Scripture – Luke 5:1-11 – Third Sunday after Epiphany – January 22, 2017
I don’t know exactly when it started. I’m sure some cultural or even economic historian or an anthropologist could tell us. I have a feeling it was somewhere around the beginning of the popularity of all-you-can-eat buffets. But somewhere in there – after the lean years of the Depression and the austerity surrounding World War II and maybe around the economic boom of the 1950s and the wide availability of inexpensive food, we began to “super-size” our portions. Big Gulps and extra large and free refills and super-size me …even the actual size of our at-home dinnerware has increased over the past fifty years. Normal size dinner plates used to measure nine inches in diameter – now they’re more like twelve.
And we all know as our drive-thru and sit-down and take-out restaurant portions grew to epic sizes, our national obesity issue grew to epidemic proportions. And here’s something fascinating: concerned about our increasing size and the risk that consumers would not buy clothing with double-digit sizes on the tags, most clothing manufacturers then changed their labels to what some have labeled “fantasy sizing”, lowering the numbers associated with the same sizes to fool the public, especially women, into thinking they were still a size 8 when the same size decades ago translated to a 12. The problem is – and you may have noticed this – that the size numbers were decreased so much that we now have size Zero. I don’t know what happens if you’re smaller than a size Zero…perhaps you no longer exist…
Jumbo jets and McMansions, multi-plex theatres and mega shopping malls…we eat our fill and still have extra to take home…but, my friends, it’s plain to see from our complaints of vague malaise and unsettling dissatisfaction and growing isolation, not to mention the startling statistics of violence towards each other and ourselves, we’re still hungry. We’re still hungry.
If you pay attention to the gospel stories, Jesus may have been the original super-sizer. At the wedding in Cana, gallons upon gallons of water were turned into wine. In that deserted place outside of the village, thousands of people fed with a couple of loaves and fish. Not two demons cast out from the tombs but enough to send an entire herd of swine straight into the sea. And this morning’s story is no exception. Such a catch of fish that the nets are breaking; such a catch of fish that now two boats are full; such a catch of fish that both boats are beginning to sink! And that was immediately after a very long night of these same fishermen working very hard and not catching a thing.
Unlike our thousands of empty calories or thousands of square of feet, Jesus’ super-sizing promises an abundance of a different kind, then and now, but maybe before we understand and accept his invitation for ourselves, we need to examine and pose some questions of this passage and truly “listen for a word from God” for ourselves today.
First, I wonder about the crowds, hungry for a word from God about God, they are now thronging to wherever Jesus goes. In today’s passage, there are so many of them on the shore that Jesus turns around and spies two empty boats and asks his new friend Simon to put one of them out a little way from the shore so he can teach from there. Scripture says, “Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.” The very next verse reads, “When he had finished speaking…” and we never hear about the crowds in that passage again. Had they left? When he finished speaking, did they go back home? Or did they hang around the shore afterwards, seeing if Jesus would come back from the deep water further out and maybe they’d get a glimpse of him again? Maybe he would offer some additional words when he returned? Almost like remaining in our theatre seats waiting for an encore or hanging out by the stage door hoping to see the star emerge once again. It’s hard to imagine their getting up and brushing off the sand and just walking away.
Then again, how long did it take for this miraculous catch to occur? How much time passed before Simon Peter and James and John were back on the shore with boats spilling over? How long did it take to sail out further into deep water and to haul up this incredible catch and then hail a second boat and fill it up and then sail back?
And did the three disciples and Jesus really take off the very moment they had brought their boats to shore? Scripture says, “When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.” That very minute? Simon Peter must have had a wife because in the previous chapter we read Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law. Did James and John tell their father Zebedee, Dad, we left the boat tied up, don’t know when we’ll be back?
The question that bugged me all week was what about the fish? What about the biggest fresh daily catch they had ever seen? Shiny, wriggling, gasping fresh fish – a veritable bonus of revenue for those hard-working men on any other day. I keep imagining the good-hearted person on the shore noticing the whole thing and running after them with bag in her hand, “Sirs, you forgot your leftovers!”
I like to think that there was enough crowd remaining after Jesus spoke that they benefited from maybe the first all-you-can eat buffet, showing us that everything Jesus does and gives spills over beyond a couple of disciples to all those who stick around to listen for some more words from God.
Assuming Simon and James and John were just as human as we are, if there was anything that would have kept them from leaving everything at that moment, it would have been those fish. A day’s pay beyond any amount they had ever experienced; one of the only ways they could measure their own worth; perhaps an inkling that maybe if this Jesus stuck around, he might super-size them every day. And if it wasn’t a trace of human pride or human greed making them reluctant to leave, then would it not have been a sense of irresponsible wastefulness? Are we going to leave these fish here just to rot in the sun? If not the wastefulness, then simply, if we don’t clean up here, it will mean a terrible smelly mess for somebody.
We all get stuck in that kind of rationalization. There are so many aspects to our lives that pull us back into familiar patterns of behavior and thinking. What about the money? What about the waste? What about the mess? Faced with material abundance all around us, or at least the promise of it by everyone who has something to sell; faced with an economic system which puts value on how much we produce, how much we make, how much we save; faced with a culture of putting our hope in the latest celebrity or hero or administration for our own prosperity, we get stuck and spin and rationalize and justify and stay in place and fear the consequences of leaving it all behind to make the serious changes we need to follow the Way of Jesus, to become true disciples of Christ.
We look at Simon and James and John and we see that, yes, those men were human but, hey, they had Jesus right next to them. They had just witnessed something so miraculous to the point of Simon’s falling down at Jesus’ knees, moved to blurt out his sinfulness. “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Yet all it took for him to chuck it all was a word from Jesus, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” Do not be afraid…
Yes, those men could touch Him and see Him and hear Him in the flesh and they were eye-witnesses to His miracles and, yes, that may have made it much easier for them to just drop everything and leave the life they knew, but, my friends, He’s still here. He’s still here. Our faith in his Resurrection, our faith in his abiding presence among us and within us, our knowledge of the values he taught can remind us, today and whenever we need it, that we need not fear walking away from the ways of our lives that we know are keeping us from generosity and simplicity and humility and compassion.
Our prayer can be “Super-size me, Jesus, super-size me.” Super-size my love for others that I may give freely instead of tightly hanging on to my pride and possessions. Super-size my faith that I may no longer needlessly worry about worldly success. Super-size my self-love that I may remember that no matter the number of my dress size, real or fantasized, I am your beloved child, worthy of your love, deserving of your miraculous abundance.
Jesus showed the crowds, showed the wedding guests, showed this handful of fisherman that He can and will give to us all we can eat and more. May we see through the false excesses of this world to distinguish the true abundance he offers and embrace the incredible unfettered freedom we will feel when we walk away from it all to follow him. Amen.