Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
First, a history lesson. Simon Peter, James, and John were all fishermen and while this might seem like a nice small business owned by some middle class folx, this wasn’t actually the case. The fishing industry in Roman-occupied Israel appears to have been highly regulated. If you wanted to catch fish there were a number of bureaucratic hoops you had to jump through. You had to purchase fishing rights, pay high taxes, and shipping tolls. Then the fish would be sent to the wealthy ruling families to enjoy barely leaving any for you. Fishing at that time might be similar to the Lyft drivers today. It might seem like Lyft drivers have their own business and are free to do as they see fit, but instead they have to give up large portions of their income to Lyft. Fishers were often left to barely make ends meet or sometimes be facing serious debts that one could never get out from. (Nichola Torbett, Liturgy that Matters – February 6th, 2022 – Luke 5:1-11, “Enfleshed: Spiritual Nourishment for Collective Liberation.”)
And we all know that Jesus was a carpenter right? But this might be a little deceptive as well. Today we think of a carpenter as someone who is a skilled artisan but once again 2000 years of time makes a difference. The word for carpenter, tekton, is more closely related to a day laborer looking for construction work at Home Depot. Now if you are like me, this is probably a little different from the stories we learned growing up about the successful middle class stories we were told. But these are important facts for us to see that when these fishermen spend all night with no fish, they are truly desperate and then Jesus comes in knowing exactly what it can mean to miss a day’s pay.
Second, an economics lesson. Peter and his friends worked all night and caught no fish. A full night shift but no income or even food to show for it. How severe was this going to be for Peter, James, and John and the people they were providing for? What other jobs would they have to work to survive this week?
It is into this uncertain economic situation caused by unfair economic conditions that Jesus shows up. It is into the desperate situations in our world and in our lives created by oppressive systems that Jesus appears. “Throw your nets to the other side,” Jesus tells these weary fishermen. Now maybe it was the teaching that Jesus was doing, maybe it was the fact that he looked like a day worker too, or maybe they were too tired to fight so they threw their nets in. And bam! more fish than they could handle! As they were facing the metaphorical sinking boats of economic conditions, their literal boats started to sink with abundance! Jesus shows those fishermen and that crowd the source of abundance that the earth provides and shares with us. In contrast to the economic systems that say there is not enough for everyone and hoard all that you can, Jesus shows an abundance of resources that would be enough to support everyone. In contrast to the wealthy few owning and controlling the majority of resources, Jesus shows a world that is free to everyone filled with good things for nourishment. Jesus introduces to these fishermen and the crowds a new economic system where everyone has enough. This is not a prosperity gospel message that if you love Jesus you will get rich but rather it is the gospel of abundance and creation. This world has enough for all. The question is do we have enough or do we have more than enough?
So when Jesus calls them to follow him, perhaps they decide to follow because they know that the system they are working in is rigged against them. Perhaps these fishermen gave up being a part of the oppressive systems they were working under and opted instead to try out this Jesus person’s abundant economy, an economy where all could thrive.
Third, a community lesson. The author of this gospel, Luke, uses an interesting word at the end of this passage when describing Peter’s friends and work partners. Luke uses the Greek word koinônoi. This is often translated as “partners” but it has the sense of something a little deeper like “co-operative members.” We are not given more insight into these fishermen’s business model but this word indicates that they were somehow already working together, sharing the risk and the reward. (Nichola Torbett, Liturgy that Matters)
You might notice that the word for “co-op members,” koinônoi, is eerily similar to koinônia, the Greek word used to describe the early churches. This might give us some insight into the community that Jesus was building, a co-operative community that shares in the risks and the rewards, shares the joys and the griefs. Each person joins togethers in this fellowship both economically and spiritually. What would it look like to share the material wealth of the church with all in our community?
The early church took Jesus’ new economic system for all seriously. They saw that the widows were not being treated fairly so they created the first deacons fund, a way to provide for the needs of all the community members. Last week, we heard at our annual meeting about how our Deacon’s Fund is being reimagined. This last year the Deacon’s were called upon in a bigger way than ever before in the face of multiple crises throughout our world systems that are not designed for the thriving of all. The Deacon’s stepped up to face these challenges head on. The Deacon’s gave out 45 disbursements in 2021 which is more than both 2019 and 2020 combined! Our Deacon Treasurer remarked, “We were able to disperse $21,355.95 to our community this year!” (Teresa Ferguson, Deacon’s Treasurer’s Report, LPC Annual Report 2021)
The purpose of the Deacon’s Fund is to “provide financial assistance in times of hardship by following the apostles’ example of redistributing wealth and supporting the disenfranchised.” Like those fishermen, like the early church we are starting to believe more and more in this new economy that says each and every person deserves to be loved, safe, and healthy. How can we continue to build this new world based on the abundance of God instead of the scarcity of greed? What would it mean for our church to build upon the work of the Deacon’s to make every space we are in one of sharing and abundance? Can we share the good news of seas filled with fish that are not controlled and owned for the few but should be shared with the many? Would you like to join God’s co-operative community?