“Sea of Galilee (Lake of Gennesaret)” by premasagar, (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Luke 5.1-11 (NRSV)
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.
* This is a sermon from the perspective of Simon Peter. As you listen to or read this sermon, imagine you are sitting around a campfire with your friend Simon Peter, listening to the story of how he came to be Jesus’ disciple.
You know the story about Moses and the burning bush, right? The story about God calling Moses to lead God’s people out from slavery in Egypt? Moses was working as a shepherd when he noticed – a “bush that was burning but not consumed.”
He stepped off the path to get a closer look.
God called out, “Moses, Moses!”
And Moses answered, “Here I am.”
Then God told Moses not to come any closer … to take his sandals off because he was standing on holy ground. With his bare feet in the dirt Moses had a life–shaping experience with God. The dirt wasn’t all that special. It was God’s presence that made the ground holy. God met Moses and Moses’ life was never the same. Moses’ life never got “back to normal”– whatever normal was.
I have holy ground in my life, just like Moses… I bet there is a patch holy ground in your life too … Is there a place God met you in a very real way? Is there an interaction with God you have never gotten back to normal from?
My holy ground isn’t dirt. The wooden planks in an old fishing boat are my holy ground.
I was tired after a long night of fishing.
The only things I had to show for my work were dirty fishing nets.
Usually mornings on the shore were quiet. That day it was hectic. People were packed along the shoreline. I was cleaning up so I could go home; eat, rest and see my family. Crowds were packing in close to hear Jesus. The poor guy, so many people crowded in around him, there wasn’t any space left for him on the shore.
He jumped into one of our boats and asked me to row out a little way from the shore. I owed him a favor. Around here nothing’s free … favors … gifts … everything seems to come with expectations. We met before. Jesus was at the synagogue. Someone who saw the things Jesus was doing in Capernaum must have invited him to my house to help my mother-in-law. She had a really bad fever and we were worried about her.
Jesus stood over her. He rebuked the fever … the fever went away.
I really just wanted to clean the nets and go home, but I figured, since Jesus helped my family, the least I could do was let him use my boat.
I rowed out a little from shore. Jesus sat down and taught the crowds “the word of God.”
The steep, rocky, shorelines made a perfect amphitheater. There were places for people to sit and Jesus’ voice carried over the water. After his lesson, Jesus asked me to do something else – to tell you the truth, this time, it really bugged me.
Jesus looked at me. He said, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
I couldn’t believe it … did he know anything about fishing?
I know that sounds mean…
I know fishing inside and out. Fishing’s my business. Jesus’ suggestion was the most backward and ridiculous fishing idea I ever heard.
Can you picture this wandering teacher – This guy who grew up in the hills and still smelled like sawdust from his father’s carpenter shop telling me, the experienced captain of a fishing boat … telling me, the manager of a fishing business, how to fish!
Maybe he could get away with telling me how to make a table …
Maybe he could give me some tips on public speaking …
Telling me how to fish – how infuriating!
There are two rules when it comes to fishing lake Gennesaret:
Number one – FISH AT NIGHT!
Everybody fishes at night! There are good reasons for this – fish see our nets during the day and swim around them. At night fish can’t see the nets … they swim into them and get caught. During the day the fish aren’t very active. Fish rest in under rocks and in shady spots.
If those reasons weren’t enough – during the day it is hot and miserable in the boats!
Rule two – FISH IN SHALLOW WATER!
Fish, like every other living creature need oxygen. In Lake Gennesaret the fish gather at the places closer to the shoreline where the streams with oxygen in their water run into the lake. Fish don’t go into the deeper parts of the lake – so I don’t go into the deeper parts of the lake.
Picture this guy who didn’t look like he had ever caught a fish in his life, telling me a professional fisherman to row to the deep part of the lake and let down my nets during the day – talk about a waste of time!
I was tired.
Everything in me was saying, “I JUST WANT TO GO HOME!”
But, something different came out of my mouth.
“Master, we have fished all night but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
Maybe, I still felt like I owed him something.
He looked at me and grinned.
Feeling like a dummy … hoping no one was watching … and not excited about cleaning my nets again … I rowed to the deep water … and let down my nets.
I let the nets sit for a while.
I was really just humoring him.
I was ready to pull the nets back into the boat and head for shore …
I looked at him. I looked at the nets.
I saw the most amazing thing.
THOSE NETS WERE SO FULL OF FISH THEY WERE STARTING TO BREAK!
How did Jesus know there would be fish here … how did he know we would catch anything in the daylight?
There was no way to haul in all those fish by myself.
I signaled for James and John, my business partners, to come help.
James and John came over. We filled the boats with fish … the boats were so full they started to take on lake water and sink.
I looked over, and Jesus was just smiling like this abundance of fish was the greatest thing he had ever seen.
My mind raced in different directions all at once … What was he expecting from me … What could I ever give him? The way he was smiling and laughing though … He looked so genuine … Rebuking fevers. Finding fish where there was no logical or natural reason for them to be. Teaching the word of God. Our boats, so full of fish, they were sinking.
It was all too much.
Why would Jesus go to the effort to help my mother-in-law … why would he provide all these fish? There was something more to him than I could see on the surface. Why in the world would Jesus want to have anything to do with me?
I fell on my knees.
I told Jesus to go away.
“Get away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
He didn’t go. He did the opposite.
Finally we made it to shore.
Part of me hoped no one would notice us. Another part of me wanted to tell everyone I saw what just happened.
There was no way to keep a catch like that a secret.
Coming back from deep water. Fishing during the day. Two boats overflowing with fish.
Everyone saw it. Everyone was amazed.
I didn’t deserve to have any part of this. There was no way I could ever do anything to pay him back. Why was Jesus in my boat? As I watched Jesus, I could tell he loved people. From his teaching I could tell he loved God. I could see Jesus cared more about God and people than he did about anything else.
I realized just how different Jesus’ priorities were from mine.
Jesus must have noticed me up to my knees in fish, deep in thought, disconnected from everything happening around me, shaken to the core. He made his way to me …
He looked at me …
He told me not to be afraid …
He told me, from then on I would be fishing for people.
I realized, Jesus wasn’t all that concerned with fish when he told me to go into the deep water and lower my nets for a catch, Jesus was fishing for something … someone … different.
Luke 5:1-11 Reflection/Devotional Questions:
– How would professional fishermen like Simon, James and John have felt after an unsuccessful day at work?
– Back then, fishing nets worked best at night when fish couldn’t see them. Jesus asked Simon to do something he had a lot of experience with in a way that was different from the way fishermen usually worked. What risks did Simon take to obey Jesus? Why do you think Simon obeyed Jesus?
– Read Luke 4:38-41. What would Simon have learned about Jesus through these two miracles (the healing of his mother-in-law and the great catch of fish)?
– What can Simon, James, and John’s response to Jesus teach us about being a disciple?