In today’s gospel reading Luke tells us how Jesus called his first disciples. (Luke 5:1-13).
We may remember Mark’s story better, because we’ve heard it more often – Jesus is walking by the Sea of Galilee; he sees Simon and Andrew casting their nets into the water; he calls them, and they drop their nets and follow him. Then, walking a little further, Jesus sees John and James, mending their nets. And he says to them also, “Come, follow me.”
Luke’s version has many more details. Luke tells us that Jesus is not just walking along the lakeshore: he’s been teaching, and the crowd is already so large that it is pushing him into the water. So he asks Simon (who is washing his nets after a long night of fishing) if he can sit in his empty boat, and Simon agrees. So Jesus climbs into Simon’s boat and continues his teaching.
And then, instead of getting out of the boat when he’s finished, Jesus tells Simon to take the boat out again, into the middle of the sea, and put his nets down in the water one more time. But Simon (who perhaps didn’t care if Jesus sat in his boat while the nets were being cleaned) now objects to going back to work, because he knows there aren’t any fish out there. Yet (perhaps impressed with Jesus’ authority after hearing him speak to the crowd), Simon agrees to take the boat out again – and now the nets are filled with fish.
Over the years, this part of Luke’s story has sometimes been called the “miraculous catch”. But the catch didn’t have to be a miracle – there were often large shoals of fish in the sea of Galilee. One fisherman might not be able to see the fish from his boat, but a man in another boat could; or someone standing on the beach might see them very clearly. So Jesus didn’t make the fish appear, nor did he need extraordinary eyesight; he could have just seen the fish, and pointed them out to Simon.
So where’s the “miracle” in this story – is it about catching fish, or is it about seeing in a new way?
What if we could see in a new way?
With the right kind of vision, everything “snaps” into place. Then we begin to see details we’ve forgotten all about, or perhaps never seen before.
When our oldest son was about 8 or 9, he got his first pair of glasses. I remember how excited he was, riding in the car on our way home from the eye doctor – he was just bouncing up and down in his seat, pointing out things he had never seen before on the street he’d traveled so many times before. For the first time in his life, he was seeing everything – the whole picture.
And, more relevant to me all these years later, friends have had cataract surgery, and once the old lenses were gone, suddenly they were seeing see true colors again – no more yellow light clouding their vision.
What if we could put on a pair of glasses that allowed us to see the world the way God sees it? What if we asked Jesus remove the film from our eyes?
Jesus tells us that God sees differently than we do – God sees not just the details, and God sees not just the true colors, but God sees the whole picture. When we begin to understand this – that God sees the world differently than we do – we’ve taken our first step towards seeing the world the way God sees it.
When we are willing to let go of our cataracts – let go of our comfort with the ways things seem to be; let go of our acquired cynicism, our hopelessness, our fears for the future, our partial experience that we thought revealed the whole picture….then we’re letting ourselves see the world the way God sees it.
Seen through God’s eyes, the whole world is interconnected. God sees that I’m connected to you, and you’re connected to others, going back through our DNA all the way to the beginning of time. God sees the rich connected to the poor, and the powerful to the powerless, and citizens to non-citizens… And in God’s eyes you and I, and every human being on this earth, we are all connected to the earth itself, and to every single plant and animal on this earth.
And the bond of interconnection, the bond that connects us to each other (whether we see it or not), the bond that connects us to our Creator, the bond that connects us to the natural world, that bond is love.
At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus is already seeing with God’s eyes. He has come out of his 40 days in the desert to his home country, Galilee, and begun to teach.
But just a month from today, the gospel for the first Sunday in Lent will take us back into the desert, reminding us of the temptations Jesus faced. When that morning comes, listen carefully to each temptation the devil offers Jesus.
With each temptation, the devil will paint a picture for Jesus – a picture of bread for a hungry man; a picture of political power for a man hungry to make the world a different kind of place; and a picture of spiritual power for a man hungry for God.
But Jesus will respond to each temptation with another picture – a picture of food that truly nourishes; a picture of political power that also shows the human cost; and a picture of spiritual power that sees the world in its true colors. And that spiritual power is love.
What if we could see God the way Jesus saw God?
In today’s gospel, Jesus’ message to Simon (and to us) is not about fishing. Jesus’ real message is about how to see God. Listen again to what Jesus says to Simon:
Don’t be afraid.
Since the New Year started, I’ve been reading through Luke’s Gospel and I’ve seen that this same message comes to every person in the story: to Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist; to Mary, the mother of Jesus; to the shepherds out in the fields; and now to these fishermen on the sea of Galilee…. The message is always: Don’t be afraid.
And it’s this same message that Jesus wants us to hear:
Don’t be afraid.
Notice that Jesus is not saying – Be afraid of the God who will judge you harshly unless you join up and fly right! Notice that he is saying:
Don’t be afraid of God!
Too often Christians have tried to convert others to Jesus before they have really understood Jesus’ picture of God. These attempts at evangelism have often had an underlying theme: “Be afraid of the God who will judge you harshly unless you join up and fly right!”
But long before we try to bring someone to the Way of Jesus, we need to learn how to see God the way Jesus sees God. Then — looking at God through Jesus’ eyes — we can begin to see the world the way God sees it. Only then can we truly share Jesus’ message with others.
As we listen to Luke’s gospel this year, we’ll hear Jesus unfold his message again and again; and that message always begins with:
Don’t be afraid.
Jesus tells his disciples (and us): Don’t be afraid. God loves you, and welcomes you, and will always be with you. So let’s take the first step today: Let’s ask God to rip off our cataracts. Let’s lift our eyes to the face of a loving God. Let’s try to see the world as God sees it. And above all, let’s learn to love as Jesus loves.
And now may the God of immeasurable love,
who calls us all to love without measure,
guide us this day and always;
may God’s strength uphold us,
God’s love enfold us,
God’s peace empower us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Preached at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, Kenwood, on February 10, 2019.