Friday, March 13, 2009

The Timing of a Miracle

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When a commercial airliner landed on the Hudson River and all crew and passengers survived, the word “miracle” cocooned the event. And the photos of passengers standing on the aircraft’s wings, submerged just below the water surface, had a walking-on-water appearance. Reporters mentioned that the perfect timing of everything was part of the miracle.

Sometimes it’s both the out-of-this world happening and the timing that displays the workmanship of God. David Biven in “New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus” shares his knowledge of Jewish history and everyday life, and miracle and miracle-timing are both in the story of Peter and the daytime large catch of fish from the Sea of Galilee (Luke 5:1-11).

Peter and others had fished all night without the protection of modern rubberized rain gear. Brrrr—scholars believe it was winter and inevitable that the men got wet when fishing from their small vessel and handling the net. These Galileans stopped their work at daylight because fish could see the nets in the water and avoided them. The trammel nets and their small boats were typically manned by groups of four men.

After a night of fishing the extremely large nets were washed and allowed to dry, so that the linen lines would not rot. Jesus arrived at dawn while the wrapping-up chores were being completed. Rabbis taught at every conceivable time, so Jesus sat down in Peter’s boat moored a few feet from shore and taught those workers, strollers, and early shoppers gathered at the seaside.

Casting fishermen had strong bodies from tossing the heavy nets and hauling in loads of fish in sodden nets. But when Jesus arrived it was going-home-time for these night fishermen. The weary crew was probably hungry and had just spent a night’s work for nothing. No catch. No fish. No pay.

The text says that Jesus sat in Peter’s boat and taught. How do you tell the Lord of the earth that you’re tired and you just want to eat some bread and go to sleep? I wonder if Peter cleared his throat to get Jesus’ attention. Peter apparently bided his time, and soon Jesus said to the fishermen, “Push out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Were they astounded? It was daylight. Didn’t this rabbi know anything? A fishing excursion in broad daylight? With their nearly dry nets? On regular trips, the men often had to jump into the frigid water and untangle nets or scare the fish into the nets. Who wanted that cold job again?

Despite all the possible arguments against Jesus’ request, the fishermen and Peter obeyed, and when they cast the huge net, fish apparently swam blindly into it. Throughout the night, human effort had yielded zero fish. In bright sunlight in God’s timing, he herded a huge school of fish toward their net. Peter then fell at Jesus’ feet and worshiped him.

David Biven concludes that the “timing of the miracle” helped the fishermen see the hand of God working. God shows his workmanship when a star falls, when spring arrives, when a plane lands on the Hudson, when a school of fish swim into a net. Watch for the work of God. It might be highly visible, or silent, or it simply may be in the timing.

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