I was looking for a picture of Jesus teaching the crowds from the boat. I happened across this version in black and white, and fairly abstract in rendering:
(Image courtesy of dwellingintheword.wordpress.com)
The story is in the Gospel of Luke:
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him. (5:1-11 NRS)
The picture emphasized something to me; Jesus was not right against the shore. He had directed the fishermen to “put out a little way from the shore” (5:3), so there was distance between him and the crowd. It would have been a practical aspect of the story, since the distance would enable more people to see and hear him, but it is also a theological one. Jesus is not on the safety of the shore line; he is out in the water. Like Peter will learn, we must be willing to go out on the water, even walk upon it if Christ calls. First, Jesus came to the people and when they began to press in on him, he stepped back. Then he issued the call: Put out into deep water. We assume he was speaking just to Simon Peter, but, as Jesus does, maybe he’s speaking to us, too. We hear his words, but are we willing to follow his directions and go into deeper water? Christ does not send Simon Peter out into the deep alone either; he stays with him and goes along. Christ is not willing to send us anywhere where he is not willing to accompany us.
Jesus sets a high standard in this scripture. He demands that we leave the safety of our lives if we really want to see and hear him. If we want to get near and get to know Jesus, then we have to be willing to take risks. It’s the standard of discipleship. Of the entire crowd gathered and learning from Jesus that day, only three are mentioned in scripture as becoming followers of Christ. Only Simon Peter, James, and John will become fishers of people. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the vast amount of people will not meet Jesus’ standards, not because they are unreachable, but because they are unwilling to try.
So many of the people in the image above are lounging around, sitting on their tushes. They are willing to wait around and listen for a little while, but they are not going to get up and go out. It’s comfortable on the shore. It’s nice where they are. They are content with what they have. They aren’t going to leave everything and follow Jesus. He’s nice, but not that nice. They’ll wait around for the next guy to come by who has an easier standard to meet, maybe even a happier message to preach. Maybe the next guy will tell us about how God wants us all to be rich and happy. But not Jesus. The Christ knows what a difficult journey being a follower will be. There will be demands, high standards, and perils along the way. Will it be worth it? For some, yes. For many, no. You have to be committed to Christ. How committed? Willing to do whatever Jesus calls us to do comes to mind. Love those who persecute you for following him. Love the enemies you will make out of your family and friends for your unwavering faith and commitment because it will mean choosing Jesus over them at times. Speaking the truth in love and being willing to stand firm even when others threaten you, even if they threaten you with physical violence.
The standards are high, but so are the stakes. What is at stake? Eternity. Salvation. Relationship with God Almighty. Redemption from our sinfulness and forgiveness of our sins. A life lived out of selflessness rather than selfishness. The Gospel. The Cross. The empty tomb. The Resurrection. The Grace of God. What’s not at stake when you’re a follower of Jesus the Christ?? You can stay on the shore and value your safety above all. Or you can go out into deep water where safety is fleeting, but Christ is sure. If you stay on the shore, you will always be looking out and always be watching instead of living. Our eternity will reflect that choice. We can be living eternal life with Jesus, or we can be on the outside looking in. The highest of stakes necessitates high standards.
Jesus has high standards. Do you?
Son of God and God Incarnate,
You come to us expecting our best.
You push us beyond our own motivation.
Your standards lead to glory,
Not for us, but for you.
May we hear and follow you wherever you lead us.
Let not our fear become reason to abandon you.
We must be ready to get our feet wet and our hands dirty,
For the sins of this world need to be cleansed.
In the process we will find ourselves made clean by you.
Let our journey begin, one step at a time,
Until we are running by your side.