Fear not! Do not be afraid!
From today’s Gospel, “And Jesus said unto Simon: Fear Not.” (Lk 5:10) [5th Sunday after Trinity, 21 July 2019, All Saints, Prescott, AZ]
The lake in the northern part of Israel is known by three different names: The Sea of Galilee, the Sea of Tiberias, and the Lake of Gennesareth. It is a body of water some 13 miles long and 8 miles wide, normally crowded with fish and surrounded by towns that include Capernaum, Bethsaida, Magdala and Gennesareth. A highway between Damascus to the North and Egypt in the South ran along its western shore, and hot springs made many people come to the city of Tiberias on the lake’s western side. Being a fisherman was the profession to have at the time, so that Simon, his brother Andrew, as well as James and John, had devoted their life to this work when Jesus borrowed Simon’s boat… and changed everything.
We are not told what Jesus said to the people that day, and we may feel a bit cheated. We certainly would like to know what caused Simon to row out into the deep part of the lake and throw out his nets again. From experience, Simon knew that the time for good fishing had passed, and he knew that one more attempt would be fruitless. He was tired after a night’s work, disappointed by his lack of success, and really not in the mood to entertain a preacher who obviously knew nothing about fishing. But then again… he must have been impressed by what this preacher had said, although much of His behavior seemed rather odd:
Normally, a preacher sits in a synagogue, and explains a section from the Torah to the faithful. He does not sit in a boat somewhere and preach to people on the banks of a lake;
Normally, a Rabbi would talk to his students in pre-arranged meetings and teach them privately, but he would never address a large crowd in the open on the spur of the moment;
Normally, a carpenter’s son does not tell a fisherman how and when to fish.
But… none of this matters, because Jesus is about to reveal the power of God over the animal kingdom and over people… and despite his skepticism, knowledge and experience, Simon follows this teacher’s command.
“Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch,” He had said… and as Simon did so, he became an example of humility, obedience and faith while our Lord rewarded him with more than a fisherman could ever have expected: Simon was raised to discipleship… learning from our Lord for the next three years… and to become a fisher of men. And so, we notice one more oddity in today’s Gospel story:
Normally, the elite is selected for higher office, not the average person! But in this case, Simon and Andrew, John and James were selected, and they went on to spread the news throughout the known world that Christ is our Redeemer.
All of this would come later, of course, and all of this would have an impact on our lives throughout the centuries, but not yet! Had we been on the side of the lake, we might have been astonished to see these four men leave their livelihood behind and follow this preacher immediately. If we put ourselves in Simon’s shoes, however, the story changes dramatically.
As Simon fills his net with fishes, he recognizes his own unworthiness in an instant. Surely, this catch is not a trick, or good luck! Surely, he is in the presence of someone greater than anyone he has ever met… and he addresses Jesus as “Lord” as soon as he gets back to land. It would be better for them all if this teacher went away… if He left Simon alone… because this man made him feel uncomfortable… this man made him feel disturbed to the core… perhaps even afraid. For Simon, Andrew, James and John, a miracle of gigantic proportions had taken place. They experienced a personality much greater than anyone else’s, and Simon felt unworthy to be near this man. And just as Isaiah was terrified when he glanced at the presence of God (Is.5: 6) and just as Moses hid his face before the Burning Bush (Ex. 3:6), Simon fell at Jesus’ feet and declared that he is “a sinful man” (Lk. 5:8), unworthy of being in His presence… and he asked Jesus to leave. Instead, they were raised from being fishermen to being the first disciples. It was certainly a life-changing event, and Jesus did not make it easier when He told Simon: “Do not be afraid! Fear not! From now on you will be catching men.” (Lk. 5:10)
Besides teaching and preaching, Jesus shapes and trains His disciples for things to come… and by extension, He shapes and trains e trainsHe trrains us as well.
We can only imagine how a face-to-face meeting with Jesus might change our lives. At first, we might be very afraid… because just recognizing His power and His holiness would frighten us. But it is ordinary people just like you and I that Jesus gathers to Himself, and His love and compassion for our plight and worries… His care for our hopes and disappointments shows through in all He does. It is ordinary people just like you and I whom Jesus seeks out to be His missionaries; it is the “common people” whom He attracts with His bounty of love and grace… and it is the “average person” whom He comforts in their daily troubles. It is the disappointed and sinful people whom He rewards with forgiveness… and to whom He gives new hope and a new start in life.
Someone recently observed that so often in Holy Scripture God calls out the young and the meek and the old and the weary to do His Will. It is almost never the healthy or the strong. This is so in part – or perhaps totally – because we need to be meek or weary before we can give up our ego and totally depend on God.
He does not call those who think they can do God a favor… He calls those who are humble... troubled in life, unsuccessful from time to time, and, yes… those who are sinful and would be unworthy of His presence by earthly standards.
Jesus transforms us into servants of God by calling us personally and asking us… even commanding us… to follow Him and take on a different mission in life. He strengthens us in our daily work. He comforts us in our loss of resolve; He refreshes us in our exhaustion of mind and body and He silences our fear when there seems to be no hope left in our hearts. And when we look deeply into our soul and find Christ near us, we might feel the same emotions that Simon felt, because we, too, are sinful, feel unworthy, and are afraid in the immediate presence of the Almighty. We, too, would beg Him to “depart from me, for I am sinful.” (Lk. 5:8) And yet, an encounter with Jesus would assure us that He knows us through and through, and that He will change us… as we try one more time to work our way through one more day. In His service, we are not meant to wait until every little difficulty is resolved, or every obstacle is removed.
We are not meant to sit… and wait… and do nothing! Instead, we are called to follow Christ daily… simply, because He calls us. Sometimes we are called to rest in Him, to let Him heal us until the fullness of time has come for us to follow and serve Him – but that time is not an excuse to do nothing – it is a time to be made whole and to be formed and shaped and prepared for a new assignment in Him.
Through Baptism, Confirmation and the sharing of His Body and Blood in Holy Communion, we have already been set apart and have already been commanded to spread the Good News to the ends of the earth… and to our next-door neighbor. His command means not only "Come!" but also "Go!" It means: go out into the world and be my disciples! It means: launch out into the deep of life and let down your guard for a chance to have Jesus work within and through you! And in all this, it means to never be afraid, because He promised: I am with you always. (Mt. 28:20)
There was a deeper meaning of life in store for fishermen like Simon and Andrew, James and John as they became disciples and Apostles of Christ. They did not know at first what discipleship required… what it meant to “catch men”… what it meant to leave everything behind and follow someone whom they had just met… but they followed Him anyway, because His very presence commanded it. We can do no less! We need to look further than what is directly in front of us. We need to ask ourselves “What if…” and then we need to trust Him without fear.
In today’s Gospel, we are taught that obedience to God’s Will shall be rewarded; that faith will be strengthened, that our sinfulness is not a hindrance to receiving His grace and that fear of the unknown shall be overcome by His guiding hand. Therefore, Fear Not! Do not be afraid to make a commitment to Him!
The Lord’s command comes with encouragement and consolation. It supports us during moments of weakness and uncertainty, during moments of hopelessness, tiredness, troubled nights and lonely days. It supports us during times of “sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity.” (BCP pg. 74) We may be tempted to give up in despair… to no longer hope for relief in distress… to stop looking for God when we are overwhelmed with trouble. But, because we have been made children of God, we are never alone. We need not fear… not the present, not the past… not tomorrow, and not the day after that!
And so, when we confess our transgressions, and when we acknowledge our unworthiness in His presence, He will reach down to forgive us, strengthen our faith, and renew our resolve to make a difference in our lives.
I believe this to be true, because we have many examples of God calling ordinary people to His service and changing their lives forever. As mentioned before, Isaiah was terrified when he saw God, and Moses hid his face before the Burning Bush. And, just like them, Abraham fell facedown when he heard God tell him: “I will confirm my covenant between Me and you… You will be the father of many nations…” (Gen. 17: 2, 4)
The prophet Ezekiel fell on his face when he heard a man that looked like glowing metal say: “I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation…” (Ez. 1:27, 2:3) and the prophet Daniel was “terrified and fell [to the ground]” when he saw someone standing before him and heard a man’s voice instructing the Angel Gabriel to make “this man understand the vision…” he had just seen. (Dan. 8: 15, 17)
When people experience God it is always in awe and reverence. All of us would be terrified by seeing the full majesty and power and holiness of God displayed before our eyes, just as Simon was frightened by the presence of Jesus and the power He displayed on the Sea of Galilee. And yet, when Abraham, Moses and Ezekiel, Isaiah and Daniel, Simon, Andrew and the sons of Zebedee humbled themselves, they were raised to a higher office and were commissioned to be His ambassadors. In essence, all of them were told: Fear not! Do not be afraid to approach Me! I am with you always!
It is now our turn not to fear and not to be afraid… but to approach Christ in humility and to listen to someone who obviously knows something about redemption. Amen!