Gospel for February 7th, 2016: “The Call of Simon the Fisherman”
Luke 5: 1-11
While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. They signaled to their partners in other boat to come help them. They came and filled both boats so that they were in danger of sinking. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him, and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.
I read this gospel and think of Bill Cosby’s famous bit about the conversation between Noah and God and the command to build an ark (Youtube link: https://youtu.be/bputeFGXEjA ). The humor comes from the recognition that many of the characters in the Bible make leaps of faith that seem beyond most of us. When God commands us to submit to His will and serve him in ways we don’t expect or like, many of us, like Cosby’s Noah, say, “Right….” We don’t reject the command immediately, but our response is heavily laced with skepticism or outright disbelief. We are in danger of saying no to God and on the threshold of sin in those moments.
In this passage about the call of Simon Peter, a walk through this series of events in Peter’s shoes gives me the same sense incredulity as Jesus skips over human logic to accomplish His purposes in calling these simple fishermen to follow Him and accept His mission for them. Peter and his partners have been out all night fishing and have caught nothing. Life experience tells me these men are tired, frustrated, and just want to go home. The task of washing their nets delays this further and probably seemed like an endless inconvenience. Then, in the midst of this scene, Jesus walks onto the boat seeking some distance from the throngs of people following Him and asks Simon Peter to take him back out so he can more effectively preach to this large crowd. I would think it would stretch Peter to the end of his wits to agree to this, but he does. It should be remembered that Peter would feel some obligation to Jesus, since recently He had cured Simon Peter’s mother-in-law (Luke 4: 38-39). I also think the presence of Jesus would be hard to ignore or resent under any circumstances. Nevertheless, Peter’s state of mind was likely similar to that which I feel when it is obvious I need to do something unselfish to help others and I am not in a very giving mood.
After Jesus finishes preaching, he taxes Peter’s patience further by requesting, ““Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” Although not the words of his reply, I hear Bill Cosby’s voice speaking for Peter, “Right….” In terms of worldly logic, it just doesn’t make sense. They have not caught any fish all night, why would Jesus possibly think a few hours could possibly make a difference, enough so to extend the fatigue of this tired crew. Yes, Jesus appears to be a gifted healer and preacher, but why should he know anything about fishing? But Simon Peter does what we all should do under similar circumstances, take a beat and then obey. Granted, he respectfully questions the reasonableness of Jesus’s request. This sort of dialogue with the Lord is acceptable. We can admit our difficulty in believing as long as we don’t turn our backs. Of course, the result is an abundance of fish that is far beyond what the crew could have expected in the rosiest of scenarios when they went out to fish that day. Jesus rewards their patience and obedience.
A further lesson is obvious in Peter’s reaction to this turn of events. He immediately confesses his lack of faith and sinfulness to Jesus. In this moment of reverence and humility, Jesus comes with the most outrageous request yet, to leave the life they know as fishermen and follow Him. The fact that they do this immediately, no longer questioning His commands indicates the nature of the relationship we are developing with Jesus as Christians. With every act of obedience to His call will come reward and more challenging missions. However, the point is not whatever earthly rewards may accompany our obedience. Be they fish or money or friends, these will be temporary in their ability to satisfy us. Instead, the point is we will continue to move closer to eternal life in Jesus as we allow Him to take control of our lives, leaving behind the longing for anything other than His sustenance. Our unity with Him is freedom from death. The difficult part is suspending our doubts and obeying the invitation to this future. Ultimately it means doing as the fishermen did, “[T]hey left everything and followed him” (11).
Post-blog note: In light of the many disturbing allegations in recent years against Bill Cosby, I hope fans will join me in praying for both him and his alleged victims. His comedy has been an enriching gift in my life, whatever sins the man may count.