Lenten Devotional // Day 9

Friday, March 11

Luke 5:1-11
One day Jesus was standing beside Lake Gennesaret when the crowd pressed in around him to hear God’s word. Jesus saw two boats sitting by the lake. The fishermen had gone ashore and were washing their nets. Jesus boarded one of the boats, the one that belonged to Simon, then asked him to row out a little distance from the shore. Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he finished speaking to the crowds, he said to Simon, “Row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.”
Simon replied, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.”
So they dropped the nets and their catch was so huge that their nets were splitting.They signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They filled both boats so full that they were about to sink. When Simon Peter saw the catch, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!” Peter and those with him were overcome with amazement because of the number of fish they caught. James and John, Zebedee’s sons, were Simon’s partners and they were amazed too.
Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” As soon as they brought the boats to the shore, they left everything and followed Jesus.

I vividly remember my first deep sea fishing excursion. I awakened at 4am inside the drab condo my dad had rented. My first thought was: “What sane person gets up this early on purpose?”  My second was: “Why isn’t dad wearing pants?”

I saddled up in the minivan with my dad, my brother, Pete, Eddie and Harry. Everyone but me had sun-drenched skin and workmanlike appearances that, ironically, resembled ancient fishermen from Israel; the kind Jesus would typically recruit. While driving toward the docks, plumes of smoke billowed out of the windows from freshly lit Marlboro Lights, Newports and Camel Reds. Pete and Eddie shamelessly whistled at a young woman out for a sunrise jog. Yeah, commercial window cleaners from Middle Tennessee are an interesting breed of ‘disciples’.

The captain of our vessel that day was nominally memorable, but I fully recall the first mate. His spiky brown hair sat atop a roundish, yet sturdy physique. Every once in a while, he’d flash a flaxen smile; but mostly he was brusque and prickly. Captain referred to him as “Pineapple.” It was a fitting sobriquet.
For six hours, the smoldering sun baked our bodies- attracted by the dark blue water. But our poles could not attract a single fish. Pineapple blurted out, “yeah, we didn’t catch anything yesterday either.” Pete and Harry shifted as if they might move to toss him overboard.

The captain made a final pass with his fish finder, when suddenly my brother pointed from starboard and yelled “I think we should head over that-a-way.” Pineapple gave a loud, incredulous snort, but the captain yielded (perhaps out of pity).

The first bait into the water got hit immediately. Soon, king mackerel were flying into the boat at a feverish pace. Each fish weighed at least thirty pounds and ran hard with the line, causing a chaos of pole dancing amongst us amateur fishermen. It reminded me of “The Human Knot”- the game where small groups have to untangle themselves from a joined circle. Only, I’ve never been to a team building seminar where someone got smacked in the face by the tail of a sea creature.

After an hour, we’d caught our limit, amazed by what just happened. Once back ashore, our entire crew - this now over-baked cast of crabs, shared a hearty meal together; accompanied by even heartier laughter as we relived the day.

Now, we weren’t on Gennesaret and it’s probably a stretch to imagine Pineapple as a smarmy version of Simon Peter. But Luke’s passage instantly bubbled up this real-life story for me thanks to the eerie similarities. And of course there are some fantastic marquis phrases in Luke’s account: “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!” and “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” From the pulpit, those are real firecrackers. Though I’ve rarely resonated with the way they were set off from the stage.

How in the heck does one fish for people anyway? Do you yell, “I got one!” as the hook drives through the cheek. Introducing people to faith shouldn’t be a gotcha moment. It takes time and patience, often without short-term success. Not to mention, everyone involved is an absolute sinner. And filling nets doesn’t mean you’re filling souls.

It has taken me a long time to return to faith and even longer to talk about it productively. I still struggle like a fish out of water. But I’ve found that many folks, particularly like those who joined me on that ramshackle Florida fishing boat, welcome the conversation. They’re not looking for righteous conceit or insider shame; they don’t want ill-timed prognosticating or windbaggery. They just want to be fed, on the inside. And so often we miss opportunities to invite them to the feast due to judgment or disbelief. Or we’re just too tired from casting the wrong nets.

Question for Contemplation

  1. When was the last time you talked to a skeptic (or someone simply religiously indifferent) about your faith?
  2. In what areas of your life are you spending too much time casting the wrong nets, trying to catch the things that are worldly?

God, please keep my heart open to those people that I don’t see as worthy of your love. Please direct my thoughts and actions to best benefit your kingdom. Amen.

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