By Jan Garood
My first reaction to exploring the Luke story is a discomfort about: “I will make you fishers of men/people.” For generations, the church has interpreted this story as a call to evangelism; to “fish for people” has fed missions that disrespected and destroyed indigenous cultures. The mindset seemed to be that fishing for people is about saving “them” so that “they” can be turned into nice law abiding Christians just like us. I have a childhood memory, 1950’s, of a missionary showing slides at my church of his mission in New Guinea. There was a class of native girls all dressed in white stiff nylon dresses, clearly uncomfortable in so much non-breathable and prickly clothing in tropical heat. There was a question in my head I couldn’t quite form; but I guess I went along with the “make them just like us” approach. This thinking pervaded not only Christian missions but also government social policy. It took decades before we even started to question this thinking, let alone apologise. One way or another, most of us share a history of benefiting from the pain that was inflicted upon the indigenous peoples of this country. Our privilege was born and continues to feed upon the pain of our indigenous sisters and brothers. A shallow reading of this passage does not help us to understand Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.- What is the Wisdom focus in this story?
The miracle of the awesome catch is one of many stores of miracles of abundance: the loaves and fishes, the wedding at Canna, the similar fishing miracle told in John after the resurrection.
This miracle is characterised by abundance and provision. A large catch of fish represents stability and care, support, and having enough. It is a physical manifestation of having one’s needs met. But the size of the catch indicates provision beyond the immediate moment. The large catch of fish conveys provision and plenty for Simon and his partners, here is a great business outcome. But they choose another path, to become disciples.
The theology of abundance has been warped in what has become known as the Prosperity Gospel. This is the belief that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes (in one case a new jet for the pastor) will increase one’s material wealth. Simply put God rewards the faithful. The belief tends to blame the poor for their lack of faith rather than recognise the barriers faced by many in our society and the world.
Then there’s the myth of scarcity which tells the powerful to accumulate and take and dominate, to be driven by the fear of Not Enough and Never Enough. Decisions are made out of fear and anxiety that there isn’t enough. These core beliefs lead to war, injustice and inequality. It requires keeping others down so the dominant tribe can stay on top, to stockpile money and food and comforts at the expense of the other. The global experience of COVID has shown that even though we are an island, we are part of a global community and what happens to the poorest nations has an impact here. Our only real protection is to act cooperatively, to share our resources and bring the poorest nations up to our standards.
A comment I read from someone about the myth of scarcity was to observe the amazingly luxurious mattresses being advertised by Harvey Norman in The Age – 30 cm deep and incredibly plush and how obscene it was when many didn’t even have a straw mat to sleep on.
We here in Australia have vastly more than our fair share of the world’s wealth. And I’m pretty sure it is not a Prosperity Gospel thing – that God has blessed us for our faithfulness and generosity. Isn’t it time that we share our abundance? Could we not offer generosity to refugees, material aid to Afghanistan’s staving, a treaty with our indigenous communities, real action to reduce emissions and protect endangered creatures, wilderness areas, soil degradation and much, much, more???
The theme of abundance in this story led me to Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker’s wonderful work Saving Paradise the story of the early church revealed through its art, poetry and music and how the early paradise scenes of the first four centuries eventually gave way to a focus on the crucifixion and suffering.. The book is sub-titled How Christianity Traded Love for This World for Crucifixion and Empire. The reading this morning from the hymns of Ephrem is quoted in this book as an example of the early churches approach to life’s natural beauty. Beauty was understood as a shining presence of spirit in all things that delighted and celebrated the bounty of God. The art in churches depicted beautiful pastoral scenes and examples of natural beauty. They write: “Beauty’s ethical power was its ability to educe a loving orientation towards the world.” Ephrem’s poems made earthly existence sacramental. For him, even ordinary bread, the food of the poor, when eaten at the Eucharist, was holy, the gifts of paradise were drawn from the beauties of the created world.
The Eucharist or Great Thanksgiving of the early church celebrated the bread of earth, blessed by heaven and shared in community. (p.31) It was a celebration of life, of community and did not reference the crucifixion, nor blood. The holy foods on the eucharist table represented Jesus’ miracles and healing. The holy foods nourished those who received them to be “filled with the holy Spirit and “strengthened in faith.” The Eucharist was not associated with the last supper until the fourth century. Images of crucifixion were not common until the crusades.
Another aspect of this story is Jesus’ instruction to go into deeper waters. Pastor Dawn finds the Wisdom Jesus in this reading. She writes “I suspect that our failure to venture out into deeper waters has something to do with our denial and maybe our fears about the realities of our own privilege. …….Do we have the courage to confess our privilege and move beyond our desire to catch people and seek a different kind of abundance? Can we begin to hear Jesus’ calling us to fish for a catch that is indeed abundant? Are we ready to risk our privilege and cast our nets to draw catches overflowing with wisdom, healing, peace, and justice? With nets overflowing with compassion the way in which we encounter our neighbours will take on a whole new reality. Wisdom, healing, justice, and peace are far more nourishing than the bitter abuses the world has endured to preserve tribal privilege.”
Going deeper can be both a spiritual and an intellectual pursuit. There is the internal spiritual work to block out the noise and chatter of life; to be still; and know God. But there is also intellectual depth, to take on the big questions and not be pacified with glib, three second grabs on the nightly news. To engage in the debates – investigate the New Economy thinkers for example. To consider: how should we be in this world, how do we share the abundance, how do we honour the earth, how to live mindfully and how we care for each other.???
Saving Paradise How Christianity Traded Love for this World for Crucifixion and Empire., Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker, Beacon Press, Boston, 1992
Pastor Dawn, https://pastordawn.com Pastor Dawn is a Progressive Christian, she is pastor at Holy Cross Lutheran, Newmarket, Ontario, Canada.