The Smelly Miracle of Changing Determined Self-Interest into Determined Generosity

fish netI love the miracle stories in the scriptures, especially the ones in the Gospels.

They lift up these ordinary objects like bread, fish, water, and wine, and make clear that in the presence of the Divine ordinary things become extraordinary.  A small bit can feed a bunch with God’s blessing.

But even more than that, Jesus’ very presence actually changes things.  It’s like he has his own gravitational pull making the regular orbit of the systems of world fall out of orbit and into a new pattern of holy rotation.  Perhaps that’s the best definition for the phrase Kingdom of God: that place where God takes our systems and replaces them with God’s systems.

This Sunday we have another wonderful miracle story.  Take a moment to read it (even if it’s pretty familiar): Luke 5:1-11. 

Ready?  Onward.

So, did you notice the disciples in the story?  Did you notice their state of mind?  They’re tired.

Exhausted, even.

The fishing the night before hadn’t worked, and then this guy shows up, gets in their boat (literally, steps in their shoes), and suggests that they should do it again, but differently.

That is probably the phrase that I find riles people up the most: “do it differently.”

Humans are animals of habit. We don’t like “different,” even when it comes from Jesus.

I’m going to write that again because I think it’s probably an honest phrase that all Christians need to internalize: we don’t like “different,” even when it comes from Jesus.

That self-knowledge was an important realization for me.  Because we pay lip-service to the idea that we want to do what God asks of us, but usually we put in the fine print of that statement our terms of agreement.

And then we exhaust ourselves by doing the same old thing, over and over again, without any progress.

And then enters God into the midst, walking beside us, literally getting in our boat, and encouraging us to do life differently.  To do our work, differently.  To do things differently.

When the disciples do it differently it’s amazing what happens: they find there’s too much to do!  They need help.  The scene of the disciples hauling in that load of fish is probably the first instance of a community gathered around Christ sending out an email blast for volunteers to help…

Peter realizes that something special is going on with Jesus, and starts to take stock of himself.  He knows he’s in the presence of God, and feels inadequate. We’re not surprised by this…Peter’s whole life will be one of battling with his ego in one way or another.

And yet it is under Peter’s leadership that the church is established.  Ordinary, imperfect, unworthy things become extraordinary in God’s hands.

But, and here’s the true miracle I think, the Great Fish Haul of 30 A.D. (that’s what I’m imagining they called this event) will not be used for the sole good of the fisherman.  Peter’s realization that he is inadequate-and-yet-made-more-than-adequate in God’s presence will absolutely change the way he sees everything.

He’ll see his work not as his work, but as God’s work through him.  Jesus tells him as much.  And for the rest of his life he’ll be figuring out how to make that real.

The true miracle is that Peter’s determined self-interest (his work) will be changed into determined generosity.

And this is true, I think, of all of the miracle stories!  God uses the ordinary things to change people’s perspective of scarcity and abundance, freedom and captivity, life and death.

It is easier for five fish to become five thousand fish than it is to change humanity’s will from one of self-preservation to self-sacrifice.

And yet, that’s what we see Jesus do. Every time.  And sometimes that work is smelly, like in this week’s Gospel reading. But it happens. I’ve seen it.  I’ve seen it in communities within the church, and outside of the church.

I’ve seen people haul in nets of talent and use it to bless the world. I’ve seen exhausted people haul in nets of time, time they didn’t even know they had, and use it to bless the world.  I’ve seen people haul in nets of resources and, instead of keeping it, use it to make other nets for other people around the world.

I’ve seen it.  You wouldn’t believe your eyes how imperfect, exhausted people (like you and me) can suddenly find their hands full of generosity in the presence of God.

And yet I’ve seen it. A true miracle.

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