Simon Peter… fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” … Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” (Luke 5:8-10)
There are several call stories for Revised Common Lectionary preachers this week. The challenge for the preacher will be to help their hearers identify from what, and to what, they are being called.
If you’re spending time in Isaiah 6, you may be thinking about the image of the Lord on a throne being serenaded by seraphim, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts!” The hearer may recognize that they, like Isaiah, have a “mission field” right at their doorstep: “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips.” What burning coal touches our lips to enable us to respond along with Isaiah, “Here I am; send me!”?
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul stakes his claim firmly in the heart of the Good News: “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, … he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.” Paul’s encounter with the risen Christ changes his life’s path from persecution of the church to an urgent desire to share this news with everyone in his life’s orbit. How do we encounter the risen Christ? And what difference does that encounter make in our life’s path?
The Gospel text from Luke 5 is filled with images that are familiar – Jesus teaching the crowds that gather wherever he goes, the transformation of a disappointing night of fishing to a harvest so abundant that the nets reach their breaking point, Jesus’ call of his first followers to fish for people, and the apparent ease with which they “left everything” to follow Jesus. These images take on additional power with some understanding of the context in which this passage is set.
Writers who offer social-science perspectives on scripture (Bruce Malina, Robert Karras, and others) point out that fishing was not a free-market enterprise like we might be familiar with. Instead, the Sea of Galilee was a “royal lake” under the control of the occupying Roman Empire (only about 5% of the population, but with an overwhelming share of the wealth and resources). Fishermen were not the middle-class entrepreneurs we might think of today. People would have to pay to even take their boats out on the lake, and the catch had to be sold to the Roman authorities at the prices they set. The peasants who actually did the fishing were able to keep only the leftovers, the scraps, for their own families. The average peasant was left with a couple of ounces of a type of fish paste from a week’s catch.
With the understanding of fishing as a subsistence level, sub-minimum-wage job, it’s much easier to accept the disciples’ willingness to leave everything. “Everything” wasn’t actually very much at all. In such a polarized world of income inequality, the appropriation of resources by a few at the expense of many, your hearers might see connections with forces in society today. What if Jesus’ call to the four fishermen is actually a call to leave an abusive and unjust system to become a part of an alternative community based on mercy and compassion? What if Jesus’ call to us is an invitation to renounce the abusive and unjust systems that surround us and promote systems based on Christian love and compassion?
In your preaching this week, how will you invite your hearers to respond to the call story of their lives?
Barbara Bruneau is a retired Lutheran pastor, living in southeastern Minnesota. She is a knitter, a weaver, and a very occasional blogger at An Explosion of Texture and Color.
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