“To be sure the economic problem itself, that is the need to struggle for existence, derives ultimately from the scarcity of nature.”
“Scarcity is not attributable to nature alone but to ‘human nature’ as well…the insatiable appetite of the human temperament.”
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He 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. 4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ 5Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’
6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ 9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10and 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.’ 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
For millennia, fishing at Galilee had been a self-reliant and seasonal affair in the lakeside villages. Rapid spoilage fixed a limit on a localised and self-sustaining market. However, under the tetrarchy of Herod Antipas, who was anxious to make his backward region productive for his Roman overlords (by both taxes and exports), and with the development of preservative techniques in which hauls of sardine and carp could be pickled or salted, the pressures of a wider market seemed to alter the economy.
Romans developed a taste for salt-fish. Spicy sauces and fish stews were highly valued as both condiment and medicine. Magdala, lakeside hometown of the disciple Mary, became a kind of factory town nicknamed Taricheae, the “Town of Salt-Fish.” Little more than a large freshwater lake, The “Sea” of Galilee was becoming virtually ‘industrialized’ and perhaps even overfished.
While the boat owners/fishers may or may not have also been involved in fish processing, this would not have made them wealthy, and certainly not “middle class,” as many authors have contended. In such a highly regulated, taxed, and hierarchical political-economy, the fishers could not be classed as “entrepreneurs”. The “surplus” went to the brokers and the ruling elite.
Against such a background the story of fishermen working all night and coming up empty and of a miraculous net-busting catch, takes on a different cast.
Perhaps they weren’t organizing a maritime union, but when Peter and friends dropped their nets to follow Jesus they were certainly signing on to a movement that offered a sweeping alternative community—economic, political, and spiritual—to the dominating imperial system of Rome.
Classical economics is based upon two suppositions: the natural condition of scarcity; and the human propensity for unlimited appetite. The first justifies inequality whilst the second fuels ideologies of unlimited economic growth.
‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.’
The notion of scarcity creates a ‘poverty’ thinking that is dualistic and generates conflict. (winners /losers, have/have nots, labour/capital etc.) It sees only what is lacking, only those motivated by power and greed with whom we must compete and breeds a sense that we are ‘owed’.
Jesus however, demonstrates that the economy of God is based upon an abundant creation, and calls followers to respond through risky self giving, thankfulness and reverent self restraint.
‘Go away from me, for I am sinful’
Our imaginations are often captive to the economy of our world. Our sense of what we are ‘due’ as well as our concept of health, wealth and what will ‘save us’ are profoundly culturally conditioned and reveal much about our spirituality.
‘Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’
At the waters edge become aware of the created order and the abundance of energy that surrounds you. Become aware of your breathing, breathed in you by the Creator:
Exhale: Breathe out scarcity. Let go of false assumptions and accompanying fears.
Inhale: Breathe in God’s abundance for yourself and an impoverished world. Hear Jesus call “Do not be afraid.”
Offer a prayer of appreciation (an economic term meaning to ‘add value’.)