Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Second Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: Luke 5:1-11

[For an explanation of what this is about and to see the first "pass," please go here.]

Verse-by-Verse Comments:
1Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He 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.
(1) As mentioned in the first pass yesterday, the first three verses of our lesson constitute the first of its three sections. It establishes the setting by the lake.

(2) The crowds are anxious to hear the Word of God. I believe that, whether they know it or not, people still hunger for the life-giving Word. The fact is that they don't always like it when they hear it, though.

(3) It was the practice of first-century fishermen to troll the Sea of Galilee at night. (See yesterday's pass.) Now, they're washing their nets. To fish, fishermen dragged nets through the water. There were probably three different kinds of nets used. The fact that the fishermen were cleaning their nets may indicate that they were using what today are called trammel nets, "a line of three nets hanging from floats, the inner net having a small mesh that trapped the fish."

(4) Unlike similar accounts in Matthew and Mark, the haul of miraculous fish that results in Jesus' declaration about becoming "fishers of people," in Luke happens after Jesus has come to know Simon (Peter). So, it isn't strange that Jesus would climb into Simon's boat and ask him to put out a little distance from shore.

(5) In the second pass at the lesson from two weeks ago, Luke 4:14-21, I mentioned:
Typically in worship, a person would read standing, but teaching was done from a seated position. This latter tradition is maintained in Roman Catholic circles when the Pope and the bishops deliver their teachings from a seat. (This is called ex cathedra.)
Notice that once Jesus was in Simon's boat and it had pulled a little from shore, He sat down and taught. One might think of Jesus as the King enthroned.

(6) Lutheran pastor Brian Stoffregen, in his comments on this passage, has a helpful reminder about five different groups of people to whom the Church may address the proclamation of the Word of God, as identified in Rick Warren's book, The Purpose Driven Church:
  • community=unchurched
  • crowd=regular attenders
  • congregation=members
  • committed=maturing members
  • core=lay ministers
Stoffregen goes on to write:
In our text, there is a difference between the crowd [ochlos] and the fishermen [halieus]. The crowd listens to Jesus. The fishermen act. The crowd stays on the land (ge). The fishermen will go out onto the lake. Could the water represent baptism? Could the water -- especially "the deep" -- represent risk and danger and the land safety? At first Jesus and Simon go out just "a little way from the shore" (ge). Later Jesus will ask Simon to go out to the deep water. Could these be images of different levels of trust in Jesus -- the safety of the land, the slightly more dangers position of being "just a little way from shore," and the quite dangerous position of being out in deep water? [emphasis mine]

How do we move "crowds" into membership? How do we move members into a more mature faith? How do we help deepen the faith of members so that they will become (lay) ministers? These are some issues that Warren raises in The Purpose Driven Church...
4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.
(1) Bible scholar David Tiede insists that this is not a simple story about the call of Simon and the other fishermen. It is what he calls an epiphany call story. Epiphany, remember, involves a revelation of God, or of the deity of Christ, or of a truth about God and our relationship with Him. The focus of the Epiphany season is considering those places in which Christ revealed Himself to be more than just a human being, but also God, and the implications of those revelations for our daily lives.

Tiede, as cited by Stoffregen explains what an epiphany call story is:
These [Exodus 3, Judges 6, Isaiah 6, and Luke 5:1-11] are all epiphany-call stories and their structure indicates their meaning. The human person is located quite precisely, often in the midst of mundane tasks. [In this lesson, Simon Peter.] The display of divine presence is quite dramatic or miraculous. In fact, these displays are so impressive that they may take over the stories, as if the burning bush, the fire form the rock, the transformation of the temple, or the boatload of fish were the point. No doubt these wonders will astonish and delight every new generation which hears about them. But these demonstrations of divine power and presence are consistently focused on the call of the prophet, judge, or apostle.
In other words, the miracle of the fish is meant to be a sign to Peter to follow.

(2) Peter accedes to Jesus' request in spite of common sense and his professional experience. He knew that the night was the best time to catch fish. He knew all the prime spots. And yet, he complies with Jesus' directive.

(3) Some scholars say that this sign isn't to be read metaphorically. The fish, they insist, are still nothing but fish, not to be read as symbols for people. I DISAGREE!

It seems to me that, on the bases of what Jesus says in the subsequent verses of our lesson, that He had every intention that this sign be understood metaphorically. "You will be a fisher of people," He tells Simon. "You're going to scoop people out of the chaos of sin and separation from God," Jesus tells His followers. "And you're going to bring them into fellowship with Me and My Church."

As Stoffregen also points out, the incident suggests that "making disciples" isn't a passive enterprise:
The result of Peter's actions is a catch of fish that required more workers to deal with the abundance that God had provided. Although I am not a fisherman, I would think that it would have taken a whole lot of work to get so many fish into the boats. Couldn't God have made it easier on these fishermen and had the fish jump right into the boats? Aren't there many congregations who think that way about their own "growth"? If God wants us to grow, God will have the crowds flocking to our doors.

When talking about evangelism in one church I served, a member answered, "They know where we are. We advertise our worship times in the yellow pages and when the doors are unlocked." He expected God to make any new members jump through those open doors. That does happen at times. It is much more likely that a large catch of fish – or of new members – will take a lot of work by those who are already in the boat – those who are already members of the church.
Churches only grow when its members venture into the deep--into the thick of everyday life--and go fishing!

[More tomorrow, I hope.]

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