- Epiphany 5.19 “Sink to Save” Luke 5:1-11
The thing that gets me about this Gospel and that few seem to notice much is this part of the story: Jesus gets Peter to do Him a favor and let Him use Peter’s boat, to sit in it and just keep station a few yards off shore so that Jesus can teach the multitude without being mobbed. Peter does not seem excited about this little duty, but tough to say “No!” to Jesus. After bible class is over, Jesus says “Let’s go catch some fish! Looks like your nets are empty.” And Peter is like: “I’m a trained professional who’s fished this whole shoreline all night and I can assure You: there are no fish out there!” Jesus just fixes him with a wry little smile and says “If you widen your stance, you’ll get more distance.” And Peter is like, “OK! At Your Word, I’ll fire arrows… uh, let down the net.”
Most people are all gaga that the net gets filled up so fast, with so many fish. But what I notice is the part about how the catch of fish breaks their nets. And when they signal to James and John to come and help (and they fill both boats!) both boats begin to sink. So that Peter isn’t being obtuse or difficult or falsely modest when he begs: “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Five minutes with Jesus, and He breaks your net and sinks your boat(!!!). Imagine what a lifetime traipsing after Him could do to you? Whoa, right?!
Isaiah discovers much the same thing in our wonderful Old Testament reading that inspired Luther’s majestic (though not much appreciated) hymn “Isaiah, Mighty Seer”. We’ll sing it. You’ll love it. Well; I’ll love it. And that’s the important thing, right? Everyone thinks they want to see God face-to-face in His heavenly splendor. I’m not sure Isaiah ever thought or wished that. There’s no evidence in his book that he did. ‘Cause, when he sees the Lord sitting on His throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filling the temple quite, the cherubim and seraphim—these extra-terrestrial, six-winged, flying, singing, creature-angel thingies swarming around Him—and the roof beams and lintel stones shaking with the Sound, and the whole place filled with smoke (the vicar’s love of incense appears biblical!) and Isaiah’s body literally unravelling at the atomic level, Isaiah, uhm, how shall we put this? he re-thinks his priorities in life. And when, in the midst of the smoke and the cherubim/seraphim singing thingies, and the glorious Sound that’s literally heartrendingly gorgeous, Isaiah hears God go: “Say, I need someone to run an errand for Me, who wants to go?” Isaiah is like “Ooh! Oooh! here am I! Send me! Get me the heaven out of here!” And God sends him to shut up the ears and hearts of recalcitrant Israel with a difficult Word. Now, Isaiah is like: “Uhm, Lord? how long do I have to do that? That sounds rough”.
And yet. And yet; Isaiah, Stone (literally, Simon’s nickname as in “sinks-like-a”) they follow Him anyway. Five minutes with Jesus, and nets are broken, boats are sunk; Isaiah’s mouth is quite literally set on fire) and Jesus promises much more serious trouble ahead(!) and these guys, these two; they both go: “Sure! I’m in!” They follow Him like lost puppies. And don’t you, at some level, wonder why?
Everyone always tells us—advice gurus and Disney princesses—that you should “follow your heart”. Theo (hero of the Pulitzer prize winning novel “The Goldfinch”) asks a great question about that conventional wisdom: “What if one happens to be possessed of a heart that can’t be trusted—? What if the heart, for its own unfathomable reasons, leads one willfully and in a cloud of unspeakable radiance away from health, domesticity, civic responsibility and strong social connections and all the blandly-held common virtues and instead straight towards a beautiful flare of ruin, self-immolation, disaster? Is Kitsey right? If your deepest self is singing and coaxing you straight toward the bonfire, is it better to turn away? Stop your ears with wax? Ignore all the perverse glory your heart is screaming at you? Set yourself on the course that will lead you dutifully towards the norm—reasonable hours and regular medical check-ups, stable relationships and steady career advancement, the New York Times and brunch on Sunday, all with the promise of being somehow a better person? Or—like Boris—is it better to throw yourself head first and laughing into the holy rage calling your name?” (Goldfinch pg. 761).
Well, I don’t know how much they were laughing, but I see the prophets and the apostles all throwing themselves head first into the “holy rage calling their names.” And I think we should be careful here: most everyone hears God calling Isaiah, or Simon Peter, to follow and thinks: “You’d be foolish not to jump at the chance(!)”—thinking God is calling to dull domesticity and genial prosperity. But Isaiah is called to leap into a burning building, literally—30 seconds and he’s undone! Jesus gives a bare hint of what’s in store for Simon Peter (Stone!) if he follows Him by breaking his net and sinking his boat in their first five minutes together—takes Stone on the Road like Neal took Jack—away from family, home, reasonable hours, steady career advancement, Sunday brunch with the Times. St. Paul (who knows!) says you have to be a fool to follow Christ—that the worldly wise are simply all wrong (Cor. 3:18-23).
So why do Stone and Isaiah follow anyway? Both end up dying horribly (crucified upside down, sawn in two, respectively). Their lives were a beautiful flare of ruin, self-immolation, disaster (as the world judges such things). These were not stable, blandly-virtuous, and successful lives by reasonable, modern standards. Were they following perverse hearts? Foolish minds? Or something else?
Something else, actually. Simon says he was following Jesus at His Word! At His Word, Peter lets down his net. By Jesus’ Word, Stone’s boat gets sunk. This is not the sort of thing that is promising in most eyes—unless your heart is captivated by the cloud of unspeakable radiance, your eye held by the perverse glory those cherubim/seraphim thingies are all on about and burning down the house for. The choir summed it up with this lovely anthem: “They cast their nest in Galilee just off the hills of brown; such happy, simply fisher folk, before the Lord came down/ Contented, peaceful fishermen, before they ever knew the peace of God that filled their hearts brimful and broke them, too/ Young John who trimmed the flapping sail, homeless in Patmos died. Peter who hauled the teaming net, head-down was crucified/ The peace of God it is no peace; but strife closed in the sod. Yet brothers pray for just one thing: the marvelous peace of God.”
Bold prayer! The world says: if you want to be happy—then, for God’s sake!Don’t follow Jesus! He’ll be death to all that! Look at Isaiah’s burned lips! Look at Peter’s broken nets and sunken boat! These are clues, my friends, of what lies in store On the Road, with Jesus…(!)
What? You’re still here? What’s wrong with you? Have you lost your mind? Well, good riddance—according to Jesus. The otherworldly Glory the seraphim sing, the beautiful flare of ruin the Cross brings—that’s the only real Glory there is, the only Beauty that lasts. See, sin has twisted our hearts to chase that which is not bread, that which cannot satisfy the hungry heart. It is the “common virtue” of the world and her civics classes that will kill you, will leave you miserable. Jesus breaks your net because it can’t catch anything worth holding. He sinks your boat ‘cause it won’t get you anywhere Good; He bids you lose everything, for Christ’s sake, by His Cross—that sharing His magnificent defeat, you’ll finally learn that song the angels sing by faith in Him alone and know the Peace surpassing understanding guarding heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.