January 3, 2019 – When the Net is Empty

Text:  Luke 5: 1-11

There is something that hinders us from being fully present in the here and now, blocking the abundance we can appreciate right in front us. I am curious to know what human condition we have that makes us so vulnerable that we do everything we can to avoid what really matters to us. Of course, we have reasons why we don’t want to face any difficult situations. The unwelcomed change we experience makes us worry about our present and future. The unresolved relationship in the past can hunt us down at any moment never asking whether we are ready. Any dysfunctional organizations we have to deal with can suck our energies up in a second.

There is a saying in Korea that ‘a mother with a large brood never has a peaceful day.’ Even if we are not parents with a large family, we can relate to the saying because we are relational beings. We just can’t escape from the net of endless relationships. Our attempt to do so may result in a sense of dislocation or despair. A relationship to a human is water to a fish or air to a bird. What’s left if we get rid of the ground to stand except feeling out of place?

The calling to follow Jesus is not about finding something entirely new in the unknown territories; it’s about going back to our roots, the firm ground we can stand on, the net of endless relationships that make us humans. Jesus knows our tendency to avoid what really matters to us.

He said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” This is a radical invitation that can turn our lives upside down. For fishermen catching fish is what they do for a living. They go out at night or early in the morning to fish. What they catch is a medium, a commodity which can be exchanged into something else to feed their families. Their success depends on their skills and weather conditions, and sometimes luck. Because they can’t always predict the outcome, they must prepare for the worst. The nature of fishing forces them to learn how to live with whatever they can find. Their lives ultimately rely on resources which can be unreliable and exhausted.

Fishing for people, however, is different. It’s about learning to rely on each other. It’s about embracing diversity and celebrating differences while working together for good. Unlike catching fish you don’t need special skills, certain weather conditions, or luck in order to fish for people. Instead, the only thing that is required of you is trust, which is not optional but the necessity.
That’s why Jesus sent the disciples out with nothing but their partners. Before they entered into any villages to share the good news, they must have learned to trust one another, and to trust God among them. Trust is not something we can buy or earn. It is a rare gift we can be given. One of the common misconceptions about trust is that we can only trust someone who is trustworthy; until we can see the proof or predict the outcome we don’t give trust, therefore we lose nothing and gain nothing.

The kind of trust we need to fish for people is not based on any business models because we don’t have any commodity but relationships. It is based on self-giving love. It is the only proper response to God whose self-emptying love makes the whole creation alive and flourish.

“Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” This is trust: to be able to throw the net one more time without any evidence of how it’s going to turn out just because there is an irresistible calling which is always higher and deeper than we can imagine.
I know how you have worked hard. You have been extremely generous in sharing your time, gifts, talents and energies. You have served the community as best you could. There were times when your nets were full and you had to call others to help carry, and there was outpouring response. You also know the pain of having an empty net. You wonder about sustainability and next generations.

It is when you deserve much thanks – the day has been long without success, and you are wrapping up so you can go home and relax – that you begin to hear a voice calling you to try one more time. The voice is strangely familiar, and it’s clear and assertive. “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” That irresistible voice is calling forth and awakening the deepest and truest part of who you are, that you are meant to live with and for others, and to celebrate God’s presence in everything and every experience.
I like the fact that Jesus didn’t call the fishermen when they were successful, when their net was full. The calling came when they reached the limit, when they knew the pain of having an empty net. It was when they had no resources to rely on that they began to see the other way around – throwing themselves into the net of endless relationships where there is no gaining or losing, but one shared life based on companionship.

I still don’t have an answer to what hinders us from being fully present in the here and now where we can appreciate the fullness of life with the joy and pain that life brings to us. Perhaps, there is a tendency or human condition that tries to make us stay in a safer and more comfortable place. But one thing I do know is that going back to our roots, the net of relationships is what make us truly human, however difficult they may be sometimes. That is as natural and sustaining for humans as water is for fish and air for birds.