By Steven Norris
When it comes to sailing, I am a novice at best. My first experience on a sailboat came on a mission trip to the Bahamas. Our team was tasked with crewing a 40-foot sailboat from Miami to North Bimini. Each pair was responsible for piloting the ship throughout the night in one-hour shifts. The caveat was that we hit a mild storm which resulted in massively choppy waves that my sea legs (and stomach) were not prepared to handle. On top of that, sailing throughout the night on a black ocean can be quite unnerving.
I think about that experience when I read stories of the sea in the Bible. In its deep symbolism, the Hebrew word tehom (literally “sea” or “the deep”) was often personified as an almost mythological creature of chaos and evil.
Before God created the order of the world, the Spirit hovered over the face of “the deep” (the chaos). The flood was a story of returning the world to chaos in order to start again. Jesus walked upon the waters to demonstrate his power over evil and chaos. When Jesus cast the demons into a herd of pigs, they ran off the cliff and into the “sea.” In both Daniel and Revelation, evil beasts come up from the sea. In the New Heaven and Earth of Revelation 22, it says that “there is no sea” because it will represent perfect order.
Therefore, when Jesus meets the first disciples on the shoreline in Luke 5 and tells them to go back out and cast their nets “in the deep,” he is saying something significant. He is calling them to cast their nets into the chaos to search out and bring God’s harvest.
In the disciples’ day, this “chaos” looked like living in the midst of Roman occupation. It looked like a corrupt political and religious system that bowed the knee to power and position rather than to faithfulness to God’s commands. It looked like multiple messianic figures claiming divine authority for their own personal agendas. Yet, Jesus calls the disciples to leave the shallow areas and to cast their net into “the deep.”
I can’t help but make connections to “the deep” into which we have gazed these past two years with an overburdened healthcare system, an overwhelmed education system, suffering small businesses, failing supply chains, and fierce political battles that threaten our nation’s identity. It’s chaos out there.
And yet, I believe that Jesus is calling us back out into the water. Yes, we continue to struggle at times to navigate these murky waters, but there is a harvest within them if we don’t give up. I know that we are tired. Many of us, like the disciples, would rather just pull the boats up on shore, wash our nets, and be done with the whole thing. To do so, however, would be to reject the call of the Master who says, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”