Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost/ 2nd September 2012
Jesus has a job for you to do. That’s it. That’s the main idea of this meditation. It’s the main theme of this text. Jesus has a job for you do. No matter whom you are or where you come from, no matter your education or skill level, whether you’re rich or poor, young or old, whether you have faith or none – they don’t matter. Jesus has a job for you. There’s work to be done. There’s a God to be served. There’s a world to be loved. And you’re exactly the right person to do it. Why? How? Because Jesus has called you and needs you, equips and sends you, and he’s counting on you.
On this Labor Day weekend it seems fitting to talk about work, to consider the unique work Jesus calls us toward. And call is the key word here because this is a call story – the Bible is full of them, full of call stories, narratives of God appearing from out of no where and summoning assuming women and men to change the direction of their lives, to take on a new responsibility, to face an enormous challenge, to confront injustice and slavery, to move toward a new vision, a new horizon, a new day, a new way of being human. Upon the acceptance of the call hinges the advancement of God’s kingdom and the Spirit’s unfolding mission in history.
Jesus has a job for you to do. God has a job for you to do. To be a follower of Jesus means that Jesus has called you and is calling you to do something unique that only you can do; to be someone unique that only you can be. We call this vocation, from the Latin vocatus, to call. And the one doing the calling is God. When we say that Jesus has a job for us to do we’re saying that everyone has a vocation. A vocation or calling is not reserved only for religious professionals; it isn’t reserved for the special few whose jobs reflect their passions and interests. The Reformed theological tradition has always insisted upon the centrality of vocation in the Christian life. Everyone is called by virtue of one’s baptism. If you’re baptized then you have a calling. Jesus has a job for you to do.
Now, I know, we know, there are some people who are just thankful to have a job – any job – to have enough money to pay the rent and put food on the table. I know, we know, that not every job is viewed as a calling. Some jobs are just jobs, there’s nothing special about them. Some jobs are killing us. Some people go to work just to pay the bills so that when they come home they can focus on the things that really give them life. The great poet T. S. Eliot (1888-1965), early in his career, worked as a bank teller in London during the day and then went home in the evening to do what he loved to do more than anything else, write poetry. For some, for many, work is drudgery, something you get through in order to get beyond it, to get to retirement. Some, many, when they chose their careers early in life followed the money or listened to the expectations of their parents or peers instead of following their hearts. For some, for many, following one’s heart seems like a luxury, something that rich people say, people who have options, choices. For some, for many, work has no meaning, no purpose. However, just imagine what this does to the human spirit over time, year after year of meaningless work, work without purpose, work that contributes nothing to one’s well-being, which does little to advance the kingdom, which has little to do with the Spirit’s unfolding work in history. How can we afford not to listen to the heart?
So how do you figure out what Jesus wants you to do? “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Now we know how this story ends up, the nets are overwhelmed with fish, Peter pulls away in fear, and Jesus says, “Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching people.” And so we think this is the point of the story – Jesus’ followers catch people. We assume the only call worth having is to be “fishers of men.” We think the only call is to be an evangelist. And to some extent, yes, all of this is quite true. But this is not the summation of God’s call, this is not the only kind of calling Jesus has in mind. It’s not the only work for us do.
I want to pull back from the story a little. I want us to see the major metaphor at work here and then allow the metaphor to push us forward to where we are today, especially for those of us who aren’t professional fisher folk.
“Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” I can remember the exact time and place as a college student when I first heard the power of this metaphor. Where is the “deep water”? What is this “deep water”? For me, the metaphor of “deep water” means everything that’s under the surface. In many cultures and myths the ocean or sea are symbols of the unconscious; they represent the deep inner world of the psyche: dark, mysterious, frightening, and holy – not unlike the ocean itself. Jesus called them to go away from the shoreline to “put out into the deep water,” don’t be afraid to go there and when you get there don’t be afraid to let down your nets for a catch. What they’re looking for is found in the depths. It can’t be found along the shallow shoreline.
Jesus is calling them – calling us – to a life that risks going into the deep water and then going into the depths in order to “catch” the hidden wisdom of God within us, to find the life of the Spirit hidden in the depths of our being, to go down and in and find our soul, our heart, our heart’s “first love,” the heart of all things that knows the truth. It’s there, I believe, that we discover what Jesus calls us to do. It’s there, I believe, that we come to have a sense of who we are and whose we are and all that’s available to us to fulfill our respective callings.
One thing is clear there: we’re not called to cast our nets in shallow places, places that aren’t deep enough to yield what we’re looking for. The real answers to our questions won’t be found there. My sense is that far too many of us prefer the shallow end, near the safety of the shoreline, and would rather cast our nets in the kiddie pool of life. We’re afraid to go deep – and we should be! But that doesn’t mean we don’t belong there. And, to be honest, there aren’t many voices in our age challenging us enough or expecting us to go deep – so much of our culture prefers shallowness (and I include the Church in this indictment), a society that prefers the easy way, the simple, the practical, the functional and efficient way.
Why is this so? There are many responses to this question. But maybe, just maybe, it’s because there’s a part of us that really doesn’t want a net full of fish. I suspect that we’re afraid of what we will find in the depths, that what we find will be more than we can bear, that what we discover there will overwhelm us. For, what if there’s more within us than we could ever begin to imagine? What if we’re full of fish? What if there are all these gifts, resources, abilities, emotions, and experiences, and treasures hiding within our depths, more than we could ever envision?
What the disciples discover in the depths overwhelms them – as it should! That’s what I think is behind Simon Peter’s odd response to the catch, falling down at Jesus’ knees, pleading with him, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” In other words, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am not worthy of such generosity.”—Oh, but you are, Simon Peter! Yes you are. You are more worthy than you think. Such generosity, yes, such grace overwhelms, because that’s what grace does. The fact that it overwhelms and frightens you – as you try to push it away and deny it isn’t there – is natural, but do not be afraid. What you discover there is your calling. For a calling that does not overwhelm you is not worthy of you. A calling that does not place greater demands and burdens on you is not worthy of you. So don’t allow the feeling of being overwhelmed or frightened by the abundance in your depths define you. That would be the sin, the sin is not acknowledging that there’s so much available to you in the depth of your heart; the sin is not accepting it; the sin is not taking on the burden of responsibility that comes with the gift; the sin is not living one’s life – one’s calling – from what God has given you within.
That’s our vocation, that’s our holy work – venturing out into the depths, letting down our nets for a catch – and then living faithfully, joyfully, passionately in response to what we discover of God’s abundance. "Our vocation," as Thomas Merton (1915-1968) said, "is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny" (New Seeds of Contemplation). It’s precisely the realization of God’s abundance, the depth of God love and grace available to us that in the end “hooks us,” that “catches” us in the nets of God’s goodness; it’s the catch that “catches” people and turns lives around and changes the universe.
That’s what “catches” people. For when we encounter this kind of overwhelming abundance in God and sense it within ourselves and within the world, nothing is quite ever the same again. It makes perfect sense then that, as the text clearly says, “When they had brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.” Of course they did. Of course they did.