Abundant Fish, Abundant Life

and how prosperity is incompatible with Christian teaching

February 6, 2022
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany | Year C
Luke 5:1–11 (NRSV/MSG)

From Marty Machowski’s “Old Story New”

TL;DR

  • The abundance of food is a sign of God’s kingdom
  • The concept of prosperity does not make sense when there is more than enough for everyone!
  • To be God’s obedient children means to enjoy an abundant life full of overflowing agape love.

In my last post, I left with a little story about agape love between Jesus and Simon Peter. After Jesus’ resurrection, he asked Simon Peter twice whether he also loved him with the same kind of love, agape love — the selfless, self-giving love. This was Simon Peter, whom Jesus called the rock upon which he would build his church. But Peter could not answer both times that he also loved Jesus the same way Jesus loved him. But Jesus seemed to understand and had compassion for his disciple, settled with philia love, and told Peter to continue to tend his sheep and follow him.

In this continued discipline of worship and service, perhaps we will eventually grow mature enough to share this agape love with God and neighbors. Jesus’ call to Peter — and to us — is that until that moment of maturity, continue to care for his people with love and follow him. In Wesleyan terms, the process of maturing is our sanctification, while reaching this maturity is our perfection. 1 John 4 tells us, “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us” (v. 12); and “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (v. 18).

In today’s scripture lesson from Luke, we are going all the way back to when Simon Peter and Jesus met for the very first time — the day when Simon Peter left everything to follow Jesus.

A large crowd was chasing after Jesus to hear his teaching. The crowd cornered Jesus, and his back was against the shore. Before getting trampled by the crowd, Jesus hopped into one of the two fishing boats. And Jesus used the boat as his pulpit, teaching and preaching the word of God to the gathered crowd.

Once he had finished speaking, Jesus turned to one of the fishermen on the boat, whose name was Simon Peter. Jesus said to Peter, “Push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch.”

Peter responded, “Master, we’ve been fishing hard all night and haven’t caught even a minnow. But if you say so, I’ll let out the nets.”

Now I think we can all relate to Peter’s response. Fishing all night without a single catch. Doing our absolute best without reaping the results we want. Breaking our backs to face yet another disappointment.

Yet, Peter and the rest of the fishermen still followed Jesus’ instruction. And they caught “a huge haul of fish, straining the nets past capacity.” And so “they waved to their partners in the other boat to come help them. They filled both boats, nearly swamping them with the catch.”

What does this abundant catch of fish remind you of? Perhaps it reminds you of the abundance of manna raining from the sky, or the abundance of water coming out of the rock. Perhaps it reminds you of Isaiah’s prophecy that “the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear” (25:6). Perhaps it reminds you of the wedding at Cana, where there was more than enough good wine for everyone to enjoy. Perhaps it reminds you of the feeding of the 5,000, where Jesus fed the massive crowd with just five loaves and two fish, multiplying them so abundantly that there even was a surplus of twelve baskets of broken pieces.

The abundance of food is a sign of “Thy kingdom come.” Under God’s reign, there is more than enough for everyone. This is a sharp contrast to how our world works, where we operate with the mind of scarcity — that there is not enough for everyone. The idea of prosperity is born out of the mind of scarcity. It is rooted in the fear that there are not enough of God’s blessings to go around. The idea of prosperity leads us to believe that when God blesses me and my family, I ought to feel fortunate compared to others.

I want to tell you that the idea of prosperity does not make sense in the kingdom of God. Because in the kingdom of God, there is more than enough for everyone, and people no longer operate with a mindset of scarcity — there is no longer the anxiety of not having enough, the insecurity of having less than others, the fear of losing our portions to others, or the pride of comparing my portions to others. These so-called “real-life concerns” are inapplicable and irrelevant in God’s kingdom.

This is why we are told, “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). When we operate with the mind of abundance, we no longer calculate our portions but love with all our hearts and minds and souls. When we believe that there is enough for everyone, agape love becomes easy — there is no fear in selfless, self-giving agape love.

By catching the abundance of fish, what Jesus demonstrated was showing a glimpse of God’s kingdom, and therefore revealing his identity as the Son of God.

Just as Moses hid his face for he was afraid of looking at God, just as Isaiah said upon encountering God, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips” (6:5), Simon Peter fell down at Jesus’ knees and said, “Master, leave. I’m a sinner and can’t handle this holiness. Leave me to myself.”

It was considered dangerous for unholy mortals like us to look at the holy God face-to-face. Just as it is dangerous for us to look at ourselves closely in well-lit, clean mirrors, for it reveals everything we do not want to see; just as it is dangerous for us to take a close look at our insides — our bodies, our minds, and our hearts, for it reveals everything we do not want to know. Thus, we rather hide from the light and remain in darkness; we rather enjoy the bliss that comes with ignorance.

But what breaks this barrier between the holy God and unholy people is the sending of the Son, who came to us in love, to be with us as fully divine and fully human, and to tell us, “Do not be afraid.”

Jesus said to Simon Peter, “There is nothing to fear. From now on you’ll be fishing for men and women.” We also know it as “catching people,” or “becoming fishers of men.” These are just another metaphor for tending sheep and feeding lambs. To be clear, this metaphor does not suggest that the church should objectify people as fish to catch or as sheep to control. Rather, the metaphor is about gathering and taking care of people with love. It is about bringing people together in love — loving them and reminding them that they are part of the bigger body.

Simon Peter, with James and John — two other fishermen with him — then decided to leave everything behind to follow Jesus, leaving behind their boats, their nets, their catch, and even their families. They had a so-called sign of success and prosperity right in front of them, their abundant catch of fish. They could have just kept their fish, called it God’s blessing, and gone about their day. This move makes sense in the world of scarcity.

But these three ordinary fishermen wanted to be part of God’s kingdom, a kingdom of abundance. Thus, leaving everything behind made perfect sense. It was not a calculated decision for them, but only a logical one because there is more than enough for everyone in the kingdom of God.

In our faith journey, even if we cannot fully admit right now that we have agape love like Jesus has for us, our call to discipleship involves our continued discipline of following Jesus Christ and loving his people. This continued discipline in other words is our obedience.

Dieterich Bonhoeffer writes,

“Only he who believes is obedience, and only he who is obedient believes… The first step of obedience makes Peter leave his nets, and later get out of the ship; it calls upon the young man to leave his riches. Only this new existence, crated through obedience, can make faith possible.”

And this obedience is what brings God’s kingdom here on earth as in heaven. This obedience allows us to bring people together with the mind of abundance in a world of scarcity and encourages us to live with love in a world of fear. And it is this obedience we remember and celebrate at the Lord’s Table.

Yes, just like Simon Peter, we are ordinary and sometimes less-than-ordinary… we have denied Jesus, we have not loved God with our whole heart, we have failed to be an obedience church, we have not done God’s will, we have broken God’s law, we have rebelled against God’s love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy…

But to our confession, Jesus understands and has compassion for us. And he whispers into our ears,

Do not be afraid, I am still with you.
Here is my body and here is my blood,
which is not only a sign of my forgiveness
but also a glimpse of my kingdom come.

Be part of my kingdom now,
a kingdom where there is more than enough for everyone;
follow me and tend my sheep,
feed my lamb,
and catch my fish.
Try it again and love them
just as I have loved you.

May these gifts of bread and wine nourish our mind, body, and spirit so that we may get up again, leaving everything behind, to walk our faith journey of obedience and love, as God’s kingdom people. In the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Rev. Minoo Kim is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, currently serving in the Virginia Annual Conference. He will very much appreciate it if you like and follow his Medium profile. Peace!

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ex-lectionary preacher / minoowkim.com

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