People start showing up along the lakeshore, their eyes filled with curiosity and skepticism and expectation because they have already heard about this Jesus.
They already know he’s a talker, but the bold things he says are matched by a real presence among the people. When they are sick, he is there. When they are possessed and frightened and fragmented, he is there. His teachings are not theoretical or abstract because he is so clearly all in — in the flesh with fullness and life. And that kind of power gets a variety of reactions — liberating some and threatening others.
That’s the thing about incarnate love. It’s embodied, intense and evokes deep connections we often miss in the routine of daily life. Jesus is a talker, sure, but then he shows the people something — an image, a touch, a feast, a rearranging of characters — Jesus moves their bodies and their spirits, inviting them to Come and See, so they too are implicated in a love story beyond their wildest dreams and conscious control.
By now, some have heard that he went into the wild places all alone, fasting and praying for 40 days. There are rumors that he was tempted by the devil to flex his independence, to save himself, to choose earthly power above all things — and that the devil would have rewarded him.
But Jesus resisted twisting and torturing the scriptures. He wouldn’t maim and mutilate the law, using just a sliver of it to justify his actions because that didn’t make it right or good or holy or true. And so he emerged from the desert rejoicing in the One True God, the God of Enough, the God of Abundance, the God who Preserves and Proclaims Community and Love Beyond Ourselves.
The crowds are curious to follow because it’s so much more than talk. Jesus teaches and preaches and interprets scripture so that the center is always moving toward the margin,
so that his own people in Nazareth try to run him off a cliff,
so that unclean spirits confess his name,
so that people are pressing in on his personal space
with bodies that need a God who knows and loves their bodies.
This is the reputation that brings crowds to see Jesus on the lakeshore. Fishermen are mending their nets, grieving yet another night with nothing to show for their labor, their ache and stench, their talents tried by the mystery of waves and dawn’s light.
The men are ripe with imposter syndrome. The math does itself while they note the weary waste — the scarcity they will show at the market that afternoon and on their dinner tables that evening. They are curved in on their worries, on their work and their worth, so curved in they cannot see that Jesus already knows.
He, too, is flesh and so he knows the human economy of risk and reward, of daily work and the desire to be good at what we set out to do.
Jesus knows, alright. He has been measured by his notable ancestors, by his father’s carpentry trade, by his hometown of Nazareth, that hole in the wall that has yet to produce a superstar. He has heard their whispers: Teacher? Messiah? Prophet? Magician? Fool?
Jesus knows how hard we work to quantify and qualify one another with stats and stories, how the muscles we use to dream can atrophy as we grow from children into adults, as we become more familiar with the hazards of being alive, more afraid of losing what we have, more zealous guards of the familiar.
Jesus knows. And so he meets the men in their sunrise grief. He climbs into a boat, settles his presence in and among the tools of their smelly and chilly routine, to tell them what’s actually true.
The gospel doesn’t keep a record of what he says to the fishermen and the crowds, but we have heard Jesus teaching big groups before. My money is on a story that stretches their imaginations or the bold reframing of who deserves what and why. My money is on words that afflict the people who are comfortable while also comforting the people who are afflicted. Because Jesus is always moving the center and moving us.
When he’s done teaching, he tells Simon to move their boat into deeper water and drop the nets for a catch.
Now, I don’t know about you, but when I’m tired and cranky, when I’m weary from work and ornery because I have little to show for it on that particular day, the last thing I need is some amateur showing up, telling me how to do my job!
But Simon doesn’t respond with a defensive snarl or an aggressive snap at Jesus. Rather, he opens so Jesus can see his sorrow and vulnerability: “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and we haven’t caught anything. But, because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
I hear Simon’s achy confession everywhere these days.
We are working so hard all night.
We are breaking our backs trying to make ends meet, living hand to mouth, day-to-day. And I’m not just talking about the financial stress of adulting, of predatory lending and credit card debt and saving for college and rent on the rise.
I’m talking about the time we spend on social media curating a public image, living in a constant digital high school reunion or job interview, often checking apps for likes before checking in on our own thoughts and feelings.
I’m talking about the expectations we have about responsibility, time, intimacy, affection, meaningful work, and retirement — the pull between desire and safety, wanting more and wanting what we already have to be enough.
I’m talking about anxiety and depression running rampant, people too overwhelmed by symptoms to get support, too tired, scared or alone to know where to start, too isolated from resources to think much could change.
I’m talking about big broken systems rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, only tinkering with technicalities because they were built to preserve the legend, the institution, the perception that they know what they’re doing and it’s under control.
I’m talking about the sunrise grief we bring into the boat:
the urgency for global climate repair,
our national identity crisis,
deep divisions in the Minneapolis Public School District,
the church trying to find its new place and purpose in the public conversation —
just to name a few.
We have been working so hard all night and our backs hurt and our nets are empty. Because we have been spending the night doing what we already know how to do, performing in order to feel secure and right, taking the steps that have always been the steps.
But here’s the thing, folks.
The night is not meant for our confidence, enterprise or gain. No, the night is for slowing down. For assuming a vulnerable posture, for lowering defenses. For listening. For learning. For wanting to understand something new that might come to find you, if you’re lucky, if it can trust you with its holy secrets. The beautiful darkness stretches long hours between the days to remind us:
There are things we cannot yet see.
There are pockets of abundance that cannot be explained.
There are hours and chapters and seasons for stumbling around, when we are called to wait for the sacred wisdom of what’s next, when we are becoming undone from expectations and assumptions about what is safe and brave and possible.
The darkness found Joseph in his dreams, wrestled with Jacob in the wilderness, birthed creation and Christ. The darkness is where the impossible can begin because we are not in control.
Jesus has come to sit with Simon in the light of day and urges him to try one more time. Do what you do. Show me. And, who knows? Perhaps it will move the center and move you.
They need each other to pull up the nets. The other boat comes over to help and they begin to sink under the weight of all those fish. This miracle catch, so bizarre because they weren’t doing anything different.
Except, perhaps, that they are now fishing without expectation or assumption. They are fishing having admitted the truth about the thing they do best: Sometimes it’s the worst! Sometimes it doesn’t make any sense at all. Sometimes it breaks their hearts. And, when it does, it’s okay to let it all go and begin again, together, a little lighter and cracked wide open to what else can happen instead.
Simon’s first instinct is to push Jesus away, to call himself unworthy, to distance himself from this sign that was already moving everything around, changing the things he’d been able to count on. But that’s the thing about incarnate love: it’s embodied, intense, it’s foolish and stubborn in making clear:
“There is enough. More than enough. It’s for you and also it does not end with you. So come and see what else could be true.”
By yet another miracle, they make it back to shore with the biggest catch they’ve ever seen. And then they leave it. I’d like to think the fishermen aren’t the only ones called that morning. That the crowds who remain on the shore become stewards of the fish, tellers of the story, witnesses of enough who make sure every fillet fills a belly.
Friends, there are seasons for seeing clearly, for knowing what you are doing, for crushing the daily tasks and preserving what has already served us well.
And there are seasons for waiting empty-handed in the darkness of night, for becoming a gracious guest or a gentle listener, for remembering that you do not know what you do not know, and the blessings that find you by day are meant to be shared.
The world is filled with people and systems who are charging ahead and doubling down, but the world needs more people and systems who are learning to sit in the dark, opening to dreams, wrestling with blessings, and breathing through the birthing pains for the sake of what can still be.
There is One who comes to be with us in the boat in every season, to speak what is true, to show us what matters, to move the center and to move us.
May Jesus Christ, Love Made Flesh, find you in your daily work, your tender darkness, your disappointed dawn – and startle your plans with the weight of impossibility. Call out to others for help bearing the load and then let it all go. Because you are still and always being gathered into something new. Amen.