Once while Jesus* was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He 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. 4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ 5Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ 9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10and 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.’ 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
Once (Luke does not say this is after the previous story, but says simply, this happened), Jesus was teaching beside the lake of Gennersaret – this is also known as the Sea of Galilee, or Lake Tiberias. As Jesus taught, the people were crowding in, trying to get closer, to hear better. Jesus saw two boats there – the fishermen had pulled their boats up and were washing their nets. He got into Simon’s boat and asked him to put out a little way from shore. This allowed Jesus a platform for teaching and the water served to amplify so more could hear. When Jesus had finished teaching he said to Simon, ‘put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Now, Simon and the others had been out all night and had caught nothing – they fished for a living; if they had caught nothing all night there just were not any fish to be had! They had gone deep and were not within reach of the nets. Simon tells Jesus they have fished all night and caught nothing; perhaps he expected Jesus to say, Oh, well, we’ll go fishing some other time. But Jesus says nothing – and so Simon says, “If you say so, I will let down the nets.” I will obey, he says, because you say so, but don’t be surprised when we catch nothing! Simon calls Jesus Master in this exchange; this is obviously not the first time he has seen Jesus, or heard him speak. His heart already recognizes Jesus as master. Do we? Do we sometimes think, this feels like a fool’s errand, but I am feeling strongly that God is calling me to do this – and so, because you say so, I will do it! Like Peter, we may be surprised when God works through us, or even sometimes, in spite of us!
And of course, we all know what happens – they pull the nets in so full they are breaking, laden with so many fish they have to have their friends, James and John, come help and the boats come ashore, almost sinking from all those fish! This is the best catch ever! But these men stop in the midst of their celebrating – they stop and they say, who has caused this? It surely was not within our own power – what happened here? And Simon falls at Jesus feet, saying, “Go away for me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” His title from Jesus has changed from Master, such as a teacher, to Lord. He believes himself unworthy even to be in the presence of one who has power even over the fish of the sea!
And Jesus replies, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching people.” And the fishermen leave that incredible catch of fish, their boats, their livelihood, and they follow Jesus. They live on what people give them, sleep where they can find a bed, or outside in the wilderness, and they consider it a great joy and privilege to follow Jesus. There is something happening – something wonderful. We wait for it again in this season of Advent. Let us find the Christ, and leave our nets and follow him!
photo is a boat on the Sea of Galilee