Sermon – Epiphany 5 – February 10, 2019
Luke 5:1-11 ‘Body and Soul’
CT: The great catch of fish opens us up to see God’s great provision for us through faith of both body and soul; temporal and eternal.
Intro: After a long afternoon on the lake dragging their favourite bait around without a single fish to tell lies about, one fisherman said to the other, “This is why they call it fishing, not catching.” Fishing is anything but predictable, yet every fisherman seems to have their own secrets for success, and every fisherman has a fish story or two; usually about the big one that got away. Our Gospel lesson today contains more than just another fish story. Jesus’ words and actions reveal His desire and ability to provide for your every need and thus who He truly is: our God and Saviour.
More Than Expected: In last week’s Gospel Jesus rebuked the fever in Peter’s mother-in-law and she got up and served them. Presumably Peter was there to see Jesus heal all the sick that came that evening, and cast out many demons. True to his words, Jesus moved on from Capernaum and was preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God. And Peter once again ran into Jesus; this time it was at his place of work. He and his business partners had been out fishing all night and caught nothing! They were now left to wash and mend their nets in hope that tomorrow night would bring better success, lest they go broke or hungry or both.
Having read what Luke previously recorded, it’s no surprise that Peter agreed to Jesus’ request to teach from his boat, but when Jesus asked Peter to “put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch,” you can almost picture Peter rolling his eyes in disbelief. “What does this landlubber know about fishing?” And maybe you can understand why. Jesus didn’t say, “Let’s go fishing;” He said, “Let’s go catching—let down your nets for a catch.” There was no sonar or gps; no indication that his would work. Yet, Peter, out of respect for Jesus called Him ‘Master’, and replied, “But at Your word I will let down the nets.” And at Jesus’ word, Peter and his partners were given a great multitude of fish; more than they had any reason to expect. As Martin Luther wrote, “Christ shows that those who believe on him will certainly have sufficient also for this present life.”
The Promise and the Culprit: The promise for all who believe is that God will provide for all our earthly needs. It’s why Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us each day our daily bread.” (Luke 11:3) And then Jesus went on to teach about how destructive our anxiety over worldly needs can be. “Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than the body, and the body is more than the clothing….O you of little faith! … your father in heaven knows that you need them. Instead, seek His kingdom and these things will be added to you.” (Luke 12:22ff)
Unbelief is the culprit. Because of it we place our hope and confidence in earthly things, trusting that the more we have is what will keep us well, thinking that what we have is all of our own doing, and sharing as little as possible because we have no hope that others will give us any leeway. Luther said, “Thus we see, what an avaricious, unfriendly thing unbelief is; for it is a benefit to no one, it sells no one anything unless it sees its own advantage in doing so.”
And yet we don’t just lay back and expect God to fill our pantries with food, our closets with clothes, and put cut wood in the fire to keep the house warm. Jesus told Peter to do the work of a fisherman and let down his nets for a catch. We are to do the work given us and let God care for the rest. If you say you believe and stand there with your mouth open, the most you will catch is a fly, but certainly not dinner. Yet as Luther said, “believe and labour, then will not only a dove but a roasted goose fly into your mouth.” Even if God delays in blessing your labour, you have hope. Peter toiled all night for nothing, yet God in His time filled his nets to overflowing. The hope of every fisherman is in the next cast; you won’t catch anything with your lure out of the water! And so we work and hope, trusting that even if God delays, He will reward our labour. Through faith your work is important; God meeting your daily needs, but the work of unbelief only leads to anxious greed.
Eternal Blessings: Peter’s response to the amazing catch of fish was to fall on his knees before Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Such a rich response to his labour drove Peter to his knees; God’s presence had never been so real and he was unworthy of such attention from the Creator of all things and the Giver of every good gift. Yet Jesus looked immediately beyond Peter’s stomach to his spiritual needs. He did not toss Peter overboard and feed him to the fish; He called Peter to discipleship. Jesus receives sinners! When we too recognize our great unworthiness that is when God is the closest, drawing us through His Son to fall again at His feet, for “a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17)
Jesus not only filled Peter’s net with fish when two would have provided a hearty dinner, He also enriched him spiritually that Peter might provide for others from the bounty given him. Faith releases our grip on earthly things and clings instead to eternal things. He had more than enough fish to fill many stomachs, but now he would also have the Gospel for the spiritual emptiness of the world around him. “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Peter, like you and me, are called to labour as a Christian, proclaiming the Good News of Jesus, and let God take care of the rest. Believing and trusting in God, our earthly blessings become jumping off points for the Gospel, where, as we share and help others we speak to the hope we have; the riches given us through Jesus and His cross. As Luther said, “That is called making the poor people rich and feeding the hungry.”
The Big Catch: In this astonishing catch of fish we see Christ Jesus, through whom and by whom all things were made, richly and abundantly and beyond all thinkable measure, providing for our every need of body and soul. The man whose word filled Peter’s nets is God in the flesh who suffered and died in our place. This is our God and our Saviour shedding His blood on a cross, which goes way beyond rewarding the labour of our hands or filling our stomachs with good things so that the riches of every eternal blessing would be yours and mine to share.
(Thoughts and quotes from Luther are taken from his sermon on Luke 5:1-11 for the Fifth Sunday after Trinity; 1522-23)