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Life-Giving People-Catching

Updated: Feb 12, 2019

Lesson: Luke 5:1-11

Author Brian McLaren tells a story about a man named Jeff who began attending McLaren’s church. After about six months, Jeff told McLaren, “For the first time in my life, I look forward to coming to church. It’s really having a good effect on me and my whole family. My wife says I’m a much better husband, and I know I’m improving as a father, too. I really get a lot out of your sermons. In fact, I agree with everything you say.”

This statement shocked McLaren. He was pretty sure even his own wife couldn’t say that. In fact McLaren wasn’t sure he could even say that, given the way he winced when he listened to his old sermon tapes. But Jeff continued. “There’s one thing, though. I don’t believe in God.”

McLaren wondered how Jeff could agree with everything he’d heard him preach, and not believe in God. He also, internally, was shaking his head: “Man, I must be some preacher if you still don’t believe in God.” But instead of saying this, he asked Jeff, “Why don’t you believe in God?” Jeff answered, “It’s my brother. He became a Christian and now nobody can stand him.” McLaren asked, “So you’re afraid if you start believing in God, you’ll become an arrogant hypocrite, or something like that? “Exactly,” said Jeff.[1]

This morning’s passage in Luke’s gospel has Jesus telling Simon Peter, the one who will eventually be known as the apostle Peter, that from now on, his job as a follower of Jesus will be “catching people.” Followers of Jesus are to catch people. Too often, the way Christians have attempted to follow this very instruction has created opinions like Jeff’s, or worse. A lot people stay away from Christianity for many good reasons. To be sure, some stay away because they love their selfishness, arrogance, racism, and resentments; their self-righteousness, and their materialism so much that they want to stay away from anything that might challenge them to change. But, sadly, much of the revulsion to Christianity is telling us something the Church needs to hear. Many people have been deeply hurt by the Church’s intolerance and exclusion. Others are just not attracted to what looks to many like another rigid belief system, rather than a joyful way of living, loving and serving. The obsession with getting people’s souls into heaven after they die has seduced many Christians into neglecting the call to seek justice and mercy here and now on this earth. And fewer and fewer people are willing to trust a faith that has too often become an easy set of answers and cardboard explanations, instead of a window into unfathomable mystery and a pathway into an awesome adventure.[2]

And yet, Jesus sends his disciples to “catch people.” What could this possibly mean for us, in 2019, at a time when we see growing multiculturalism and interfaith appreciation as good things?

Unlike Matthew and Mark, Luke does not use the phrase, “fishers of men” or “fishers of people.” Luke chose a Greek verb rarely used in the New Testament that means, “to catch alive.”[3] Of course, fishing with nets is always a matter of catching fish alive, but those live fish will soon be dead. By using this different verb, this “catch alive” verb, Jesus is calling Simon Peter and his partners to something different, to a new vocation of catching people so that they might live, a life-giving vocation of being caught up in God’s mission.