Luke 5: 1-16
Each of the four gospels has a story about the calling of the first disciples, and the story is different in each gospel. Luke’s version is one that brings out different responses, depending on where and who you are.
When I talked about this story in Harrington Harbour and Sambro, both fishing villages, the immediate response was all about the fish. “I can’t believe them fishermen took advice from a non-fisherman, wouldn’t catch anyone around here doing that.” And, “how would you get your boat back to shore if it's overflowing with fish? What’s Jesus thinking?”
In Whitehorse, where there were many government employees in the congregation and people were more affluent, they were unnerved by that final line in first part of story, they left everything behind them and followed Jesus. “Everything? What does that mean, everything? How could they provide for their families? Maybe they sold some fish first, or rented out their boats, or at least asked someone to look after them.” Being people who were particularly fond of their investments and pensions, they couldn’t conceive of just leaving everything.
As someone said in Bible Study here, it sounds like a simple story, but it’s not, is it. It manages to get under our skin, to poke at our soft places. As usual with the Bible, whatever part of the story bothers us most is probably the part we need to spend the most time with.
At Bible study on Thursday, several people were bothered by Simon’s response to the miracle of the great catch of fish. Instead of being thankful, he falls on his knees in front of Jesus and says, Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!
Why does Simon put himself down like that, people asked. Does he have a problem with self esteem? I don’t think is so much about Simon thinking he is a bad person, just more that this was such an obvious, dramatic example of divine power, that Simon feels overwhelmed. Clearly Jesus is much closer to God than he, Simon, is and Simon has no idea how to respond, other than to make it clear that he is far from perfect and that he doesn’t feel worthy of experiencing power of God in his life.
We have to remember that fishermen were not high up on the social ladder of that time. They didn’t make lot of money, they didn’t own land, basically they lived day to day, selling what they caught. They couldn’t always follow all the cleanliness laws, which put them even further down the ladder.
For them it would make absolutely no sense that Jesus is spending time with them, doing miracles for them. They aren’t worthy, they aren’t prepared, they aren’t any of the things they have been led to believe would be important to a teacher, a man of God, like Jesus. Simon tries to sum all of this up when he bursts out, go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man. I am not who you’re looking for.
And what is Jesus’ response? Don’t be afraid, from now on you will be catching people. Don’t be afraid, it’s a classic Biblical refrain. Every time God calls people and they try to back away, God says, don’t be afraid, I’ll be with you. I got this.
And the line about from now you will be catching people? That is a brilliant bit of coaching or leadership, or ministry or whatever word want to use. Jesus takes what is familiar to these men, what are already good at and gives it a new twist. They’re scared, they're feeling confused and insecure, so after assuring them of God's presence with them, he refers to something they are familiar with and good at, fishing, and only then does he give the nudge into new territory, I want you to try fishing for people.
It’s a classic Jesus dare. He pushes people out of their comfort zone with a new idea or image or story, then reels them back in by showing how it isn’t so radical after all, it’s familiar,and then comes zinger, now go do this in a new way.
Basically Jesus dares people, dares us, to trust ourselves and to trust him, to trust God. They’re both tough, aren’t they? It's easy for us to put ourselves down, to think we aren’t good enough, and to unconsciously use that as an excuse for not living out our faith more fully. Trusting ourselves, that we are good enough as we are, that we don’t have to be perfect, that we have gifts and faith and love to share that can make a difference in the lives of others, that doesn’t necessarily come easily, does it.
How many of us have a voice that whispers in our ear, you idiot! What did you do that for? What do you think you’re doing? You’ll never succeed, what a mess, you’ll never be as good as this person or that person - and so on.
Daring to trust ourselves means closing our ears to that voice, taking the risk of trying something that may not succeed at. Daring to trust God means trusting that we won’t be alone in going out of our comfort zone, trusting that our skills will be used in meaningful ways, trusting that “success” can be measured in many different ways.
One woman at Bible study gave a beautiful example of this. She said that several years ago she saw a notice in the paper about the need for volunteers to teach mentally disabled adults how to sew. The woman liked to sew, but didn’t consider herself a great seamstress. But that ad kept sticking in her mind, calling to her. The voice in head said, you're not good enough! You can’t do this. The voice in her heart said, give it a try.
She took the risk, gave it a try and loves it. It's a very meaningful part of her week, and she receives as much as she gives. It doesn’t matter if her sewing isn’t perfect, it's about sharing time and love more than creating perfectly sewed projects.
To me this is a great example of a Jesus dare. You take something familiar and let yourself be called, pushed, to use it in new ways that put your faith into action, that serve God and others in the world. As Biblical scholar Peter Eaton says, “Faithful discipleship makes ordinary work itself the vehicle of Jesus’ real presence in the life of the world.”
But just in case we think we can get away with dares that don’t challenge us too much, the first thing Jesus does after calling the disciples is heal a leper. To us this sounds fairly standard, we are familiar with the idea of Jesus healing lepers. But to Simon, James & John, it would have been quite unexpected, especially when Jesus touches the leper in order to heal him. Lepers were literally untouchable in Jewish society. Not only was their horrible skin disease transmitted through physical contact, but they were considered untouchable from a faith perspective too. Touching them made a person spiritually unclean. So when Jesus heals a leper by touching him, he is showing his new disciples that he will be taking them into all sorts of new places, putting their faith into action in ways that are well outside norms of their society, that will be risky, but also rewarding.
At some point all of us will experience a Jesus dare. Some dares will be for us to use our familiar gifts and skills in new ways, others will be to really strike out and try something completely new.
We experience Jesus dares as a family of faith as well. Right now we're going through one with our Ministry Profile and search committee's work to create a second ministry position. The process of examining who we are and what God is calling us to be can be a dare to be something new, to go in new directions, it's up to us how we use it.
Whether Jesus dares come to us as individuals or as a congregation, the important thing is to remember two parts of Jesus' invitation to those fishermen: First, don't be afraid, you're not alone in this. Second, you already have all the skills you need for this, just trust God to help you use them.
May God help us all to recognize Jesus dares when we encounter them and to trust ourselves and God so that we can respond whole heartedly.