Isaiah 51:1-6, John 21:1-14
April 29, 2012
“One More Story…” But not really! But again, these guys, these disciples, didn’t know that. They didn’t know what was ahead of them. They often heard Jesus say he was “sending them.” He even did so once! And it was an amazing time for them! But they didn’t know they would eventually go to the ends of the earth, proclaiming the Good News, establishing churches, and for most of them, going to martyrs’ deaths for the faith!
In our story for today, they didn’t know any of that. So, they went fishing. Because fishing was their life. Now, I’m not saying that like some people do. You know what I mean! I’m not talking about someone who is an “avid fishermen.” Or maybe even a “rabid fisherman.” Maybe you know someone like that. (Maybe you are someone like that!) I was following a guy the other day who had a bumper sticker that said, “Work is for people who don’t know how to fish.”
That’s not what I meant about these men when I said “Fishing was their life.” I meant that they were fishermen by trade. It was their livelihood! It was their life – until this Jesus came along! He took them away, from the boats, from the nets, and from their families, and set a new course for their lives. For three years, they became something they couldn’t imagine themselves being before. They were the disciples of a prominent rabbi. And the more I read the Gospels, the more it seems to me that nobody else could believe that, either!
I saw a great video not too long ago about the disciples of Jesus. And in the video, a prominent historian talked about the rabbis and their disciples in Jesus’ time. He said that a rabbi would take the best students from the local Hebrew school, and after some time, he would let some go. And then he would let some more go, until he had as his disciples, the best of the best!
Well, these men were obviously not disciples of any rabbi. And for Jesus to have chosen them as followers and then disciples, must have been shocking – to the people, and to them! As the Pharisees questioned Jesus about the behavior of his disciples – how they did or didn’t fast, how they observed the kosher laws – It was likely that they did so with sarcasm in their voices. “Teacher, your ‘disciples’ aren’t doing such and such!” It soon became apparent that they had outright scorn for this rabbi and his “fishermen disciples!”
Remember the time in Acts 4, when Peter and John were brought before the religious council. Luke tells us in that story, that the high priests “perceived that they were uneducated, common men.” They weren’t like them! And they were the disciples of this “unlikely rabbi,” Jesus. But Luke says “They wondered.” Because there, standing beside these men, was this man who until recently was the paralyzed man they saw every day at the gates of the Temple! That was an enormous dilemma for those people!
It was amazing that Jesus had chosen these men. But he had done so! And he had set their lives on a different, and in those days, an amazing course! Now, it was three years later, and they had been through so much – especially the last few weeks. And now that chapter of their lives was over. Now, after the devastation of his being taken away from them, after the despair and loss and anger, and after the joy, fear, and disbelief of the past days, all of which we’ve tried to picture in the past days ourselves, these men decided they would go fishing.
Indeed, it all seemed to be over. Even John’s Gospel reads like it was. It seems to come to a conclusion at the end of previous chapter. The closing words of John 20 say, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples… but these were written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that believing, you may have life in his name.” That sounds like an ending, doesn’t it? It contains the theme and purpose of the book and seems to be a wrap up.
Biblical Scholars have thought so for years. Some have even referred to this chapter, Chapter 21, as “The Epilogue.” The book seems to end. And then, it goes on. It seems for the moment, like the ministry was over. Life was returning to what it was before. These men were going back to their trade – back to their old life. But then, just as the Gospel didn’t end, neither did their part in the ministry of Jesus. There, at the sea, Jesus met them again, just as he did “in their old life.” And he called them, just like he did before.
That’s what Jesus did. That’s what he still does. He meets people – he meets us, where we are! He touches us in ways that are meaningful to our lives. He meets us on “familiar territory.” And in this case we’re talking about fishermen. For them he began with a metaphor, “I will make you fishers of men.” That was the beginning of their journey with Jesus. And now we find the same thing at the end, don’t we? There is a call here, too!
Notice also how this “fish story” seems to “frame” the Gospel story. Near the beginning, not long after he began his ministry, Jesus was speaking to the large crowd by the sea. And when he was done, he told the disciples to go out and try fishing again. Do you remember that? They rolled their eyes and told him how had toiled all night and caught nothing. But then, ever so reluctantly, they loaded up and went out anyway. And of course they caught a plethora of fish. (Do you like that word?) And that story became the moment Jesus called them to follow him.
Now, here they are again, fishing. And again, their results were just like mine when I go fishing. They caught nothing! Jesus calls to them again. And this time it was not, “Put out into the deep.” That had been annoying enough the first time – after they had already stowed all their equipment. This time it was almost a silly request. “Cast your nets on the other side of the boat.” “Are you kidding? Just right over there??” But they did so. And again, another plethora of fish! This time there were so many fish that they were unable to haul the nets into the boats! And do you think that reminded them of that first time, three years before? You bet it did! We’re told at first they didn’t recognize that it was Jesus on the shore. But when their nets filled like this, they knew! Like I said before, God has a great “flair for the dramatic!” Don’t you agree?
I’m also sure, that not only did they at that moment remember the first time this happened, but they also soon remembered that it was associated with the first time Jesus called them. So moments later, it was brought home to them even more that this was their second call. They were being reminded that they were still his disciples, and it wasn’t over! Far from it!! They knew they would soon be doing something else! It was only a matter of finding out what that was. And we know “the rest of the story!”
So, what about us? Certainly this story teaches us some important things about how God calls people, and how he continues to call them at different times in their lives. So we need to ask, does God touch us at different times in our lives, too? Do we sense his call at different times and in different ways? Or, like those disciples of old, do we ever think that whole “following Jesus” thing, is over? Do we ever think it’s time for us to get back to life as it was before? “This was great, but…”
Or, does God have “One More Story” for us? I’m certain he does! In fact, I can assure you that whenever we think our “encounter with Jesus” is over, that’s when we’d better think again! There’s always “One More Story!” Will it be the same as it was before” Probably not! The important thing is that we need to be open to it. And that’s hard, the older we get. The more we get set in our ways, the more difficult it is to accept new calls and new directions. But God often calls people out of the ordinary walks of life – like these fishermen. And he calls them to do things that we wouldn’t ordinarily think they might do.
I can guarantee it’s the same with us. The Lord calls us all into his service. There are no exceptions! There are only different ways of serving. It’s only a question of discovering how we will serve. So I encourage you to pause and think. Listen to the spirit. See how he might be leading you. It might be he’s leading you in familiar ways that you’ve been avoiding. It might be he’s leading you in new ways you never dreamed of. But he will call, it’s only a matter of listening. So be willing to cast your nets on the other side. It might seem silly. But remember that God has a great flair for the dramatic!!!
Eternal God, we know you call us. We know you lead us in ways we might not otherwise imagine. Help us indeed to listen, to obey, and to follow. Shake us up. Move us forward. Draw us in, so that we may know you, and serve you in joy. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.