A meditation on Luke 5:1-11.
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God…
We grope for what is spiritual-but-not-religious. Beyond the rusted institutions. These have utterly failed to meet human need. Too often, the church is a performance, a club, an obligation. So we go beyond the four walls, where Steadfast Love cannot be contained or confined. We come to the shore. Water and trees and birds bring life and hope and wonder. Jesus meets us there. He is the anti-institutional inspiration. He speaks truth and beauty. The word of God.
…he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.
At the shore, Jesus beckons us to the simple life. Everything we need is right in front of us. Manna. Boats. Fill-in-the-blank. Cultivating awareness becomes crucial to the spiritual life. Jesus points to the nets. Like our souls, and everything else that carries heavy burdens, they need washing.
He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
At first, Jesus stays close to the shore. Just below the surface. There is so much to unlearn. Real life must begin with wading. What is spiritual-not-religious is a lot more drastic than it sounds because what is divine is far different than what is conventional. Jesus is inviting us to join this conspiracy. Because quite frankly, when the tide of what is conventional rolls away, it unveils an unsustainable life. Boredom. Busyness. Loneliness. Shame. Regret. Resentment. All of this leaves us high and dry.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
Our commitment to this conspiracy is the first step in a thousand-mile journey. Eventually, we are called to go deeper. It is scary moving away from the shore. Not so certain. We summon courage to engage what is swimming far below the surface. Only by going deep can we learn how the world operates. That capitalism requires exploitation and extraction, war and unemployment. The deep is also where we begin to understand why we feel so lonely and stay so busy.
Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
We learn the fundamentals: We did not cause it. We cannot control it. We will not cure it. But we stay committed to our old patterns anyway. It is exhausting. Up all night with our fears and regrets and worries. Our life has become unmanageable. So we listen and take the first step. We surrender. We accept. We let go. We admit that only Steadfast Love has the power to transform us and save the world. Releasing our grip is the opposite of cynicism, narcissism, indifference and apathy.
When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.
When we possess the will and skill to search below the surface, we cultivate genuine compassion. For ourselves and others. We drop our agendas. We seek to understand. The fish start swimming in our direction.
So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.
We are never alone in the spiritual journey. There are a precious few who really do care. They long to share their experience, strength, hope, pain and joy with us. And us with them. It is a ministry of mutuality.
But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
When we dive deep and discover the truth about our world and ourselves, we realize that we are complicit. There are destructive patterns that are holding us back. Substitute “sinful” for white supremacist or patriarchal or colonial — not just “out there,” but in here, too! More synonyms tarry, whether addictive or narcissistic or vengeful or entitled or holding grudges or projecting pain or clinging to power and privilege or just plain greedy. Our strong tendency is to hide all of these. Our shadows are shameful. But only if we keep them to ourselves. Out in the open, shame cannot survive.
For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken…
Our shadows pale in comparison to the greatness we were made for. When we are released from the old patterns, we are amazed at what is possible — how easy it is to experience Steadfast Love and pass it on to others. We find it hard to believe we actually chose to live on the shore for that long.
…and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”
We can drop our fear because this is the beginning of a revolution. In this era, though, conversions do not come through coercion. The conspiracy will grow when small communities live in compelling ways. When we resist conventional wisdom and rise above it. Like leaven in the loaf. Just one day at a time.
When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
But here’s the catch: Going deep demands everything. It requires allegiance and attention, inventory and intention. At some point, everyone has the epiphany: We cannot stay at the shore forever. So we might as well start now.
Tom Airey is the co-editor of radicaldiscipleship.net, where this post first appeared. He and his wife, Lindsay, live in Detroit, where they are serving with St. Peter’s Episcopal Church and the Jeanie Wylie Christian Community.