And yet... the Elephant
The account of Peter’s calling to be Jesus’ disciple is a wonderful miraculous story, remembered for that load of fish breaking the nets and nearly swamping both the fishing boats. One writer invited readers to look at Luke 5 from another angle: as a story of gritty faith by one open, honest person who simply trusted. And I would add, a man who was not yet an apostle, not yet a disciple, just an admirer of Jesus.
Peter and the others had just spent all night fishing. They had caught nothing. They had already pulled their boats into shore and were cleaning their nets. Okay we may never have fished all night on a trawler but let’s relate it to one of those heavy chores we get stuck into around the house: maybe refinishing furniture, or re-landscaping the garden—drag all the equipment out, work hard dawn to dusk, but despite the hard work, it’s not turning out as hoped. You will have to start from scratch again tomorrow. You finally call it quits and start tidying everything up and mentally you’re already half way to the kitchen for a cup of tea from the kettle or a beer from the fridge. Actually, in your mind you can already taste it! You’re done, you’re over it and are more than ready to rest. Peter and the others were no doubt at a similar point as they finished cleaning their nets: discouraged, dog-tired, nothing to show for their long night’s work, and knowing it had to be done all over again when evening came. They are now just plodding through the routine of cleaning up and putting things away, more than ready for some predictably normal home comforts. And suddenly Jesus says: “Put out into the deep and lower your nets for a catch.” They’d been out in the deep all that dark night—that was the last place they wanted to go, being bone weary and having just cleaned up and closed everything down. But Jesus, a builder by trade, asks them to row back out into the deep and try again. They were over it. Simon’s answer doesn’t disguise the reality of his frustration and exhaustion: “Master, we have laboured through the whole night and have caught nothing: and yet, at your word, I will let down the nets.”
Our DIY projects aside, most of us have probably found ourselves enervated in many other ways during the upheavals of these last couple of years. The uncertainty, the restrictions, the isolation, getting the virus, or avoiding the virus, job disruptions, family separations, serious illnesses have drained us of our energy and our vitality. We too, are over it, we’re tired and we want to go back to our predictably normal comforts, just as Peter and the boys were dying to just get back home. Today the mantra of the hour seems to be ‘let’s get back to normal.’ (Ah… when was that? Was 2019 normal?) Down through the ages, there have always been times when the desire to go back to something that we know, that feels certain, that we can predict emerges. It’s not just a 2022 innovation: Ecclesiastes 7:5 “Don’t always be asking: “Where are the good old days?” Wise folks don’t ask questions like that.” Somehow looking back often brings out the rose-coloured glasses making things seem better in a time ‘back when.’ The difficulties of the present and their ramifications into the future leave us wanting the past. Uncertainties and exhaustion lull us into believing it would be a solution. Back to our story…Peter knew what it was like to have an unproductive night’s fishing—and he knew from experience the solution was to call it quits, and get home for breakfast. It was not to try again during the day when the fish you are after feed at night. Notice Peter’s honest response to Jesus’ suggestion: “Master we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. And yet, if you say so, I will let down the nets.” He wasn’t hiding the fact that he was tired, that he could see no future in repeating what hadn’t worked all night—"and yet, if you say so”
As N. Bolz-Weber so beautifully phrases it:
"When our vision for what our lives would look like have failed us—When our bodies and dreams have failed us—Simple faith remains. Peter teaches us that. Because Peter’s faith is the kind that is honest about exhaustion and failure, honest about what life really feels like and then still says “AND YET.”
Bible teacher, Cathy Deddo, takes a familiar phrase and puts it to a unique use I found applicable to me during my current health battle and also to Peter’s story as well. It goes something like this: whenever there is an issue or trial we are dealing with, we get caught up in the details, the agonies of our situation. And our focus automatically scurries around the edges and into the corners of the situation, fretting our way back to normal, looking to solve the dilemma, thereby missing the elephant in the room. In any situation (room) we enter —cancer, pandemics, loss of a loved one, financial distress, no fish in the deep, etc.—the presence of Jesus is more real than anything we face. He is the elephant in the room we can so often miss, but Peter did not—"I’m tired Lord, I don’t want to go back into the deep, Lord…and yet”
The reality is that Jesus is always with us and bigger than our frustrations and fears. Each of our current trials is no match for his presence with/in us. Cancer…and yet. Coronavirus…and yet. Financial hardship…and yet. ‘Getting back to normal’ is a daydream…the solution is always the elephant in the room, our brother Jesus.
The Corners Nadia Bolz-Weber “Between exhaustion and The Deep” (blog)