Judges 6:11-24a; 1 Corinthians 15:111; Luke 5:111
“Master, we have worked all night long and have caught nothing.” Luke 5:5
There’s an interesting movie playing around town now. It’s called “Big Fish.” Perhaps you’ve seen it. It’s not an all-time great movie, but it is interesting because like all good stories, it draws you beneath the surface of things. It’s the story of a father and son who have trouble getting along. The father tells fanciful stories, fairy-tale elaborations on the facts. To the son, these are simply fabrications, but to the father, when you look beneath the surface, they are the truth.
An important lesson to be learned in life is that on the one hand there are the facts and on the other hand there is the truth. A really good story carries with it a deeper truth. The story is the vehicle that carries what some call the mythic truth and the point of the story is to engage you in a way that makes it possible to see the truth.
When I was a child, I saw a rainbow and I asked my mother what it was. She said that it was a sign of the presence of God and it usually appears as the storm is passing away. Not satisfied, I asked my father. He said it marked the place where the leprechauns hid the gold. Still unsatisfied, I asked an older boy in the neighborhood. He told me it was simple sunlight refracted through raindrops. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that all three are true. And what’s really important is that the way I perceive the rainbow has a profound influence on the way I lead my life.
In a perceptive new book called The Heart of Christianity New Testament scholar, Marcus Borg describes the many meanings of faith as he understands it. Faith is “intellectual assent,” a conscious choice of a path to take. This is what most think of as the principal meaning of faith. Logic fails, and so we must choose. But faith is about far more than holding a particular set of beliefs or adhering to a creed. Believing in a set of claims is something we do with our head and it is the last step in a faith journey, not the first.
Faith is also trust. Having chosen a path we must trust in that choice. Faith in this meaning is the release of anxiety. Kierkegaard writes that faith is like floating in 70,000 fathoms of water; if you thrash about you sink, if you relax and trust, you float.
And faith is fidelity, loyalty, the commitment of the self to that path at the deepest level; a commitment of the heart. Faith is a commitment to love God and all that God loves no matter what. It is the ethical content of faith.
But most importantly and perhaps primarily, faith is vision. And that’s what I want to talk to you about today. Faith springs from a radical view of the world that is entirely different from the way we are usually taught to see things. It is vision that causes us to see that there are alternative views of reality. And the way we see reality shapes who we are and how we behave. How we see “what is” determines how we lead our lives.
It’s a bit overly simplistic, but here are three ways of seeing the world Each worldview results in a particular way of responding to life. We can, for example, see reality as intimidating and hostile. After all, life is fragile and there are many threats. If we do see reality this way, we will live defensively, seeking to ward off life’s threats. If life is fragile, we can justify violence, witness the violence in our city streets and around the world. And we can, for example, justify elective warfare. There have been many forms of Christianity that see reality this way. God will get us if we don’t offer the right sacrifices, or perform the proper rituals or believe the correct dogma. God will be our judge and will punish those who don’t get it right. If we do, then God will consider us to be worthy of salvation, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire. This is a terribly limited and self-protective view of reality.
Another way of seeing reality is to see it all as a matter of indifference. Reality isn’t out to get us, it simply doesn’t matter. “Whatever.” The cosmos is made up of swirling fields of matter and energy, of dust and debris and it is elegant to behold. But it is indifferent to human meanings and purposes. This is the predominant view in our day, I would think. It does not lead to the same defensiveness as a hostile worldview, but in the end we are going to be primarily concerned with ourselves and with those who are most important to us.
In either case, if we see reality either as threatening or as a matter of indifference we will construct lives that are inward looking, defensive and ultimately hostile. We bear grudges, feel resentment, argue over unimportant matters and lead lives that are ultimately self-destructive.
Which is why we need Jesus so much.
Once when he was teaching, the crowds were so huge that they couldn’t see him. So he asked if he could borrow a boat and put out from shore just a bit and he spoke to them from out there so that they could really see what he was talking about. And despite the fact that the world they lived in left them hungry; despite the fact that their lives would be short and their work hours long; despite the fact that they would be trampled by a despotic government and persecuted for just being; despite all this, he told them that they need not fear. Consider, he said another time, the birds of the air. They neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not so elegantly dressed.” The world, he said is a gracious place, rich and fertile, a land abundant in good things.
And then, as there were some fishermen there, he said to them, “Look how fertile this lake is. Put your nets down over there.”
And they said, “Master, we have worked all night long and have caught nothing.” (Luke 5:5)
And he said to them, “You should be fishing in the deep water.” And they did what he asked and found that the lake was swarming with fish, so much so in fact, that it filled their boats to overflowing. In Jesus’ reality 2 fish feed five thousand, so it is no surprise then that one encounter with him filled their lives to overflowing.
This is a third way of seeing. It is a vision of reality as life-giving and nourishing. It is filled with wonder and beauty and magnificence, even if sometimes a terrible magnificence. This perspective on the way things are makes life wholly different. It leads to a willingness to trust in a radical way. It frees us from anxiety and self-concern. This way of seeing reality leads to a whole different way of living. It leads to a radical trust and a complete fidelity to that way. It leads to self-forgetfulness and a yearning to love profoundly.
It is the way of life that Jesus described when he said, as he frequently did, “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:35)
The glass is neither half empty nor half full; it is teeming with life. It is overflowing with the grace of God that makes us who we are, as Paul says it. It is the way of life characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal. 5:22-23)
This is not naive optimism. Jesus was no Pollyanna. This is not to say that the world really is a nice place. The point is that how we see the world dramatically influences how we experience and live our lives.
But be careful! Seeing the world from God’s point of view means that the externals, the surface things of life are not important and what counts is what lies beneath the surface. Jesus has a way of turning our ordinary expectations inside out and upside down. Reality is not a struggle for prominence and importance. Reality is not about power and might. He did not say, Blessed is the person who looks out for #1. Those who are blessed are those who make peace. Those who inherit everything are those who are meek. Those with a hunger for righteousness are the ones who will be satisfied.
It’s hard being a follower of Jesus. If we take him seriously, we’re likely to find that we’re looking at things the wrong way; fishing, so to speak, in all the wrong places.
It’s the vision thing. If we follow Jesus we’re likely to discover that relationships matter more than anything else, and especially our relationships with those neighbors with whom we have the most difficulty. Remember that when Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” he answered with the parable of the despised but good Samaritan. If one wants a loving relationship with God, he seemed to be saying, one must begin by loving one’s enemies.
It’s the vision thing. When one goes into the world to make something of oneself, one’s vision may be limited to life’s externals and become competitive. But Jesus would focus our attention not on how well we’re doing, but on how well others are doing.
If you want to follow Jesus, no need to cast envious eyes on the powerful and the important. You’d best go to the back of the line and to the bottom of the heap which is where he’s most likely to be.
If you want to follow Jesus, there’s no point in fishing for compliments or fishing for fame and fortune. It’s a life of service to others. That’s what he calls us to.
“Master,” Peter said, “We’ve fished all night and caught nothing.”
And Jesus said as he often said, This Sea is not empty and unsatisfying it is rich and bursting with life and fulfillment and joy. And, he said, when we come to see reality that way we begin to understand that righteousness is about right relationships and all of our energy and all of our love will be invested not in power and prestige, but in other people.
In the movie, The Big Fish, the catch of the day was not a deeper understanding of the power of myth or the depth of the story. It was the healing of the relationship between father and son.
In the story of Jesus and the great catch of fish the miracle was not the miracle of the enormous catch, nor was it a new understanding of the abundance of God. The story of Jesus is the story of Peter and Andrew and James and John. “Have I been with you all this time and you still do not know me?” he asked. It’s the story of their relationship to Jesus who tells them of a different catch. And that is our story too. It is the story of a call to a life of service to others.
It is the story of the discovery of a different way of seeing reality. Don’t be afraid, he said. Your catch, your quarry, your goal, your life’s ambition, he said to them, is other people.
And when they caught on, they gave up everything and followed him.