Today’s gospel reading from Luke has Jesus getting in a boat to teach and then suggesting to the bone-tired fishermen (whose earlier efforts had not gone well) to throw in their nets. The nets pull up so many fish by doing what Jesus suggests that their boat is nearly swamped with the catch. In response to this piscine bounty, the owner of the boat (Simon who will be Peter) worships Jesus and apparently decides to give up everything to follow Jesus wherever he might go.
Now, I know that this story is about the abundance of God’s grace and provision that follows from following Jesus. I also know that Peter has something of a reputation to going a little overboard in response to Jesus. But really, this story sounds like something from Monty Python.
Jesus teaches from a boat? That must have been awkward. And Peter’s response to the fish seems a little over the top. I fish occasionally and if someone gave me a tip that resulted in a good catch, I don’t think I’d make the imaginative leap to believing they were of divine provenance.
What makes it even more preposterous is that, according to Luke, Simon had already heard Jesus preach, seems to have seen Jesus cure many (including his own mother-in-law) and expel demons. Luke seems to imply that Simon was present when Jesus exorcised a tormented man in the synagogue in Capernaum, a demon who called Jesus “the Holy One of God.”
But it was the fish that really sealed it for Simon? The fish?
But if we reset this story in our own lives, away from the particulars of Jesus and Simon’s first century Galilean lives, maybe it wonn’t seem so preposterous.
Who among us, upon first encountering Jesus, were ready to commit ourselves? I know I wasn’t. I didn’t grow up going to church, but its not like I had never heard of Jesus.
Even after I started going to church, after I had been baptized and confirmed, I wasn’t really committed – I wasn’t fully converted. Oh sure, I acknowledged the reality of God and Jesus, and accepted it fully. I believed, but faith took more time. I needed to make space for Jesus not only in my mind, but in my heart and in my gut.
I remember asking two years on from my baptisms; was this really for me after all? What difference did believing really make? I walked away, came back desultorily, committed only to sitting in the back row, when in the midst of communion, I felt as though Jesus was there with me, reluctance and all. I was going through some turbulent stuff, and it was if Jesus got in with me put an arm around me and said I was loved anyway, and that he wasn’t going anywhere. I think I moved from belief to faith in that moment.
I remember learning that John Wesley had been a priest for ten years – ten years! – before his heart was strangely warmed after he reluctantly showed up for a bible study in Aldersgate. I read that and nodded my head in fellowship.
Faith hits us in its own time, at its own provocation; the Spirit blows when and where it will. Who can say what will prompt us to make that leap? Maybe it will be something as mundane as fish; maybe a bible study, maybe sitting in a back pew; but Jesus will be there, going about his business – healing the broken, freeing the shackled, warming the hearts of the reluctant. His constant invitation…come and see, join with me and let’s build God’s kingdom together.
Faith is kind of a preposterous proposition. And yet as Simon Peter will say later when Jesus asks if he too will desert him; “where else can we go?” Once we’ve seen the reality of Jesus and it burrows into us; what other choice is there but to follow?
Jon White is a priest, serving a parish near Syracuse, New York. He is a regular contributor and managing editor of the Episcopal Cafe.