Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Blessed Miracle of Utter Failure

Have you ever noticed how the mission Jesus initially gave to his first disciples is the same as the mission he gave the church right before his ascension? Jesus is all about making disciples, true worshipers of God throughout all the world. From the call of the sons of Jonah and Zebedee, to the last words he uttered on earth until his glorious return, the mission is unchanged.

So it seems fitting that one of Jesus' great miracles would be repeated at each end of his earthly ministry. Luke 5:1-11 and John 21:1-14 contain the same basic story, although in different contexts. In one case he had just come on the scene and was starting to call people to himself, in the other his devoted followers were trying to figure out what the resurrection meant and answer the all-important question, "So, now what?" But both miracles were essentially the same: professional fishermen spent all night fishing in the Sea of Galilee without catching a single thing, Jesus told them to throw the nets out once more, and the catch was completely overwhelming. In both cases, the disciples immediately recognized this as nothing less than the power of God.

Until recently I was inclined to think of the miracle as the huge catch, and indeed I've often seen it referred to as the "miraculous catch" or something similar. But I think the miracle actually starts much earlier - how in the world could these guys fish all night in those waters and catch nothing?

I had the privilege to go to Israel a few years ago, and spent a little time around the Sea of Galilee (which is really not that big of a lake). The first thing that jumped out was the fish - literally, actually. This lake was absolutely teeming with fish everywhere. The first night walking close to the shore, they were jumping up from the water. They were so tightly packed in there that you could have thrust your hand in and had a decent chance of grabbing one. A child with a handheld net could swipe it through the water and have a pretty good catch rate.

I can't imagine professional fishermen casting a net measuring a couple hundred square feet into the water and pulling up nothing. Doing it once would be a real head-scratcher. Doing it again, and again, and again, and again, and again.... all through the night, all through the best fishing times, over and over and over and over... All this, all night, dozens of casts, throwing out bait, trying new spots, trying again and again until they were beyond exhausted, seeing fish by the thousands swimming down there, practically jumping into their boats - and not a single fish landed in their nets. Not even one.

This utter failure could not be natural. This was the setup for a miracle, but it could easily be classified as a miracle itself. The two parts go together: first the longest, most miserable and frustrating night of fishing ever, an epic fail if there ever was one. Then, a single cast into the same water brought more fish than they can handle. The combined effect was powerful - Jesus, who made it happen, must be divine. And not one fisherman involved could possibly have believed the result was due to his own mad skillz.

That last part is especially important to remember in light of what would happen merely weeks after the second event. Peter, who had been a recipient of both miracles, would deliver his first sermon. What was the result? "So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls."

Peter had fished for men, and had enjoyed unimaginable success on the very first attempt. Could he possibly imagine that this tremendous work of God was due to his own skillz? Of course not. Rather, he could attribute all the success to the one who was truly deserving.

"As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies - in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen." (1 Peter 4:10-11)

And I hope the lesson isn't lost on us. We could believe that success in ministry will be a result of our own awexomeness, and act like it, finding all sorts of ways to help the gospel out with our wisdom and clever tactics. Or we could believe that success is by Christ's power and blessing, and minister faithfully how he commanded.


Robert said...

Great post. I didn't know about the sea/lake being so full of fish, but I always thought it was amazing that professional fishermen had been at it all night with nothing to show for their efforts.

I was mentioning in our men's study last night that America has a leaning towards pragmatism and that should not be what we're looking to follow in the church. I'd say even in our lives, as well. We need to give God the credit and the glory for everything good. And we need to follow His words instead of trying to tinker around ourselves to try and improve what He has done, is doing, and will do.

The Blainemonster said...

Thanks! I needed that little bit of gentle upbraiding today...great lesson for sure.

trogdor said...

Robert, although I'm realizing it too late to do anything about it, that comment should have been distributed to everyone attending the Willow Creek Leadership Summit this week. A whole week of pragmatism and trying to learn how to do church from the business world. Yikes.