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Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany


Saint Margaret Anglican Church Budapest, Hungary Isaiah 6:1-13; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Luke 5:1-11; Psalm 138 Put out into the deep water. For reasons not entirely clear, the Evangelist Luke chooses, almost uniquely, to call the familiar Sea of Galilee instead the Lake of Gennesaret, as we see in our Gospel account this morning. In any case, it is the same place as the Sea of Galilee; and to muddy the waters further, if you will pardon the expression, is also the same lake as the Sea of Tiberias, also mentioned in ancient texts. A fairly large oval-shaped freshwater lake, it has the distinction of being the lowest-lying freshwater lake in the world, although the people of the ancient world would not have known that of course. At the time of our Lord, it was a centre of a local commercial fishing industry with fishing villages dotting its shores, making it also something of a population centre. Many of our Lord’s earliest disciples, such as those mentioned in today’s account, Simon Peter, James, and John, were seasoned commercial fisherman, surely not an easy way to make a living back then nor even today for that matter. Fishing on the often stormy Lake of Gennesaret was invariably done at night by the way when the fish neared the surface to feed, making them an easy catch for someone with skill, a proper net, and maybe a lantern or two. The fishermen’s daylight hours on the other hand were often filled with the routine of cleaning and repairing the nets, which is why the boats mentioned in today’s story are empty. Jesus himself spends much of his ministry near the shores of the Lake and in the village of Capernaum along its northern shore. And so it is not surprising to find our Lord at the lakeshore, surrounded by crowds of people keen to hear the “word of God” and “pressing in upon him,” as the text tells us, apparently making it difficult for him to speak and be heard. Improvisation and a bit of quick thinking lead Jesus to requisition a nearby empty boat as a water-born pulpit from which to teach without being overwhelmed by the crowds. Floating on water with his hearers listening attentively from terra firma just feet away, it must have been quite a scene. Alas, Luke unlike the other Evangelists at similar points in their narratives does not give us Jesus’ words to the gathered people on this occasion. But we can well imagine he assured them of God’s abundant loving-kindness. In any case, sermon apparently finished, Jesus orders Peter to “put out into the deep,” in full daylight mind you, and lower the nets. Clearly skeptical of a landlubber’s advice, Peter

nevertheless does as Jesus says, and against all expectations, hauls in “so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.” And Peter, no fool, instantly understands that this is not just a lucky catch, not just another fish story for the grandchildren. He recognises the event for what it genuinely is, a revelation of Jesus’ divine mission and ministry; a theophany, in theological parlance, and a manifestation of the very presence of God. Peter addresses our Lord now not as mere master, as he did at the beginning of the tale, but as lord. For, here is someone who is more than a mere sage or prophet. Jesus is someone who knows not only the depths of the Lake of Gennesaret better than any fisherman but who knows as well the depths of the human heart. Water of course is everything dry ground is not. It is fluid, sometimes dangerous, and always a bit mysterious. Even today researchers and scientists tell us they know more about the surface of the moon than they do about the depths of the seas. And it is from the depths of the Lake of Gennesaret that Jesus reveals the abundance of God’s love for his people. No human net can encompass its breadth. No wonder that, along with Peter, everyone is amazed at the sudden and unexpected catch. No wonder the disciples are suddenly prepared to leave everything and follow our Lord, becoming in the process fishers of people and messengers of God’s grace. In Luke’s narrative turn, it is almost as if the people gathered earlier along the shore and separated from Jesus in his boat by the waters of the Lake have now been gathered and transformed into the peoples of the world caught up in the net of the Gospel message and the circle of God’s love. The boat of Simon Peter, at the point of sinking from the weight of the catch, is soon to become the Barque of Peter. But it is a barque or ship, not only of Peter and his companions, but of all Christians the world over. In the Church, it has become our spiritual life raft. As you probably know, the central part of a Christian church building, such as the beautiful one in which we are gathered today, is sometimes called the nave -- n a v e -- from navis, the Latin word for boat. Some scholars of language and etymology believe this is simply an architectural reference to the shape of many traditional church buildings which with a bit of imagination resembles a kind of upside-down boat. But others see in the word an allusion to the Church itself as a great ship, harking back to our Gospel story this morning and perhaps to the Ark of Noah as well, an ship which embraced all earthly life. Our task from the Lord is not different today from that of Peter and his companions centuries ago, even if we never venture out upon the waters of the Lake of Gennesaret, the Balaton, or any other convenient body of water. We are still called upon the proclaim the Good News of the Gospel to the masses of humanity gathered at the shoreline yearning to hear the “word of God.” We too are to be fishers of people, a task at some level more daunting and arduous than the work of any commercial fisherman or woman.

But it is also a task rich in reward and rich in God’s grace. For, Jesus’ reassurance to Peter at the Lake of Gennesaret is given to us as well, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching people.” Amen. The Rev. Dr. Frank Hegedűs

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