The Gospel of Luke is different in many ways from the other Gospels, and one of the differences is that he writes very little about the first year of Jesus’ ministry. That first year of his ministry was spent getting as many people as possible to believe in him. At the beginning of his second year of ministry he picked a few of the believers to be trained to be Apostles. Since Luke wrote his book to help believers who were already Christians to become committed and faithful followers of Christ, he concentrated on Jesus’ second and third years of ministry.
In our scripture reading today, Luke 5:1-11, I think there are three scenes. Verses 1-3 are the teaching scene, verses 4-7 are the fishing scene, and verses 8-11 are the response scene.
Scene 1, the teaching scene, clearly emphasizes the large crowds of people who have responded to Jesus’ ministry. There is emphasis on the eagerness of the crowds to hear the word of God, and Jesus went to great lengths to teach them. Simon Peter becomes important in this scene. Jesus uses Simon Peter’s boat as a teaching platform and this places him in the center of the narrative. Simon Peter will go on to become the most influential of the twelve apostles and the leader of the early Christian Community.
Scene 2, the fishing scene, has Jesus telling the fishermen to go out again to fish. Simon did object but only half-heartedly. Even though being tired and already having cleaned the nets, his instinct was to obey Jesus. When they began to haul in a huge amount of fish, they had to solicit the help of others. They could not finish without the help of the community.
Scene 3, the response scene, is the calling of the three men who would later be the inner circle of the twelve. It was in response to the experience and recognition of the power of Jesus in their midst. Simon Peter does not come to the point of recognizing the power of Jesus until he sees the fish in the nets. His response is close to the encounters with God seen in the Old Testament, for example, in Isaiah 6:5, Isaiah’s encountering God while worshiping in the Temple. He says, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.”
Peter was humbled in an area of life where he should be in control. His reaction was to push Jesus away so he would not have to face his own failure. The failure to stay with Jesus in an earlier encounter with him. Yet he is able to face himself and this is a turning point in his life. Jesus responded with grace and love and at that moment redefined who Peter was. He would now be fishing for men. This was an encounter with God that forever changed who Peter and the others in the boat would be. It became symbolic of the mission of God’s people in the new world of the church. Their value and worth would no longer be defined by their own efforts and success at their vocation, but would be defined by the power of God at work in their lives in carrying out his work in the world.
In the Gospel of Luke, we can discern five characteristics of a disciple – a follower of Jesus.
- Disciples love to hear the word of God taught. 5:1 “So it was, as the multitude pressed about him to hear the word of God, that he stood by the Lake of Gennesaret.”
Jesus got into Simon’s boat. This was not the first time Jesus and Simon had met. Near the beginning of his ministry, he had come upon Simon Peter and Andrew, and then James and John. They had followed him for awhile but went back to fishing. Now at the lake, Simon had had a long day of fishing and was cleaning his nets for his next excursion. He was tired, but he got into the boat with Jesus.
- Disciples obey Jesus even when it doesn’t make sense. 5:4 “When he had stopped speaking he said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch”. This is the last thing Simon wanted to do at this point, but he says in 5:5 “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at your word I will let down the net”. And they caught so many fish they had to call other fishermen out to help them. God wants to work through you, but you have to be like Simon who says, “that doesn’t make sense, but nevertheless, at your word, I will obey. Look back at the Old Testament: God told Noah to build an ark because a flood was coming. He told Abraham to pack up his possessions and start walking, and he told the people of Israel to march around Jericho for seven days if they want the walls to fall. They all obeyed and got results they wanted. Writing this brings to my mind a football analogy. (I am much more familiar with football than I am with fishing). I am especially thinking of the Patriots. Tom Brady calls the plays to the other players in the huddle and they all get to their places and make the play. Even if some don’t agree that it would be the best play, they don’t stand in the huddle and argue with Tom. The plays don’t always work, but they do work most of the time.
- Disciples are aware of their own sinfulness. 5:8 When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Why does he react this way? Because earlier he had committed himself to Jesus and followed him, but he wasn’t making any money so he left Jesus and went back to fishing – which turned out to be not so lucrative. He did not put Jesus first.
- Disciples are fishers of men. 5:10b And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.” And he did. This is what we are called to do. I don’t believe we are called to take our nets and drag people in our doors. We don’t need to go door to door. We need to teach by example. Live the life Jesus wants us to live. Don’t worship money and objects…Worship God.
- Disciples are willing to forsake all and follow Christ. 5:11 So when they had brought their boats to land, they forsook all and followed him. Becoming a Christian is free. We receive the free gift of eternal life by believing in Christ. But becoming a disciple is different. There is great cost involved. We don’t have Jesus walking by telling us to drop everything and follow him. But we have Jesus in our hearts and minds, reminding us what is right and wrong. Reminding us that there are people hurting and cold and hungry. We don’t have to give up everything so that we are in the same predicament, but maybe the next time you go to buy something that you want, but don’t necessarily need. Instead, go to the grocery store and buy some food for the food closet, or buy a warm jacket for a child at one of our inner city schools, or give the money to the outreach committee…they know who needs it. Discipleship is an act of teaching and learning, leading and following. It is a two way street that involves an invitation and a response. To know ourselves as those who belong to Jesus before we belong to anyone or anything else is the beginning of a right understanding of discipleship.
Jesus talks about fishing for people. We can also fish for wisdom, love, healing, or peace. Sometimes we have to go deep to find these things. Going deep takes faith. Going deep takes risk. When you are in deep water you lose sight of what is beneath you. You trust you will remain safe.
The miracle in this story is the catching of the fish, but this miracle brought Simon Peter to his knees in repentance. His response is not the miracle itself but is the crux of the matter. It is when Simon Peter decided that God is God.
I don’t know where I read the following, or who wrote it, but I love it.
God alone put the sword in the swordfish, the sail on the sailfish, the big in the whale, the play in the dolphin, and the electric in the eel, just because He is God. And if He is God enough to do that, what can he do with us when we’re ready to catch fish?
Let’s go fishing.