A reflection on Luke 5:1-11 for the Fifth Sunday After Epiphany, February 6, 2022.
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 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. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So 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. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 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.’ When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
Luke 5:1-11 (NRSVA)
It is a courageous thing to leave everything.
One needs good reason to turn from a lifetime’s labour. Simon Peter is invested in his trade. He knows fishing. The catch brings daily bread. He has his boat, his nets, his friends.
But this is a day of change.
When Jesus and his crowd turn up on the beach there may have been nothing to warn Simon that a paradigm shift was about to take place. Perhaps he saw the crowd as little more than a distraction – an festival of inconvenience dancing toward him while all he could think of was his aching back and the completion the morning task.
After a fruitless all-nighter Simon a could be forgiven begrudging the need to wash these useless nets. He is tired and ready to sleep. He will need renewed strength to throw them all again tomorrow.
So it must have seemed strange when Jesus climbed aboard. The request to anchor ‘a little way from the shore’ even stranger.
But something in Simon is humble, inquisitive, and open. A few moments later and he has the prime seat before the most desired of all teachers. Jesus is in his boat! While the crowd is held back by the water, Simon is so close he could reach out an touch the master.
It is quite a turn of events – from a luckless night to a box seat.
Enough to make a tired man laugh.
We are told nothing of the content of Jesus’ talk. But it would seem that Simon – perhaps feeling he had little choice – listened through to the end.
It was, however, another thing altogether when Jesus asked to be taken fishing. By now the nets are clean and dry. All ready for later when the fish will – hopefully – be out again.
But that is not now. Jesus may know how to turn a phrase, but he does not know the timing of fish. Simon half protests but then gives up. Too tired to pursue the argument.
At any rate, something tells Simon that this is worth the risk. The boat is mobilised and the nets lowered, filled, and all too soon there are two boats at risk of sinking under the catch of the day. It looks like a feast tonight!
Every now and again a moment of clarity comes. For Simon it is now.
It is not immediately apparent that this will mean the leaving of a livelihood. Simon’s initial response is to send Jesus away. Simon is now only conscious of the gap between himself and Jesus – an insurmountable chasm. Simon has touched the holiness of God and it has made him aware of his unworthiness: ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’
I suspect that Jesus understands. Fear can make a person reject.
And so, without denying Simon’s insight, Jesus responds with an invitation to come even closer: ‘…from now on you will be catching people.’ Jesus is speaking Simon’s language!
And so Simon and his companions leave everything.
Well, not quite. In a consumer society it is all to easy to hear this story as a turning away – highlighting empty boats and fish left for others to sell. Make no mistake – there is a radical abandonment here. But to leave it there would not do justice to the care taken by our storyteller. They did not simply leave everything.
They ‘left everything and followed him.’
It is a completely different concept. Simon, James and John found a better alternative. They have not turned from as much as they have turned to.
It is not loss but gain.
Yes, there is a rationality here. These friends have found a better path – and taken it.
Do you feel that following Jesus is more an invitation to turn from or to turn to? How does this change the way you relate to – and serve – God?