Lectionary 5 ~ Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
To be or to do things in our world, you must be qualified. You must meet certain qualifications to graduate from high school and to enter college. Doctors and Certified Public accountants have requirements to practice. Athletes and horses need to qualify for competitions. Discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930, Pluto became the ninth planet in our solar system. But in 1992, some people began to question Pluto’s status. In 2006, Pluto was demoted. Pluto failed; it no longer qualified as a planet.
Of course, there are formal and informal qualifications. Informal qualifications are expectations, more or less. An informal qualification for a carpenter is to be skilled at using a saw and a hammer. One would expect a dog walker to like dogs.
In Simon Peter’s time and place, you qualified to be a fishermen by obtaining a license, which could only be gotten by joining a syndicate. The waters and the fishing industry were under the control of the Roman Empire. The informal qualifications to be a fisherman were to catch fish. Simon Peter must have been able to catch enough fish that after the government took their hefty share, he still had enough to support himself. But that night, he had been out from the setting of the sun to its rising, and caught nothing. One day, which happened to be this day, Jesus was on the shore of the lake. Throngs of people had followed him. There were so many there crowding in on him, he had no choice but to jump into a boat before he got trampled. Peter’s boat, which was empty because he had not caught any fish. Peter had given up, and, with the crowds looking on, he cleaned his bare, floppy nets. The whole community witnessed his failure.
From Simon Peter’s boat, Jesus spoke to the crowds. When he said all he was going to say, he turned his attention to Simon Peter. “Go on out to the deep water, and put your nets out.” “But, Jesus, I fished all night long, and I did not catch anything, not even an old boot. I don’t even think I am qualified to be a fisherman,” Peter said, confessing his failure. “I am physically and emotionally exhausted.” With deep resignation, Peter sighed, “Yet if you say so.”
Have you ever disappointed someone, possibly, most likely, yourself? Have you ever tried so hard, giving it everything you have, and fell flat on your face? Maybe like me, you have gotten to the point where you said, “I’m done. I’m just done.” Maybe your failure was a job, or a ministry. Maybe it was a relationship. I once spent 6 hours playing 9 holes of golf. Perhaps you would answer all of the above, and, no doubt you have failed more than once.
At the point that the fishermen said, “I’m done,” Jesus showed up. They brought their boats to shore, and were cleaning their nets before they put them away. The details of this story are revealing. Did you notice that before Jesus teaches the people, he gets into Peter’s boat? Then, before he instructs Simon Peter to fish once more, Jesus teaches the crowds. Which means that before Peter tries again, he hears Jesus say to all the people gathered, and to him, “God loves you.” He hears Jesus say, “You may have given up on yourself, but God will never abandon you.”
When he was finished teaching, Jesus told Peter and the others to let down the nets. They just wanted to go home to bed, but it was Jesus who wanted them to do it. (Have you ever tried saying no to Jesus?) Last night’s failure was in their minds as the ropes left their hands. But this time was different. Jesus was there, right there in the boat with them, out in the deep water. They pulled up so many fish that their nets stretched almost to the breaking point. The first boat was filled, and then a second boat. The weight of their catch began to sink the vessels. This was not just one day’s worth, or even two. This was unbounded abundance. It was God’s grace, like two fish and five loaves feeding thousands upon thousands.
Peter, looking at everything and everyone, dropped to the floor. “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful person! You have done for me what I could not do for myself, but I am not good enough for you to love me this much. I don’t deserve your blessings.” Peter’s words sound like someone who feels like a failure. “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful person!”
Jesus’ next words to Peter were, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” In other words, “Don’t be afraid, Peter! You are exactly who you should be. I will help you. And if you fail, God won’t. God’s abundant grace will overflow. I trust you enough to share my mission with you. I trust in you, believe in you, love you. Do the same for me.
Like Peter, God says to us, “Do what you do. Your workplace, your community, your life–that’s where I will show up. My promise to you is to use what knowledge, skills, and gifts that you have, to bless them and multiply them with blessings that know no bounds.” Following Jesus means trusting that God always loves us, whether we fail or not, and whether we can fish, or play golf, or not. God never gives up on us. God entrusts God’s mission to us, with the promise to be with us, to love through us, to save through us, and to bless others through us.
Let us pray. O Lord God who has called us, your servants, to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, and through perils unknown, give us faith to go out with good courage, knowing that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen!
~ Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin
https://www.space.com/41769-pluto-planet-definition-debate-rages-on.html. The definition agreed upon at that IAU meeting requires that an object meet three conditions to qualify as a planet: It must orbit the sun, it must be massive enough that its gravity pulls it more or less into a spherical shape, and it must clear the neighborhood around its orbit.