[Jesus] said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
One of the most significant story arcs the Bible takes is a movement from an old way of being into a new way of living and relating to God. Jesus says so in many and various ways, one of which is when he says that if you try to fit the new way into the old “you,” both are destroyed (Mark 2:18-22). In other words, if you try to insert grace into the old system of the law, you’ll end up with all the worst parts of religion and none of the benefits of the church.
The old way is marked by the work of our hands and the emptiness that our work brings, especially with regard to spiritual fruit. This can be traced all the way back to our first parents choosing to eat from the tree knowledge of good and evil in the Garden of Eden. Life under this tree (which not surprisingly reads a lot like law) can be summarized as: things get bad, to murderously worse, to exile, and then to 400 years of total silence from God.
When the spiritual compass is put into the hands of human beings, we never arrive at a destination, because we don’t know True North. This is true in this little story: fishermen, who, if they know how to do anything it’s to fish. But here, they flop. Nothing to show for an entire night’s worth of labor.
But then along comes, Jesus, who has a propensity to interrupt, surprise, and bring about a new way that does not look like the old. Here he takes this little group to the exact same place where they failed, and by his word they bring in a haul of fish that has exceeded anything these nets and boats have ever brought on board. The new way is fundamentally marked by the work of God in Jesus.
Our failures and breakdowns become the location where he brings abundance. His means of doing so are contrary to our intuition. It isn’t that God just shows up and provides. In the big story, the movement from old to new is decisively marked by death. The old has to come to an end if the new is to take shape. And it will be Jesus himself, who takes on the job description of fulfilling the old covenant before he sinks under the wrath of God like a tiny boat weighed down by too many fish.
This is God’s means of overabundance. Jesus, like the nets in this story, is broken for our sins. He does this so that we can finally know him. And despite our proclivity to say, “Go away from me Lord, I’m a sinful man,” he says to us “I’m never leaving you. I’ll always bring the abundance at the end of your rope. Because this is the story I’ve had in mind all along. Now let’s go flip the world upside down with the only message that fills empty things.”