Our text: Luke 5: 1-11.
It’s late morning. Jesus heads out toward the shore of Lake Gennesaret, near Capernaum. He stops and begins speaking with a small group of people. That group grows into a crowd. The crowd swells to larger numbers, gathering in a “U” around Jesus and hemming him in.
Jesus turns around, looks toward the lake. Sees two boats. In one of them stands a man named Simon. Jesus knows him. Very recently he had been to Simon’s house in Capernaum; he had healed Simon’s mother-in-law from a severe fever (cf. Lk 4:38-39). As news spread, people come to Simon’s house. Jesus heals many of them, displaying an uncanny calm and authority; a wisdom in his words; a supernatural power to heal illness; a commanding ability to cast out evil spirits.
All this was already known on that sunny day along Lake Gennesaret. It was prelude to when Jesus approaches Simon, the fisherman, in the middle of his work-day. Simon is laboring in his boat; hunched over, cleaning nets; tired from a fruitless night fishing. Here, Jesus interrupts:
‘Can I board your boat? Could you push out a little from the shore, so that I can continue to teach this growing crowd?’
Jesus was a man of authority; he has a wisdom about his eyes, his words. The people see him as a man of God. Simon readily complies with Jesus’ bold request.
From Simon’s boat, Jesus continues his teaching. After a time, he brings his remarks to a close and then turns, abruptly, to Simon and tells him:
‘Simon, take the boat out further, into the deep waters and lower your nets for a catch.’
Jesus was many things, but he wasn’t was a fisherman. Simon would have known that. Simon and his boat mates were men of the water; they knew their trade; they had already labored through the night without catching anything. It had been one of those fruitless nights.
Now the sun is high in the sky. A good fisherman knows mid-morning is not the best time to fish. So Jesus is asking Simon to do the unwise, the futile; to do what is foolhardy. Moreover, he is speaking to Simon in a domain that Simon knows very well. Simon is confident there would be no fish in these waters at this time of day. He replies:
“Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” (Lk. 5:5)
Simon notes the lack of prudence in the command of Jesus, yet he obeys him. He takes the boat out into deep waters, lowers the nets, and hauls in an extraordinary catch of fish. Two boat loads, filled to the point of sinking. It’s the transcendant breaking through, into the ordinary.
They return to shore. Simon now understands, more than before, that he is in the presence of a man of God. He is overwhelmed; unworthy. He insists to Jesus: you have the wrong man.
But Jesus tells him:
‘Do not fear. From this moment, it is men you will be drawing into your boat, living.’
Simon obeys. His life as a disciple and an apostle begins in earnest this day.
What is the heart of this passage?
I think this story depicts three common steps in the path of a disciple.
First: The call to take a step of faith that looks like folly. At the very dawn of his life as a disciple, Jesus asks Simon to do something that seems fruitless, foolish, likely to fail. But the folly is like fog; once Simon steps into it, what was opaque dissipates and he can see.
Second: in response to faith, Jesus unveils a mystery of the kingdom. When Simon accepts the word of Jesus and puts it into action, a kind of unveiling occurs. A making visible of the hidden mysteries of the Kingdom of God. The abundant catch of fish is an image, a rendering visible of what Jesus has just done in the boat. The catch depicts physically what occurs spiritually when souls hear the word of God. Simon now understands what happens when Jesus preaches the Kingdom of God. He is drawing souls into the family of God.
Third: Simon is called to participate in the mission of Jesus. These first two steps lead somewhere. Jesus is preparing Simon for a task he and the disciples will perform one day. To fish for men. Elsewhere Jesus describes this same dynamic in terms of a harvest of souls and he prays that the Father would send out laborers for that harvest (Cf. Lk 10:2). In another place, Jesus puts it this way: “As the Father sent me, so I send you (cf. John 20:21).” Three variations on the same theme; each describing the call of a disciple to participate in Jesus’ action of drawing souls into the family of the Trinity.
How Can I Take this to Prayer?
“Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” (Lk. 5:4)
Jesus, sometimes what you ask of me seems like folly and I stop right there. Help me, instead, to trust in you, as Simon Peter did. That I too might see unveiled the hidden mysteries of your Kingdom. That I too might be formed as a fisher of souls, an instrument to draw others into the communion of the Trinity. Amen. Have mercy on me. Let it be to me according to your Word.