KonMari for Christians 02/10/19 (Epiphany 5C)

Text: Luke 5:1-11
February 10, 2019
Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany (Year C)

One morning, Jesus is standing on the shores of Lake Gennesaret (elsewhere referred to as the Sea of Galilee). He’s teaching and there are so many people pressing up against him, trying to hear what he’s saying, that he has to figure out a better way to teach. Nearby are two boats. They’re empty because the fishermen have returned from their night on the water. In a split second, Jesus makes a decision. He redefines holy space. Having recently been preaching and teaching in the synagogues, the expected sacred space, he climbs into one of the boats – apparently without asking permission, by the way – and consecrates it by his very presence and by the words he speaks – the Word of God.

Having climbed aboard, he instructs Simon Peter, whose boat it is, to push the boat out into the lake, a little way from the shore.

I’m sure Simon Peter was exhausted. After all, he’d been out fishing all night, casting and recasting heavy nets. The nets would, one hoped, catch large quantities of fish all at once, rather than the one-fish-at-a-time method of fishing with a rod-and-reel setup like most of us are probably familiar with. They fished at night because there was, of course, no refrigeration. At night’s end they’d bring their haul to shore, and the fish would be sold that morning and then consumed that day, before they could begin to spoil. Once they returned to shore, the fishermen had to clean their nets, washing off the gunk and debris that the nets inevitably accumulated. They also had to do any repairs, adding rope, retying knots, and so forth, before they could go home to bed just as the rest of the village was waking up. It was hard, hard work.

So Simon Peter has just come ashore and is busy trying to get the nets washed, folded, and put away. And since they didn’t catch anything, I’m guessing the physical exhaustion is accompanied by disappointment and maybe even anxiety about finances.

And now Jesus is telling Simon Peter to get back in his boat and return to the water. I wonder, did he sigh with resignation? Or irritation? Or just plain fatigue? Or did he gladly do as Jesus said, curious about what the holy man was up to?

We don’t know – yet one more thing that the Gospel leaves up to our imaginations. We do know he complies.

After Jesus has been teaching for a bit he tells Simon to move the boat further out onto the lake, into deep water, and then let down the nets. Well now Jesus is just meddling. Simon knows his business. He knows where to fish (the shallows, where the fish rest in big schools). He knows when to fish (at night, not in the daylight). Furthermore, he has already spent the night fishing just the way he’s been taught, just the way he’s been doing it for most of his life. What does this carpenter’s son, this “land-lubber,” know about fishing?

So he says, “Master [a word meaning “boss” or “superintendent,” not “lord” in any kind of religious sense], we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”

Was he sarcastic? I’ve often thought so. But now I’ve come to believe that he likely wasn’t. After all, Jesus has already healed Simon’s mother in law. They live in a small town; he surely has heard what Jesus is teaching and has done, in addition to healing his mother-in-law, and maybe even has heard Jesus speak himself. I think he’s tired and maybe reluctant, but I think he’s probably also curious. His eyes are so focused on this holy man who has already done so much that he is willing to do that which seems absurd and see what happens next.

What happens next is that so many fish fill the nets that they begin to break. Simon’s boat, and the boat of his partners James and John, begin to sink.

To get an idea of how many fish that probably was, we need to picture how big those boats were. Unlike the boats on the TV screen this morning, fishing boats like Simon Peter, James, and John used were usually around 26 feet long. They could hold about one ton of cargo. One ton safely. That’s a lot of fish! Now imagine how many more fish it would take to begin to sink the boats. This is a miracle of abundance!

In response to the miracle, Simon falls to his knees. One scholar explains that falling to one’s knees is “a gesture of honor before a patron or other superior. Here Jesus is recognized as such by Simon Peter, who is in Jesus’ debt as a result of the unexpected catch of fish.” [1] In the face of such power and holiness, Simon suddenly recognizes his own sins, his own shortcomings, and feels himself unworthy of Jesus’ attention. But Jesus says to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

So Simon, James, and John (and presumably Simon’s brother Andrew; although he isn’t mentioned by name in this passage, he will be shortly) brought their boats ashore. As far as we can tell, they didn’t unload them. They didn’t clean the nets. The text doesn’t even indicate that they chose someone else to take care of the huge haul of fish – a haul that not only would feed a whole lot of people, but which would also earn them a lot of money.

No, they did none of those things. They just dropped everything and followed Jesus.

Now, up until this point, I love this story. I love that Jesus shows that any place can be a holy place, that God and God’s Word are not confined to religious buildings. I love the miracle of abundance, that it shows us how God will provide not only all we need, but also more than we can imagine – and that the nature of that abundance may take us by surprise. I love the trust in Jesus which Simon and his partners demonstrate when they go out into the water with Jesus in spite of all of their knowledge and experience which tells him that such an act is pointless. I love their amazement and Simon’s impulse to kneel and honor Jesus.

And I love that they follow him. I do! But then the doubts and fears begin to tug at me. Simon and the others get very clear instructions: put the boat out from shore. Go into deeper water. Let down your nets. I have often wished for such unmistakable road signs on a map to Jesus! How are we even supposed to know what it means to follow him? After all, he isn’t standing in front of us, then turning and walking away so we can trot after him.

Furthermore, even if I could figure out how to follow him, am I supposed to drop everything in order to do so? Is that what good disciples do? How can I ever live up to such a standard? How can I drop everything? What would that even mean for me, for you, for all of us who profess to be Christians? When I get to this point in the passage I become even more uneasy. I even feel like a failure. I’m not willing to leave my family; I can’t imagine walking away from my work; heck, I like my house and my bed and my hot meals and my toothbrush, for crying out loud. If the disciples truly are our models as we try to follow Jesus, then I feel defeated before I even begin. “They left everything and followed him.”

Some of you may have heard of Marie Kondo, the 34-year-old Japanese woman whose bestselling book The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up has been sweeping the nation for a few years now. Netflix has even created a home improvement show starring Ms. Kondo teaching her techniques, which she calls the KonMari Method, to people drowning in stuff.

I admit, I love this. I like to be organized and tidy; I like to find new ways of clearing out the clutter – the unused clothing, the redundant paper, the miscellaneous doo-dads that seem to multiply overnight. And I really like her approach: this isn’t about just getting rid of stuff. Yes, she encourages getting rid of things that are broken or clothes you no longer wear. But rather than focusing on getting rid of, Ms. Kondo likes to think in terms of keeping that which speaks to your heart. Her method is about really considering which items in your house “spark joy.” She wants us to focus on choosing what to keep, rather than choosing what to get rid of.

She teaches that we should hold every item in our house, breathe, and ask, “Does this item spark joy?” She has guidelines, of course, about how many individual items are practical. But she doesn’t have hard and fast rules because she recognizes that different things – and different amounts of those things – spark joy in different people.

Which is a good thing, because when pressed to give a general guideline for books, Ms. Kondo suggests that about 30 is a good number. To which every clergy person on the planet replies, “you mean 30 per category, right?” She would not approve of my book collections. Oh well.

OK, but here’s the connection. Going back to the Gospel: I don’t think Jesus is asking us to literally leave everything – home, family, job – any more than Ms. Kondo is asking us to completely empty our homes of everything that isn’t strictly necessary for survival. He isn’t saying that the only way to be a disciple is for us to drop everything. Not most of us, anyway. I think he’s inviting us to discover our true vocation.

American writer and theologian Frederick Buechner describes “vocation” this way:

It comes from the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a [person] is called to by God.

There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Super-ego, or Self-Interest.

By and large a good rule for finding out is this. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either.

Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. [2]

“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

That is what Jesus is calling us to. What sparks joy? And not just that, what sparks joy in us while also in some way, no matter how small, serving others?

I can’t tell you how many times a person going through medical treatment, or entering hospice, or lying on their deathbeds has told me that they just hoped they made a difference in the world – even if it was just in the life of a few people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked with people in the process of discerning what they want to do next in their life, only to have them tell me that they hope they bring some good, some hope, some peace into the world.

I believe that Jesus isn’t asking us to drop everything in order to follow him. I suspect he is encouraging us to find the thing we can do, the thing that gives us joy and a sense of fulfillment and that has some kind of positive impact on others, and do that. And by doing so, we are by definition following him.

And what we are being asked to drop, to walk away from, is all of the stuff that prevents us from experiencing joy and prevents us from somehow, in our own small way, meeting the world’s great hunger. What Marie Kondo and Frederick Buechner together can teach us is how to let go of the things that no longer spark the deep joy of being connected to God via our delights and passions and the deep satisfaction of helping others.

Barbara Brown Taylor takes this a step further. She suggests that the fishermen didn’t actually choose to leave everything. “If they did anything under their own power at all,” she says, “it was simply that they allowed themselves to fall in love. Jesus showed up, they took one look at each other, and the rest was history. God acted, and the disciples let their nets wash out to sea.” She continues:

And sure, on one level, that moment cost them plenty. They gave up a lot in that moment, and would lose a lot more before they were through, but to stress that aspect of the story is to put the accent on the wrong syllable. Their minds were not on what they were leaving but on whom they were joining. Their hearts did not cleave to what was falling from their hands but to what they were reaching out to find, and in that God-drenched moment of their turning to follow, the miracle occurred: their lives flowed in the same direction as God’s life. Their wills were not two, three, or four, but one will. Time was fulfilled. The kingdom came – and comes – every time our lives are brought into the same flow, so that we too allow ourselves to fall in love, and follow God, and can do no other…

I am not sure that following Jesus is always a matter of leaving everything behind. That is what it meant for Andrew and Simon and James and John; that is what following meant in their particular lives. But if the story is about being swept into the flow of God’s will and giving ourselves over to it, then it seems to me that it will be a different story for every one of us in our own particular lives. [3]

When we find our vocation – which is to say, when we find that place where our deep joy meets the world’s deep need – then we are following Jesus in our own way, just as those four fishermen followed him in theirs.

And I think that even as living this way gives us a deep sense of fulfillment and purpose, it also sparks joy in God’s heart.

Thanks be to God.


[1] Bruce J. Malina and Richard L .Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. p. 245.

[2] Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, pp. 118-119.

[3] Barbara Brown Taylor, “Miracle on the Beach.” Home by Another Way. pp. 40-41.

Tags: , , , ,

About the Author