Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He 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. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
- Luke 5:1-11
After rebuking the demons, Jesus continues preaching around the Galilee (Lake of Gennesaret, I'm told, is another name for the Sea of Galilee). He is by now famous for healings and casting out demons - for "rebuking" both fever and demons, according to yesterday's readings. Today's readings concern themselves with the topic of obedience, and what it means to follow what is from the Lord.
I think obedience is a rather tricky topic in the sense that it is so often confused with control. But there's a world of difference in following the commands of a person who has your best interest at heart, and those of someone who wishes to use or exploit you for selfish purposes. If our obedience is to the good, to that which knows better than we do what we can do to serve the good, then our choice to follow comes not from a slavish sort of obedience but of the impulse or intuition to follow the good, to bring it about, to show love and care for our world as we do so through the fruits of that obedience.
Simon recognizes Jesus as master and leader in this passage. His partners, John and James, will also become partners in "fishing for people." Jesus' command regarding where and when to lay their nets comes in a way to show Jesus' mastery of time - as has been discussed on this blog before. Jesus knows what to do and when to do it. There is nothing, to my mind, more symbolic of abundance than these nets full of fish. They remind me of Jesus' teachings about life in abundance - that this is the purpose for which he has come to us, so that we may have this life in abundance. But I also think of this abundance as symbolic of the values harvested through Jesus' life in the world and our obedience to his teachings and commandments.
There's a fascinating book by a man who was a professor of French literature at Stanford University, Rene Girard. It's called I See Satan Fall Like Lightning. Professor Girard was a literary critic quite famous for social theories developed through his work. I'd recommend any of his texts to those interested. In this particular book, however, he examined pagan mythologies side-by-side with religious scripture in the stories of the Bible. His most remarkable finding in examining these stories is in the difference in the nature of the victim of scapegoating. The pagan mythologies portray a victim that deserves treatment and status as scapegoat. We can see for ourselves that in the literature of the story of Jesus, the victim is innocent. Inherent in this story is the notion that not all victims deserve their punishment, and in my opinion, the seed of the development of legal systems protecting the rights of the innocent. This seed of thought, of notions of social good, has functioned in subsequent cultural development through the prevalence of this important "Myth." (I use the term "Myth" as Joseph Campbell would, as a story that is part of the fabric of prevalent culture.) Without this story, I doubt that cultural development of social ideas of protection of the innocent victims of the majority would have developed as they have. I bring up Professor Girard's studies to make a point about the abundance of values I see symbolized in those nets full of fish. I believe that, in obedience to the commands of the Good, we are to have life in abundance through the fruits of that labor - the values of good that are created in our world.
May we labor for what is good, and may we know the way to do so. I personally need to seek that which teaches me how to follow this path. I believe that this is what Jesus meant when he called himself the Way, the Truth and the Life. How do we know to serve that which will produce values of good we have not yet encountered nor understood?