The Art of Followship (7)
4) But when he stopped speaking, he said to Simon, Put out into the deep and lower your nets for a catch! And answering, Simon said, Master, having labored through the whole night, we took not a thing; yet on thy utterance I will lower the nets.
A startling command indeed! What did Jesus know about fishing in contrast with an expert like Simon? It sounded like ignorance for this former carpenter to designate “the deep” as the place for making a catch of fish and like double ignorance to ask that this effort be made now, well on in the day, about noon. Jesus orders this while multitudes line the shore, many of whom were conversant with fishing, who certainly would give Peter the laugh for doing something that is so apparently irrational, really foolish, and contrary to all experience. All this must be fully appreciated in order to understand this order of Jesus. He intended it to be an order like that, and Peter’s face must have been a study when he heard it. Παύω has a complementary participle (R. 1121) as an essential part as predicate (R. 431), and the verbs “put out” and “lower” are the ones that are regularly used in connection with these acts when fishing.
5) Peter realizes what Jesus means. Not the deep but the places of moderate depth are the right ones for fishing; not the broad daylight but the nighttime is the best for fishing. And he is certainly susceptible to the opinion of the crowds on the shore. Luke never uses “Rabbi” but always the vocative ἐπιστάτα as the address to Jesus, “Master,” one standing over others. Peter has a word for the second of the indicated considerations: “having labored through the whole night, we took not a thing.” Jesus did not perhaps know that. Peter is not raising an objection as though he were refusing Jesus; he is uttering a misgiving, for he and his helpers worked in the best places of the lake at the best time and continued their labor many hours with absolute failure. Jesus was asking much of Peter, and by this word Peter shows how strongly he felt it.
Peter declares that he will obey. The emphasis is on the phrase, which is put forward for that reason: “on thy utterance” will I lower the nets, and ῥῆμα refers to the mere speaking of Jesus. He intends to say, “The fact that thou hast spoken commands my will.” That is exactly what Jesus wanted: Peter was to drop everything else and to throw himself absolutely on his Lord’s utterance alone. Yea, he was to go counter to all his own experience, science, wisdom, reason, or what not, including all that men might say and to hold to only one thing, his Lord’s word. It was a great test of genuine faith in whatever Jesus might say; on top of that it was to be an unforgettable experience for Peter to have absolute confidence in his Lord’s word in all his future apostolic work. And Peter’s experience is set down for us so that in us, too, layman and preacher, it may produce the same effect. It is thus that faith overcomes the world, the faith that conquers by the Word and by nothing but the Word. The weakness of our believing and of our preaching lies in not taking Jesus altogether at his word.
Peter says “I will lower,” for the boat is his, and he is in command. Jesus uses the singular “put out” and then the plural “lower your nets.” So from the start Peter had his men with him in the boat, which was of good size, for it at times carried all the disciples and Jesus. We are not certain whether Andrew was there too, for he is not mentioned in the entire account. Note also the plural “nets.” These required several men to handle them.
This was an ocular demonstration of the power of Jesus’ word. When Jesus sat in the boat teaching, the power of what he spoke was invisible. Who could see that the mountains of ignorance were removed, that the flinty hearts were made like butter by contrition, that the new, immortal spiritual life of faith was coming into existence, that the frightful, crushing guilt and sin were blown away as far as the east is from the west? Spiritual things are invisible, nobody’s eyes see that they are wrought.