One day Jesus was standing beside Lake Gennesaret when the crowd pressed in around him to hear God’s word. Jesus saw two boats sitting by the lake. The fishermen had gone ashore and were washing their nets. Jesus boarded one of the boats, the one that belonged to Simon, then asked him to row out a little distance from the shore. Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he finished speaking to the crowds, he said to Simon, “Row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.”
Simon replied, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.”
So they dropped the nets and their catch was so huge that their nets were splitting. They signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They filled both boats so full that they were about to sink. When Simon Peter saw the catch, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!” Peter and those with him were overcome with amazement because of the number of fish they caught. James and John, Zebedee’s sons, were Simon’s partners and they were amazed too.
Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” As soon as they brought the boats to the shore, they left everything and followed Jesus. (CEB)
Grace to you and peace from God our creator, from Jesus Christ our redeemer and friend and from the Holy Spirit, our sustainer and guide.
Have you ever been part of a group where you felt like you can see what is going on now, but you get the strong feeling that there are some details everyone else knows that you don’t know? It gives me a sinking feeling and I get wary. I wonder what I missed and how I missed it. Was it deliberate on the part of the others, keeping me in the dark? Should I have arrived sooner? Did something happen before I got here? What do I need to do to get the rest of the story?
Well, today’s gospel reading didn’t give me that feeling, but it should have. I totally missed it until someone else pointed it out. There is some back story here. With the scriptures, it is always a good idea to read the story before and the story after to see how they fit together. Usually the gospel writers weave the stories so the story before and the story after offer some commentary illuminating the present story. It helps us get at the meaning more fully.
But in today’s gospel reading it wasn’t the gospel writers we need to thank for our not having the full picture, but the lectionary committee. If we just read the selections from the designated lectionary gospel readings, we miss out on some important details. So let me re-cap. Two weeks ago we had Luke 4:14-21; Jesus reading in the scroll of Isaiah and his announcement that the scriptures are fulfilled as they hear them. Then last week we got the rest of that story, Luke 4:21-30, where the people are originally so excited and raving about him. They cannot say enough good about him, but then he reminds them God has always looked beyond the borders of Israel, and God has always found faithful and obedient people there too. And sometimes the outsiders are more faithful and obedient than the Israelites! And that didn’t set well. The people went after him. Jesus had to walk away from his home town.
Today we see Jesus by the sea. It is some time later, but for all we know, it could be later the same day. (I’ll give you a hint. It isn’t… by a long shot. But we don’t know that yet.) All we know is that the crowd is large and Jesus has no room to gather his thoughts so he asks Simon to row him offshore a bit.
Did you ever wonder “Why Simon?” Or “Why would Simon even do that?” He was cleaning his nets. He was hard at work after a hard night fishing… and a night where the catch is slim is a hard night’s work for sure! Simon had every reason to say “Get someone else to do it.” But he didn’t. He stopped what he was doing and rowed Jesus out onto the water so he could talk and everyone could hear.
So what is going on here?
To really get that, we have to look at what happened in the gospel between last week’s story and this week’s. It would be a terrible mistake to assume that the lectionary committee left it out because there is nothing there we need to know.
So after Jesus had to walk away from his home town, he went to Capernaum, a pleasant seaside village. He made a name for himself there and in the surrounding regions because he spoke with power and authority. He was in the synagogue every Sabbath. As you envision this, don’t think Jesus was preaching like we know preaching. Not yet. That would come later. In the synagogues, on the Sabbath, the scripture portion would be read, then they would all have a discussion about it. During the week, he was having conversations with people about the scriptures and about life. On one particular Sabbath day he healed a man with an unclean spirit (v31-37). Simon must have been in attendance and this made an impression, because the next thing we know Jesus is going home with Simon to his house. Jesus healed Simon’s mother-in-law of her fever (v 38-39). I always wonder about this. Did Simon say to Jesus, “My wife’s mother is sick. Would you please come to our house to heal her?” Or maybe he invited Jesus over and didn’t tell him until they got there? Either way, Jesus had compassion for their distress and he healed the woman. Then she got up and served them. By that time the Sabbath was over and the whole town had gathered up their sick and their frail and brought them to Jesus to heal. You might remember that on the Sabbath an observant Jew was not to travel further than from home to the synagogue and back. Once the Sabbath was over that restriction was lifted. Who knows how long into the night that party lasted, and you can bet it was a party, with all the people being healed, but Jesus was up at dawn so he could go off to a quiet place to pray.
That quietness didn’t last long though. People were looking for him pretty soon. They tried to get him to come back to town but he told them he had to leave to do his work in other towns too. The last verse of Luke 4 reads: “So he continued preaching in the Judean synagogues.” (Luke 4:44, CEB) Capernaum is in Galilee. Judea is way far to the south, past Samaria.
But now Jesus is back… Simon has had him in his boat while he spoke with the people. And then Jesus said the most audacious thing. He, a carpenter, told Simon, a fisherman, to put out the nets again… to row a little further out and put out the nets. It was a little crazy. First of all, you just don’t fish at this time of the day. Every Galilean fisherman knew you fish at night when the fish cannot see the nets, not in the daylight, when they would see the shadows of the nets and swim around the nets and flee. But Simon does this crazy thing because he and Jesus have history. Jesus healed his mother-in-law, after all. Simon calls Jesus “Master”. It isn’t until after the miraculous catch that Simon calls him “Lord.” Master is a word of respect. Lord is a word of reverence.
Simon is afraid. He knows he is in the presence of holiness, and he knows he is a coarse, plainspoken fisherman. He probably swore like the sailor he was! Jesus wasn’t put off by Simon’s mouth. Jesus called him anyway.
AND THAT IS JUST THE THING… Jesus is not put off by our humanness. Jesus loved Simon, in all his unrefined glory. And Jesus called Simon and renamed him Peter, his rock. And this is nothing new for God. God has called the sinners, the pottymouths, the cheats and the thieves. God has had something for each of them to do. God has called the arrogant and the lowly, the talkers and the silent, the prudes and the impudent, the industrious and the lazy alike. Nobody gets left out. And God loves us all, in all of our humanness. There is nothing that keeps God’s love from coming to us… unless we turn away from God ourselves. God has given us free will after all.
But all who are loved are also called, and there is something for us to do. Simon let down his nets. Beyond all common sense, he did what Jesus told him to do. He let down his nets and where before, in the usual time for fishing there were no fish, now, against all the odds, the catch was overwhelming. Simon was obedient and look what happened! Simon went from respect to reverence. He walked away from his nets so he could be with Jesus and he learned to trust and to follow and to do what Jesus did. Is there something Jesus is calling you to do that lies beyond common sense? Is there something for you to leave behind so you might follow Jesus? Or do you need to just sit in the wonder and glory of God’s love for you? Either way, this time of silence is for you.
Holy God, come into our hearts and increase our faith. Inspire us in serving your people and being the church for the good of the world. Help us to follow Jesus without reservation, always trusting in your love. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Blessings to you,
Common English Bible (CEB)
Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible