Gospel Reading for the 16th Sunday after Pentecost
While the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennes′aret. And he saw two boats by the lake; but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zeb′edee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.Luke 5:1—11 (Revised Standard Version)
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Who here has ever been in a boat? Today’s Gospel reading is about a boat, and how Jesus met some of his first disciples.
Jesus was teaching people near the shore of a lake, and there were so many people who wanted to hear him that he started running out of room. There were some fishermen nearby who had been fishing all night and were washing their nets, so Jesus asked them if they would take him out in their boat so that he could teach the people on the shore.
When Jesus was done teaching, he told the fishermen to take their boat out farther and to let down their fishing nets (the ones they’d just washed and put away). The fishermen told him they’d fished all night, but hadn’t caught anything, but they did it anyway—and they caught so many fish that their nets started breaking, they had to call another boat to come help them, and both boats almost sank because they had so many fish in them! The fishermen realized that this was a miracle. Then Jesus told them that they would become fishers of men.
When you walk into a church building, the first room you enter is called the narthex. Next, you come into this area, and this is called the nave. The word, nave, sounds like navy, and naval, and other words that have to do with boats. So you can think of the church as a boat. It even looks a little like a boat, if you use your imagination.
What happens if you get off a boat in the middle of the water? You have to swim by yourself. That can be hard, especially if the water is rough, and the waves are high. There’s another boat in the Bible you’ve probably heard of, and that’s Noah’s Ark. The ark protected Noah and his family and all the animals during the great flood. That’s what a boat is for, it protects the people on it from drowning in the water around them. And that’s another way the church is like a boat. The church protects us from the world outside.
When Jesus told the fishermen that they would become fishers of men, he meant that they would become his disciples and that they would bring people into his Church. Just like the fish they caught that morning were so many that they almost sank the boat, they would bring that many people into the Church. And they couldn’t do it alone. Remember? They needed to call more fishermen to help. That’s us. We’re fishers of men too. Imagine if we brought so many people into our church that there was no room for them all. That might be a little scary—but it might be wonderful—and it would be what our Lord, Jesus Christ, has called us all to do.
There is so much to glean from this short pericope: Bede teaches that the washing of the nets indicates that, even though we’re called to be fishers of men, we can’t always be fishing; we also have to take time for the disciplines of the Christian life. Theophilus of Antioch indicates that consecration to Christ’s service confers blessing, and that faith in Christ surpasses human reason and effort. All the fathers seem to agree that the boats represent the Church, and several suggest that the first boat represents the Jews and the second the Gentiles, or the first the apostles and the second those that follow them, and that the work is so great, that they are both needed.
Children need to feel safe. Some children don’t feel safe at school. Some don’t feel safe at home. The one place that all children should be able to feel safe is in the Church. I understand that’s not always the case, and that is horrifying, but I think it’s generally true.
As a kid, church was my safe place. It’s where I felt the most myself. It’s where I had no worries. That hasn’t carried through into adulthood. Church, for me, is an anxious place now. It’s where I’m least sure of myself—where I often feel like I’m about to sink. Maybe I’m not trusting enough in the God who protected Peter and his companions in the midst of the miraculous catch of fish. Maybe I’m not taking enough time to wash and mend my nets. Whatever it is, I pray to overcome it, to the glory of God.
But these nets are at one time spread out for catching fish, at another washed and folded up. For every time is not fitted for teaching, but at one time the teacher must speak with the tongue, and at another time we must discipline ourselves.Bede
But our Lord, since he had taught the people out of the ship, left not the master of the ship without reward, but conferred on him adouble kindness, giving him first a multitude of fishes, and next making him His disciple:Theophilus of Antioch