They Caught Nothing

Believe it or not, “[t]he early Methodist meetings were often led by lay preachers with very limited education. On one occasion, such a preacher took as his text Luke 19:21: ‘Lord, I feared thee, because thou art an austere man.’

“Not knowing the word austere, he thought that the text spoke of an oyster man. He spoke about the work of those who retrieve oysters from the seabed. The diver plunges down from the surface, cut off from his natural environment, into bone-chilling water. He gropes in the dark, cutting his hands on the sharp edges of the shells. Now he has the oyster, and kicks back up to the surface, up to the warmth and light and air, clutching in his torn and bleeding hands the object of his search. So, Christ descended from the glory of heaven into the squalor of Earth, into sinful human society, in order to retrieve humans and bring them back up with him to the glory of heaven, his torn and bleeding hands a sign of the value he has placed on the object of his quest.

“Twelve people were converted that evening. Afterward, someone complained to the classically trained, Oxford don John Wesley about the inappropriateness of allowing preachers who were too ignorant to know the meaning of the texts they were preaching on, to preach. Wesley simply said, ‘Never mind, the Lord got a dozen oysters tonight.’”

they were just fisherman

You know they were fisherman. Most all the disciples. They left their nets to follow this guy named Jesus. It was an amazing trip. Preaching, teaching, healing — the very power of God right there. What amazing and wonderful things they got to see and hear.

They even got to do some of that power-of-God-filled work. They did some preaching, teaching, and healing (cf. Mark 6.6b-13). People got healed, lives were changed — they did this work because Jesus sent them. They struggled to believe it, but it was Jesus, after all.

Then came all that business in Jerusalem. Jesus suffered, was crucified, and he died. What was even more difficult and amazing than that was that he rose from the grave. Death could not hold him. He really was who he said he was as the Son of God. They weren’t quite sure how to handle that.

everything was different

They hadn’t seen him in a while, a few days, not since he breathed the Holy Spirit on them, not since he told them there was so much to do. They hadn’t seen him in while.

Sure it mattered, what Jesus said and did, it mattered. That he was risen mattered. But they didn’t really know what to do. They didn’t know where to go. Their world had been so drastically changed they just didn’t know what to do. Everything was different. Their lives, their ideas about life, about death, about God. Everything was different.

So, they went fishing. Not all the disciples, just the ones who used to do it for a living. It was comforting, settling. The Sea of Galilee, the shifting of the waves under the boat, the smell of the sea. The nets in their hands, the sail and the rigging. No, they hadn’t forgotten how to do the work of fishing. And it was reassuring and heartening to be in the familiar again.

It didn’t work, though. It didn’t work. It ended up frustrating and tiring because they didn’t catch any fish. Fisherman, fishing all night long, throwing the nets, hauling the nets — fisherman, fishing all night long. They didn’t catch a thing. For all their knowledge and experience, they caught nothing. All night, and they caught nothing.

It wasn’t so comforting any more. Oh sure, they’d had days when they hadn’t caught much in the past. But nothing? It had been a long time since they’d worked all night and caught absolutely nothing.

who is this guy?

“Fellows, have you caught any fish?” someone cried out from the shore.

“No,” they replied.  “Who is this guy on the beach?” they wondered.  “Why is he interested in our fishing?”

“Then he said, ‘Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!’ So they did, and they couldn’t haul in the net because there were so many fish in it.”

Then someone’s brain suddenly began to work. Then someone recognized him. “Then the disciple Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It’s the Lord!’’’

moving forward

What’s so hard about this story is it’s familiarity. We’ve spent time with Jesus, we know him, we’ve seen him do amazing things, but it doesn’t always give us what we need to move forward.

It’s familiar because when we don’t know where to go or what to do, we return to what we know, what’s comforting or settling.  Even after an experience with Jesus that is just, well, beyond us and our capacity, we’ll return to what we know just because it’s familiar.

The reason that’s hard is because once you’ve met Jesus, once the risen Lord has stepped into your life, once the Holy Spirit moves in your heart — you just can’t go back. Everything really does change.

The familiar doesn’t really work any more. It’s lacking. They caught nothing. They caught nothing, that is, until they had a word from Jesus. At the word from Jesus they filled boat with fish. So many fish, and the net didn’t tear.

They had a barbecue on the beach: grilled fish and bread cooked on a rock. The best grill chef in the world dropped by for one last meal before he left for home.

“It is the Lord,” they finally realized.

Perhaps they realized in those moments on the beach that this life of fishing they’d known for years was over. Over. Done. Finished.

joy came in the morning

Jesus had altered their reality with his coming. They caught nothing, and it helped them realized that they couldn’t go back after having known Jesus; after seeing the risen Savior all was changed. They had to move forward with God in the power of the Holy Spirit.

They had to realize it for themselves. They had to have that sacred moment on the beach — a night of despair — but joy came in the morning.

They caught nothing, but it was the best fishing they’d ever done. They caught nothing, but they also caught everything. This Jesus had a plan for their lives, a plan that fit into the workings of the kingdom of God — and they were no more fishermen.

A text for the table: John 21.1-14.

Story Credit: “The Austere Man,” from “Animating Illustrations,”

Image Credit: Fisherman’s Beach by dans le grand bleu (Creative Commons).