Sermon; Epiphany 5C; Luke 5:1-11
We continue with the theme of the manifestation, revealing, epiphany, of Jesus as God incarnate. At this point in Luke's story, Jesus has established himself as a person worthy of following and listening to. He is on the shore of the lake and a large crowd was pushing in on him to hear the word of God. So we have a manifestation of Jesus as a prophet who speaks God's truth. And he has become very popular.
While speaking to a crowd by the sea, there are so many people that he finds a boat just so he can have room to preach. He finds Simon's boat and asks to put out a little ways where he teaches the crowd. After finishing, he instructs Simon to head out into deep water and cast his nets. Simon protests a little, but then says, “At your word.” This is Simon's second appearance in Luke's gospel, but it is his first major role and his first speaking part. He obviously doesn't have it figured out, but it does appear that Jesus has been revealed to him through his preaching. Note that Simon is convinced enough to say, “At your word.” It's in the word of the Lord where Jesus is often first revealed.
And it's here that we get the miraculous catch. This is not only similar to the post-resurrection story of catching fish that is found over in John's gospel, but also hearkens back to Elijah and Elisha who also had miraculous stories of providing, both of whom provided for widows and their children. So here we have a revealing of Jesus as a person intimately tied to the power of God.
Simon manages to put two and two together – the word Jesus preached and the miraculous catch of fish – and begs Jesus to leave him because he is a sinful man. Jesus has been revealed to him as a holy man of God, and in the presence of that holiness Simon recognizes his own sinfulness. When in the presence of the holy God, this is the typical reaction – asking to be left alone or for God to go away.
When Isaiah was in the presence of God, he cried out, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips.” When Jeremiah was called by God, he said, “I don't know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” In other words, when God is revealed to us up close and personal, we often have a response much like Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Simon – “Go away from me.”
One of the problems we have with epiphanies or revealings or manifestations is we expect them to be these big “Aha!” moments. We expect a star and gifts. We expect a voice from heaven. We expect water to wine. But epiphany moments aren't always that clear or that big.
Sure, we got the miraculous catch of fish, but remember this was paired with the word Jesus preached. These epiphanies, manifestations, God-moments, should do more than astound us. They are more than just seeing a miraculous catch of fish. They are more than hearing a voice from heaven. They are more than seeing water changed to wine. They are about change. How do these epiphany God-moments change us?
Simon was changed from a fisherman to a fisher of men. He became actively involved in the work of Christ. After journeying with Jesus for three years, he would become pivotal in the spread of the gospel.
Going back to today's story, Simon self-identifies as a sinner. But that doesn't stop Jesus from inviting him to join him. “Do not be afraid,” Jesus says. Do not be afraid that your sins disqualify you. Do not be afraid to be in the presence of the holy. Do not be afraid to change. Do not be afraid to catch people.
When they returned to shore, Simon left everything behind and followed Jesus. He bought into the God-moment and took the first steps toward discipleship and change. And he took those first steps to catching people and helping manifest God in Christ to those with whom he encountered.
But it wasn't just Simon who experienced an epiphany. James and John also had the same experience. In Luke, James and John are business partners with Simon. After making this large catch, Simon calls out to the brothers to come help. Jesus announces to Simon that he will now catch people; and after getting back to shore, he leaves his business behind to follow Jesus.
Note that it's not only Simon who follows, but also the brothers. Even though Jesus was speaking directly to Simon, the others believe that they are also called to follow. And it may be that this is the most important part of the story.
You and I are different. You and your pew mate or neighbor are different. This parish is different from other parishes, both Episcopal and otherwise. We all hear the words of Jesus differently, and we all respond differently. So just because we believe Jesus is speaking directly to us does not mean that others can't hear that call and respond.
Simon could've easily asked why James and John were allowed to come along when Jesus was obviously speaking to him. But he didn't. Over in another gospel, Jesus says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold, but they will hear my voice and there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
The God-moment, the manifestation, the revealing of Christ in this epiphany story may be the miraculous catch of fish. But it may also be the fact that others heard the call to discipleship even though not directly addressed.
This is the Epiphany season. This is the season of the manifestation of Christ to the world. It just may be that Christ isn't made known to the world through miraculous deeds but in how others see you responding to his call.