07. July 2012
The Sunday of the Miraculous Catch of Fish
Sometimes Christians fall into error and think of their body and soul as independent, one lesser or greater than the other. Yet, no one is given a body who is not also given a soul. And all the dead and departed will have flesh restored at the resurrection of the dead. It is good to be created with a body. The body is good and given inseparably with the soul. What God has joined together, let man not separate.
Why do we distinguish between body and soul (or sometimes body and mind)? Not because they are separable but because they are distinct. God the Father addresses, provides, sustains, strengthens, and preserves body and soul together and sometimes distinctly for our benefit. He cares for both not because one is better than the other but because both are his making and together you are his loved creature.
Consider today’s Gospel where Jesus shows this sort of care for both body and soul. On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on Him to hear the word of God. St. Luke doesn’t record what word Jesus spoke, only that He spoke and the people listened. What comes next is more curious. He was standing by the lake of Gennesaret (also known as Galilee and Tiberius), and He saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, He asked him to put out a little from the land. And He sat down and taught the people from the boat.
Jesus isn’t just interested in the people who are pressing in on Him. His call is bigger than the curious multitudes. He’s also distinctly interested in those who let work keep them from listening. He wants them to stop cleaning their nets, stop mending their masts, to stop the days busy work, and to listen to Him. He wants them to take Sabbath rest, and hold His Word sacred, gladly hearing and learning it.
What is going through those fishermen’s minds? “Yeah, my soul is important, but right now, I need to work to provide for my body.” Or perhaps “God will take care of my soul by some other means than His Word. Right now I have to work if there is hope for food and the needs of the body.” Sometimes we are tempted to think in a similar way about our work. Yet, from the example of today’s Gospel, Jesus is teaching us about godly priorities.
Is not God your maker and preserver? Does He not cause the rain to fall and the sun to shine, the seed to sprout and the fruit to ripen? Does He not give you clothing, shoes, house and family, and still take care of them? Do not be anxious about your body. God will grant you every bodily need and well provide them.
Notice how these fishermen are men of faith. When the call rings out, Simon follows the Word of Jesus. He dropped everything for the sake of gladly hearing and learning the Word. Simon acknowledged the need for the Sabbath and kept the Third Commandment by sitting down and listening when Jesus spoke. He did not let His bodily need get in the way of the Word that nourishes the soul.
I hope it is the same for you. While our body tells us to work, our faith compels us to pause, rest, and listen to Jesus. Our faith compels us to lay anxiety aside and keep God’s Word filling our ears, close to our heart, and always upon our lips in praise, thanks, and prayer. We keep the Sabbath not just by obligatory trips to church once a week or twice a year. We keep the Sabbath giving this Word priority day in and day out.
So it was for St. Peter. And when [Jesus] had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” Even Simon Peter, despite having interrupted a busy day of work to Sabbath with Jesus, now wonders if Jesus will truly provide. Jesus is asking him to fish in the worst waters and at the worst time of the day. Deep waters will not bear fish nor will the heat of the day.
There is another commandment at work here. In the Seventh Commandment, God tells us not to steal; that is, we are to be content with what we have and work for what we need. Yet, doesn’t this command mitigate against the Third? Which is it? Go to church or work? Pray or busy yourself with the nets? No, they are both God-given and obedience to one is bound to the other.
God does not give you your faith at the expense of providing for you body. He cares for both and nourishes your whole being. He cannot give you work, family, or play that would hinder fear of him and godly piety. While He interrupted Simon’s work for a time, in the next, He called Simon to return to His work. And here’s the brilliant thing: Jesus confirmed His Word with providing for Simon, and his partners James and John. Even in the midst of work, Jesus confirms His Word. Simon answered… “But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats so that they began to sink.”
Keeping the Sabbath and providing for your needs are bound together. We serve God in the midst of our vocations with faith, reverence, and love. We love God by showing love to our neighbor. It is true, we interrupt our work at special times of Sabbath to hear His Word and receive His Supper. But that is not the only way we are to serve Him. Even in the midst of our work we can live a life of Sabbath, holy rest in the Word. As we go about working, we should lift our hearts in thanks, sings hymn of praise, and begin and end each day in prayer. By the Word of God and prayer all our deeds are sanctified (1 Timothy 4:5).
There is the temptation to keep the needs of the body and soul separate when they are, in fact, inseparable. The work of our hands for the body is blessed by the Word of God that nourishes our soul. St. Peter first loaned his boat to hear the Word and then was blessed with a great catch of fish, even when before he had caught none. Both kinds of food are necessary but there is a priority.
We ought to be like St. Peter. First, care for the soul, hearing Christ from the boat, where He teaches and works in you faith and love, and then, second, your work will be blessed. The Third Commandment comes first, and then the Seventh follows. If we keep the Third Commandment, then we will be able to keep the Seventh. Contentment and satisfying labor is a result of the Word of God.
Think of it this way: why do we pray for daily bread if we can achieve it? Jesus says: Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33) Our first priority is the righteousness of God, received by the Word of God unto faith. The righteous man is content with what He has. The unrighteous man will not hear the Word of God, gladly, and thus will never be content even if he has much. To be rich in God is to received the Word. Without this Word, everything is soured by the constant, nagging conscience of sin.
It is the custom of our churches to dismiss the congregation from the Lord’s Supper with this Word: “The body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in body and soul to life everlasting. Depart + in peace. Amen.” This is a Word of promise, utterly independent of what your own body and soul may be telling you at that moment. It is a Word of nourishment and sustenance for your entire being.
Jesus will strengthen and preserve you by the gracious gift of His body and blood. He is ever working by this most precious food to sustain you until He comes again. He will not see you fall into the pit of despair or Sheol but is constantly working to lift you up and bring you home to life everlasting. Knowing that Christ Jesus is working to strengthen and preserve you to life everlasting is a great word of comfort. It is a word that brings peace. In the Lord’s Supper, peace with God once more is made as He mercifully gives you to eat of His flesh and drink of His blood.
Yet, as we hear each week, the heavenly gift of Jesus Christ’s own body and blood preserves and strengthens body and soul to life everlasting. Generations of Lutherans have seen fit to acknowledge that the Lord’s Supper addresses both body and soul uniquely. How does the Sacrament strengthen and preserve our bodies? It is only a trifle of stale bread and only a sip of portly wine. This food is no sufficient as a meal replacement. How does the Sacrament strengthen and preserve our souls? This food pales in comparison to our Christmas and Easter feasts. Its nothing like a one-star three course meal and certainly doesn’t life the spirit like a seven-course feast complete with three courses of wine. It seems like a silly thing to say, really, not really helping body or lifting the soul.
The answer lies in the Word of God. How does the Sacrament strengthen and preserve both our bodies and souls? First, by forgiving our sins, clearing our conscience, and granting us Christ’s righteousness. That is, first, by receiving the Word of the Sabbath strengthens and preserves the soul. And then, second, we are granted a right understanding of work, vocation, and temporal goods, content and satisfied with everything from the Father’s hand. That is, second, the Word received is also the Word that sustains and preserves the body.
It is not the bodily eating and drinking that does such great things but the Word written: Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. Like Simon Peter, upon seeing the great things Jesus had done, so also, we fall down our knees before the throne of grace and confess, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken. We are rightly astonished with how richly God has and continues to provide for our every need of body and soul. We approach God’s altar to be fed in humility and the poverty of sin. And He feeds us richly with the Bread of Heaven. So also, He feeds us with bread from the earth. First, we are fed with the feast of the Sabbath and then, with a feast for the body and every need well provided.
For all this, it is our duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. Let us hear and learn, receive and pray, with thankful hearts and a willing spirit. Let us receive and be fed both in body and soul to life everlasting. Do not be afraid. Keep the Sabbath and you will be content. Depart in peace. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church