Theme: Baptized to evangelize
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, your son needed help to spread the Word of God, fishermen being the first called; let them be examples to us for using your word as nets for the kingdom, through your son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Our gospel story is very similar to the fishing story in John 21, which is a resurrection story. It is at the same lake we see in other accounts known as the Sea of Galilee. Looking at the Sea of Galilee, it appears as big as Lake Tahoe. The mountains surrounding Galilee are smaller than Tahoe’s.
Luke not only departs from Matthew and Mark in naming the lake, but also in the account of the calling of the first disciples. Gennesaret is the name of a plain near the lake, which may be why Luke chooses this name. Here and other places, Luke seems unsure of the Holy Land geography.
Luke says that Jesus was standing by Lake Gennesaret one day. The beginning of this scene is not clear from Luke. My best guess is that Jesus is walking along the lake shore and his mere presence generates a crowd. They are hungry for the Word of God and they expect Jesus to satiate that hunger. They are sooo hungry (how hungry are they?), that they practically push Jesus into the water.
At this early point in his ministry, Jesus cannot take in a view of a lake without a crowd so close that they physically squeeze him. As long as they are there, Jesus did not let a teaching/preaching opportunity pass by.
He noticed two fishing boats tied to the shore. The fishermen were washing their nets. Perhaps because he needed some breathing room, Jesus gets into one of the boats. It may also be that Jesus wants to take advantage of the water that makes for a natural amphitheater, making his voice louder.
The boat happened to belong to a man named Simon. Jesus asked Simon to put out a little way from shore. Once there, Jesus continued to teach to the crowd. Simon is alone with Jesus on the boat. No doubt, Simon had also heard about Jesus’ reputation.
When Jesus had finished speaking and possibly having no desire to get crushed again by the crowd, he asks Simon to put out further in the lake. Jesus wants to go fishing. He told Simon to put his freshly washed nets out into the deep part of the lake for a catch. Simon expressed his frustration with the day by telling Jesus that they already spent the night coming up empty handed. But if Jesus says let down the nets, then the nets will go down.
To Simon’s surprise, the nets were so full of fish that the nets were in danger of ripping apart. (Maybe he shouldn’t have washed them.) The catch was so big that they could not pull up the nets. They needed the help of the fishermen in the other boat. Even then, there was so many fish that both boats were full to the brim and in danger of sinking.
There is an ugly fish in Galilee called a St. Peter’s Fish. But the lake was so over-fished that the St. Peter’s Fish is now farmed. Further investigation after a lunch I had in the Galilee region, which offered St. Peter’s Fish as an option, revealed that it is tilapia.
Simon, now called Simon Peter by Luke, was overwhelmed by the sight of all the fish. He was overwhelmed by being in Jesus’ presence. He asks Jesus to leave him. He is overcome by his sins. He cannot handle being in the presence of a holy man. Simon Peter’s respect for Jesus is so great that he doesn’t want to contaminate Jesus’ holiness with his sinfulness.
Not only Simon, but all the fishermen were overwhelmed by the catch, including Simon’s partners James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They were awestruck. Jesus tells Simon to not be afraid. Jesus tells him that from that point on, he will fish for people. I wonder if Simon had a mental picture in his mind of throwing nets over people.
A more literal translation is that Simon is to “take people alive.” There is also a sense in the Greek of a rescue from death. Jesus doesn’t want dead fish. He wants people living the good news of the kingdom.
Simon Peter and his friends leave everything, the fish, their jobs, their homes, and their families to follow Jesus. The crowd apparently got bored and went away.
Fishing for people is a simple sharing of the good news of Jesus. No nets are necessary. With Jesus’ help, if lowly fishermen can make this kind of a haul of fish, how big a haul of people will Simon be able to bring in?
The kingdom of God is a place of abundance. This is a story of an epiphany, followed by a call. The fishermen also receive a glimpse of the kingdom of God – a kingdom or reign of power, justice, mercy, extravagance, and unconditional love. This vision is so compelling that these fishermen leave everything behind to follow Jesus. We still see these things today. A woman leaves a terrific job to serve on a school board. A young college graduate leaves opportunity to go to seminary or the Peace Corps.
Discipleship, following Jesus, is best understood as the act of learning and teaching, leading and following. It is a two way process of that involves invitation and response. The encounter between Jesus and Simon indicates that discipleship is a risky and rewarding business.
Our invitation begins in baptism when we are called to ministry. It is there that we are commissioned. We may not drop everything to follow Jesus, but everything we do will be measured in relation to Jesus. Whatever we do, it is done in the context of our calling from Jesus. Our calling to fish for people is not to set a hook in them. It is to cast a net of God’s love – open to all. We come here on Sunday to be welcomed anew into the loving embrace of God. We then leave this place to share that love with others.
There are many versions of the following story. But basically it goes something like this:
There was a group that called themselves The Fisherfolk Club. They started out as a gathering of people who earned their living fishing in the ocean. At first, only real fisherfolk could join. But not wanting to be selfish, and because they had nice facilities that needed to be paid for, they invited others to come in too.
In the club headquarters there were fish symbols galore, hooks, nets, and floats and rods. All the members of the club, even those who were not fishers, wore old hats with lures stuck in them and tall wading boots which got quite uncomfortable on warm days. But they were proud to be fishers and so never took them off.
They had a well-stocked library of books about fishing. And several times a year they ran seminars to which world-renounced fishers were invited to come and deliver learned lectures. All the talk and all the activities of the club centered around fishing, but as the years went by, fewer and fewer of the members actually went out fishing.
Then one day, the club had a new member. They had not had a new member for some time, so this was an interesting experience. And the new member asked an interesting question. “When do you go fishing?”
Well, it turned out that members of The Fisherfolk Club had never caught a fish. In fact, they had never actually seen a live fish. And the idea that they should go out there in a boat or wade into the water came as quite a shock to them.
They had long meetings on the subject and finally came to the conclusion that the new member would have to leave. The new member obviously knew very little about what it really meant to be a member of The Fisherfolk Club.
We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, give us the courage to live out our baptismal vow to share the good news of your son through word and deed, for the abundance of those desperate for good news to hear the abundance of your kingdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Text: Luke 5:1–11 (NRSV)
1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 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. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 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. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 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.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.