In The Belly

Message for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, Year C (2/6/2022)

Luke 5:1-11


Bible editors and commentators like to identify individual stories in scripture by giving each one a subtitle – “The baptism of Jesus,” for instance, or “Preaching in Nazareth.” It helps to distinguish and summarize specific episodes in the larger narrative, but seeing as they don’t appear in the original manuscripts, subtitles are interpretations. And, since interpreters aren’t always of one mind, it’s not uncommon to come across different subtitles for the same story. Today’s Gospel from Luke is a case in point.

Humor me, will you? Take a moment to recall the story in its entirety and give it a subtitle of your own. How would you sum up these events that take place along the shore of the Sea of Galilee? Think on it, and when you’ve got your subtitle in mind, turn and tell someone next to you. What would you call this episode? Anyone willing to let us all hear what you came up with?

Different subtitles for the same story, different interpretations of what’s most important.

The editor of my New Oxford Annotated Bible calls it “The great catch of fish.” And, why not? Like other miracles of provision, it points to the surprising overabundance of God’s goodness. In Jesus’ presence, the fishermen unexpectedly receive grace upon grace, so much, in fact, that they’re not equipped to handle it – the catch is so large that it threatens to break their nets and sink their boats. It’s more than they could ever have dreamed, like a hundred and fifty gallons of wine at a village wedding, or copious loaves and fish at an impromptu picnic in the wilderness. God’s generosity is on display, and Simon, James, and John are amazed.

But, there’s more to it than that, isn’t there? As one interpreter puts it, “the fish are not the endgame in this story. These fishermen don’t suddenly get economic prosperity and an easy life. The fish are the match that lights the fuse for discipleship…. [Simon, James, and John] have the best day of work they’ve ever had, and yet they abandon it all to follow Jesus.” For that reason, the author of my New Interpreter’s Bible commentary gives this episode a different subtitle: “Calling the Fishermen.”

So, which is it? Is this the story of a miraculous catch of fish or the calling of the first disciples? Of course, it’s both. Common people come into contact with Jesus, recognizing in him the fullness of God’s grace, and so they can’t help but see where his path will lead. It’s an archetypal story of the gift of faith in action – Jesus stirs the fishermen’s hearts and they respond by reorienting their lives. “Do not be afraid,” Jesus says, “from now on you will be catching people.” And, the real miracle in this story is that Simon, James, and John say yes.

This past Tuesday, February 1st, was Saint Brigid’s Day, the festival that the ancient Celts also called Imbolc, or “in the belly,” likely a reference to the pregnancy of ewes at this time of year. Imbolc marks the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox, reminding us that we are “in the womb of winter” and on the verge of being “birthed into spring.” As the cold gradually wanes and the days grow longer and longer, we begin to anticipate the miracle of new life yet again. Maybe your mind has already wandered to your garden or your favorite tree, just waiting to burst into bloom in a few short weeks.

Imbolc is also associated with Candlemas on February 2nd, the commemoration of the baby Jesus’ presentation in the temple and his blessing by the prophets Simeon and Anna. This late in winter, having burned down the candles they’d lit weeks before, at Candlemas Christians came to church to bless new candles as symbols of Christ, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles,” as Simeon puts it, “and for glory to [God’s] people Israel.”

New birth, new buds, new flames – these are striking parallels to the new way of life into which Jesus invites his first disciples in our Gospel from Luke. And, isn’t it a story for the ages? Doesn’t Jesus call followers in every generation to bear witness to God’s abounding grace and see where the path of discipleship will lead? Isn’t that why we’re all here?

These past two years have felt like one long winter, haven’t they? And, maybe you’re beyond weary, like exhausted fishermen after a long and futile night’s work. But, the promise of today’s Gospel is that your own encounter with the living word of God has the power to light a fuse for something new. Maybe you’re sensing a new commitment to your own wellness – physical, emotional, or spiritual. Maybe you’re feeling called to follow a new path in your learning or vocation. Maybe you’re just surviving these days, and longing for a new supply of energy and creativity and joy. Friends, we are all “in the belly,” on the verge of a new season, a new purpose, a new sense of hope. And if we say yes, where do you suppose the path will lead?

Look around your pew or in a pew nearby and you’ll find brand new tea lights. Take one, and in a moment, I’ll bless your tea light and invite you to take it home and burn it as a reminder of the light of Christ, the one who stirs our hearts again today and leads us to new possibilities.

Let us pray. We give you thanks, O God, for enriching us with the abundance of your grace, and for inviting us to praise you with lives of faith, hope, and love. Send your blessing on these candles, which we set apart today; may they be to us a sign of Christ, the Light of the world, and the new life to which he calls us in this and every season. Amen.

Liturgy © 2021 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved. Used by permission under OneLicense # A-706920.

“Now the Feast and Celebration”; text and music: Marty Haugen, b. 1950; © 1990 GIA Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission under OneLicense # A-706920.

“God of Wonders with Holy, Holy, Holy”; Marc Byrd and Steve Hindalong; arr. Carol Tornquist; © 2000 New Spring Publishing. All rights reserved. Used by permission under CCLI license #11177466.

“You Have Come Down to the Lakeshore”; text and music: Cesáreo Gabaráin, 1936-1991; tr. Madeleine Forell Marshall, b. 1946; text and music © 1979 Cesáreo Gabaráin, OCP Publications. All rights reserved. Used by permission under OneLicense # A-706920.

“Will You Come and Follow Me”; text: John L. Bell, b. 1949; music: Scottish traditional; text © 1987 Iona Community, admin. GIA Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission under OneLicense # A-706920.

“Come, Let Us Eat”; text: Billema Kwillia, b. 1925, sts. 1-3; Gilbert E. Doan Jr., b. 1930, st. 4, alt.; tr. Margaret D. Miller, b. 1927, sts. 1-3, alt.; music: Billema Kwillia, adapt. Text sts. 1-3 and tune © Lutheran World Federation; text st. 4 and adapt. © 1972 Contemporary Worship 4, admin. Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved. Used by permission under OneLicense # A-706920.

“Here I Am, Lord”; text and music: Daniel L. Schutte, b. 1946; © 1981 OCP Publications, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-706920.