Last night was our priest’s final liturgy as the rector of our parish . (It feels weird saying”our” as we’ve only been going there since October and, honestly, I don’t quite feel like we fit [yet] but that’s partly me. It takes me an inordinately long time to open up to people and by the time I do, I feel like people have forgotten about me. But I digress.) I was surprised by the emotion I felt, but not surprised by the emotion in the room. The liturgy felt slower than usual, more drawn out, more deliberate. It lingered, as if heavy, in nearly every way. Perhaps this was deliberate…tonight’s take-away was “going deep.”
Our (now former, I guess) priest, who will be ordained the bishop of New Westminster in Canada next Saturday, delivered a vulnerable, transparent and illuminating homily based on the lectionary’s gospel reading (Luke 5:1-11), which was the story of Jesus instructing a weary Simon Peter to cast his nets into the deep where he brings in enough catch to nearly sink two boats from the lake in which he’d caught nothing the night before. My natural way of reading this has been to categorize it with the feeding of the five thousand; that is, call it a miracle and say that you can do nothing without Christ but everything with him.
Of course, this is all true. But tonight’s shared homily gave me two new points to dig in. The first, pointed out by a jovial, friendly man about my dad’s age: their catch was so big that they did not consider going back for more. The boats were at capacity…perhaps even over it. Sometimes, God does give you more than you can handle, to push back on a trite and gnatty Christianeze phrase. But sometimes, that means that it is provision that might nearly capsize your boat.
The second is a connection I made while listening to the rich, full voice of Mother Melissa smooth the space made rough by the jaggedness saying goodbye gives to emotion. Jesus tells Simon Peter to not fear, they will be fishers of people. This is a statement not a question, a naming, if you will, not an instruction, a calling not a direction. That is, Jesus neither explains how to “catch people” nor is it a point of discussion – it is apparently supposed to be some sort of comfort even…as in, the reason they should not fear?
Though Luke does not put the explanations for how to catch people, or be fishers of people, in Jesus’ mouth, I wonder if it’s not in the story. It’s not clear if Jesus directed the four fishermen to the same spot as they had toiled the previous night away and come up empty at. The text does not tell us what, if anything, the men did wrong before Jesus arrived, nor does it reveal Jesus’ motive for approaching them in the first place. All we have is a change in the load of the boat and, most importantly, what is now “being caught.”
So how do you catch people? I wonder if it’s the same way you scare them: go deep. Your
sinfulness is not an automatic disqualifier (Simon Peter fell to his knees, confessed loudly he was a sinner and told Jesus to leave him…Jesus tells him not to be afraid, he will be a fisher of people). Sometimes, God will dump too many fish into your boat. But if you want to catch people, you have to put your net out deep. Depth might mean revealing shame and so a net is a threat to some; they might initially swim away. Depth looks like a never-ending abyss for others and so a net looks like a rescue; they will gladly be caught up in it. Depth to still others is darkness, all they know, and something they’ve been rejected countless times for not knowing how to shake; a net will look suspicious and they will tread water a safe distance to observe for a while. Jesus gives instructions to the fish (or sheep, as it were, to mix metaphors) elsewhere; here we are given a window into a conversation for how to fish for people: the timid, the needy, the depressed, anyone. If you want a catch of people, you have to go deep. Why? I suspect that deep down, we’re all in deep and getting caught is what we all truly want.