look like for your congregation?
- What understanding of who you are/who your congregation is, is being transformed by Jesus’ call to get out of our ‘boats’ and follow him?
- When was the last time you stepped out of your safe ‘boat’ to respond to Jesus’ call? What did you learn? How were you changed as a result?