Scripture: Luke 5:1-11
It has been my joy to have some level of involvement with youth ministry since 2003. There are a lot of highlights of working in ministry with teens. There are the spiritual highlights of seeing young people take deeper steps into faith, gaining a greater understanding of scripture, or beginning to discover their calling. There are also a lot of highlights from events and activities that are just a lot of fun. One of these fun highlights, which would easily be in my top five, happened eleven or twelve years ago. It was a dodgeball tournament, and for whatever reason there was a lot of traction behind this event. A lot of teens came and brought their best teams. These youth were really, really into it. Several teams came in matching outfits, others had cheers all worked out, and there was a healthy crowd that came just to watch and cheer on their friends. It was a double elimination tournament, and one of the teams relegated to the losers’ bracket early on was a young man in the youth group, two of his friends, and his girlfriend. When it comes to dodgeball skill and general athleticism it was clear to all that one of the people on that team was not like the others. This team though, managed to climb out of their position and not get eliminated. They made it all the way to finals, because of how a double elimination tournament works in order to win it all they had to win twice. This team of three boys and a girl were going against a team of four varsity football players. They beat the football players to win the first match. Which meant the winner of the second match would be the tournament winner.
At this point the atmosphere in the room was electric. Even though it was just dodgeball in a church basement, it had the feel of a big time sporting event. With every ball thrown, dodge made, or hit scored there was cheering. In this final match it got down to only one person per team, and they managed a double elimination! It was fine, because in this unlikely event we had prepared a sudden death match off. We had two designated triangles, one person from each team had to stand in the triangle. Both people got one ball. Whoever hit the other first would get a point or if a person stepped out of the triangle then that counted as getting hit. The first team to two points won. Both teams had to put together an order, and naturally the team we have been following put their lone girl last. The first pairing went, and the both missed. The next two pairings went and the both scored one point. It came down to the last pairing. If either team could score here, they would win. The whistle blew, the big football player threw high. She ducked, threw low, hit him, and won the tournament for her team. No joke, the assembled spectators rushed the floor, and hoisted her up. It was like something straight out of a movie.
We tend to like a good underdog story. We like stories of plucky go-getters who able to overcome the odds stacked against them. I think we like these stories because they are the anomaly. Typically the 16th seed gets blown out by the #1 seed, the overlooked kid who gets picked last never really gets their chance to shine, and more often than not it is the big dog who scores the win. So we like underdog stories because they remind us that this is not always the case. They remind us that every now and then an obscure team can make a Cinderella run, and that those who are often overlooked can make a difference if someone take the time to believe in them.
One of items I really appreciate from the gospels, that this morning’s story shines light on, is that the story of Jesus’ first disciples is an underdog story. The people that Jesus picked as his first draft picks, were people who likely would not have made the cut from other Rabbis. However, Jesus saw something in them, he believed in them, and they changed the world. A good underdog story reminds us that even the most unlikely of people can make a real difference, and this morning’s scripture reminds us that sometimes we are those people.
I think we sometimes sell Jesus’ original disciples short, because even the common fisherman Peter was probably more knowledgeable of the scripture than we at first assume. The Mishnah, one of the first works of Rabbinic literature, does a great job of relating to us the realities of being Jewish around the same time that Jesus lived. This document describes the educational training of Jewish boys. By the age of five they began learning to read and memorize the scriptures. At the age of ten, they were to begin having an understanding of what the scripture meant, by thirteen they were to begin being intentional in following the law, and by fifteen they should be able to begin making their own interpretations and applications of scripture. It is at this point, that there began to be a division. The majority of young men would then spend the next few years learning and perfecting a vocation. However, the best and the brightest at learning and knowing the scripture would be recommended as a talmid. The Talmid would leave home and travel with a recognized rabbi. The word Talmid translates to disciple.
Only the best of the best would earn the right to study as a Talmid of a respected rabbi. For Peter and the rest of those that Jesus called, their time had passed. Only the best of the best got the honor to be a disciple of a rabbi. Since they were now carrying on the family tradition of fishing for a living, it did not need to be said that they knew they were not the top tier. Yet these were the people that Jesus chose. Typically rabbis had to the best of the best students begging to be their disciples, but Jesus hand-picked his disciples, even if they were the underdogs.
Just like the girl who was the dodgeball hero, Jesus chose disciples that were capable of doing so much more than what others assumed of them. Jesus saw the true potential of the people who did not get picked first. Because Peter was passed over initially to be a Talmid, he did not know the bible as well as other people, he did not have as much scripture memorized as other student, and he could not articulate an interpretation of the scripture as well as the top studiers. Despite that Jesus chose him to be a disciple, Jesus chose him to be the person who would learn the good news that Jesus taught, and then be expected to share that good news with others. I think in this morning’s scriptures we see three qualities that Peter displays that made him exactly the kind of disciple Jesus was looking for.
First, Peter was willing to trust. Notice verse five of this morning’s scripture. Peter had been out fishing, and he did not have much luck. Yet, when Jesus asked him to do it again, Peter replied, “Because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
We have to remember that Peter was a professional fishermen. This was his day job. Unlike Jesus who grew up on the hills, Peter grew up on the lake. Peter knew a thing or two about fishing. This scripture states he had been out all night. He had probably tried all of the good spots he knew about. He probably knew how to tell when and where the fish would be, and he probably knew going back out to where he just was should not lead to much of anything. Despite these likely misgivings, Peter trusted Jesus and he was faithful in the small things.
That is an example that we should follow. Often we think of ministry and mission has big things that are only done by the truly dedicated and special. We do not have to be a chaplain sitting at the bed of the dying or missionary in a foreign country to share God’s love. All of us can and should be intentional about sharing the love of God through our words and actions. We may not all be able to board planes and serve in foreign countries, but we can all practice intentional generosity and kindness week in and week out. For instance, we can make a point at least once a week to go out of our way to help someone else. Perhaps we shovel the drive of an elderly neighbor, bring a casserole to the family who is always busy going from one practice to another, or tipping with incredible generosity when we go to a restaurant. These small micro-acts of kindness can be viewed as mini-mission trips at home, and they follow the examples of Jesus to put others first and think of others before ourselves. These kind of mini-mission trips at home are a perfect way to be a faithful disciple in the small things.
The second quality that Peter display that made him good discipleship material is that he was humble and willing to confess. In response to being faithful in the small things, and going back out to fish with Jesus he pulled in a miraculous haul. Peter recognized this is far more than a normal catch and his response is worth emulating. Peter experienced the miraculous provision of God, and his first reaction was not to pose for a selfie and hashtag it #blessed. His reaction was to fall on his knees and said “get away from me Lord; I am a sinful man!”
Humble realization of sin and true confession are so rare today. When people in the public eye get caught of wrong doing, very rarely do they confess and when they do apologize we often roll our eyes at the lack of sincerity. False humility and self-righteousness are not godly behaviors and it is the opposite of Peter’s example. One of the reasons why Peter was such great Disciple material is that he confessed his sin. He did not rationalize it away by saying at least I am not like those people. He did not justify it and proudly try to explain it away either. He owned that he is an imperfect person in desperate need of a perfect savior. All disciples of Christ should strive to be so honest with themselves. As followers of Jesus we should follow Peter’s example, we should be willing to confess our sins and we should be willing to express grace, forgiveness, and acceptance to one another
The final quality of a good disciple that Peter demonstrates is that he follows. Despite not being the best of the best, despite being a sinner, Jesus still sought Peter to follow and that is what he did. As the scripture records, “They pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” They followed Jesus, seemingly without reservation. They did not say, “I am a little busy right now” or “I just need to wait until I get my things in order.” They simply followed. We live in a day and age where somehow people are less willing to commit to something yet still manage to be busier than ever. Given that, it seems the ability to follow sometimes seems in short supply. This quality that Peter shows is really about prioritization. Jesus told him he could be a fisher of people. Peter knew that Jesus was a rabbi, he knew that Jesus had a potentially life changing understanding of the scripture, and Peter knew being a fisher of people meant he would learn the way of Jesus well enough to share it with others. Peter followed Jesus, because he decided then and there that following the gospel of Jesus Christ was going to be the most important thing to him. We give our time, energy, and focus to the things we value the most. In this morning’s scripture Peter demonstrated that what he was willing to value the most was following Jesus.
In his own day, Peter would have been considered an underdog. He had already been judged as not being good disciple material. Despite that, Jesus called him because Jesus saw that Peter was faithful in the small things, humble in confession, and willing to follow. What about you? Can you say you exhibit some of those same qualities, because if this morning’s scripture is any indication this is the kind of material that Jesus is looking for in disciples. We do not have to be the best and brightest to be a disciple of Jesus. We do not have to have the entire bible memorized or be able to talk eloquently about theology. We need to be willing trust, willing to confess our sins, and willing to follow a savior. So may you trust that God does not call the equipped, but God equips the called. May you be willing to let go of your pride and humbly confess that you are a great sinner but Christ is a greater savior. And may you be willing to follow without reservation or excuse where ever God is leading. We may not always feel like we have what it takes to be a great disciple, but I think this morning’s scripture shows that God also likes a good underdog story, and if we are faithful in following Jesus like Peter I am confident our story will have a happy ending too.