Have you ever been in charge of a task because of your experience and expertise? But it wasn’t as successful as hoped even though everything was done “by the book.” And if that wasn’t bad enough, someone who knew almost nothing of what you were doing suggested you try it another way and worked stupendously. This silly example is what Simon experienced in today’s Gospel in an oversimplified way.
Luke tells us that Jesus was standing by the lake of Gennesaret where he was preaching, and the multitude was pressing in on him. He spotted a couple of boats pulled up to the shore with the fishers washing their nets. So he asked one of them, Simon, to row him out a little way from the beach. The shoreline is convoluted with many small bays with reasonably steep sides. When one is on the water, it forms a suitable amphitheater. The lake of Gennesaret also goes by the more familiar names the Sea of Galilee and the lake of Tiberius.
When Jesus had finished preaching, he then asked Simon to row out to deeper water and drop his nets. Simon protests that one cannot catch fish in the heat of the day, and besides, they spent all night fishing and all morning rigorously cleaning their nets. I learned that you didn’t catch fish in the day’s heat from a very young age. When my dad would take us on a fishing expedition, we would leave before sunrise, having been dragged out of bed.
Simon complies and rows out to the deep water, drops his nets, and has a great surprise. His nets are so full of fish that it risks sinking his boat when he hauls them in. So he has to call his other fishing partners, James and John, to bring their other boat over, and their craft is so overflowing it almost sinks them. But they managed to get the boats and fish to the shore. Simon Peter is overwhelmed by the miraculous catch. He falls to his knees before Jesus and tells him to go away from him because he is a sinful human being. However, even more, significant is Simon’s consciousness of his sin being in the presence of holiness. His plea echoes that of the prophet Isaiah when he finds himself in the presence of the Holy One of Israel and cries, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” I certainly can identify with young Isaiah, having spent many years in the Navy aboard a ship. But at least I didn’t have to have a terrifying Seraphim but red hot coals against my lips.
Simon may be repenting of his initial skepticism, but I suspect it is much more than that. Simon has finally begun to sense whom he is dealing with here. His response confirms what the demons have blurted out earlier, namely, that Jesus is none other than “the Holy One of God.” I can imagine Jesus lifting Simon Peter and telling him: “Do not be afraid; from now on, you will be catching people.” Jesus is giving him absolution, telling Simon Peter to have faith. There is an excellent nuance here: “catching people” is a combination of two Greek words— zoos (“ alive”) and agrein (“ catch, hunt).” The same sense is to “catch alive”—“ from now on you will catch people alive.” Mission to catch people, not for death but life. The kingdom requires not dead fish, but human beings fully alive—not creatures writhing in the last gasps before the end, but people living the life of the good news in all its fullness.
Simon Peter, James, John, and probably Andrew leave their fishing behind their boats, nets, and spectacular catch and follow Jesus. Jesus promises that the same thing will happen, only now it will be people, not fish. And the fishers become followers, going off into a new life with only the vaguest idea of where it will take them. In this scene, Jesus is calling his disciples that will eventually be his 12 Apostles. Jesus calls and prepares the Twelve to represent his authority and continue his ministry after the ascension. Jesus doesn’t want to leave anybody out. His call to Peter and the others – that they should now help him catch people – came precisely so that the good news would go out wider and wider, reaching as many as possible. Ultimately, there are no bystanders in the kingdom of God. We are reading Luke’s Gospel today because Jesus kept his promise to Peter, despite Peter’s initial reluctance and subsequent failures.
When Jesus calls, he certainly does demand everything, but only because he has already given everything himself and has plans in store, for us and the world, that we would never have dreamed. God might ask us to take more significant risks and step beyond our comfort zones. Jesus calls us to leave behind old typical values and behaviors. Its idolatry, exploitation, manipulation, injustice, scarcity, violence, and death. Live now in the Realm of God is already present with the living God, mutual solidarity, justice, peace, love, and life.
It might mean that we have to ask for help more often or perhaps for forgiveness. Saying yes to Jesus’ call means we have to give up all our most cherished security sources, our nets and boats, if you will, to find true security and freedom in him.
Remember what the call is to Peter and his friends, and to us to become fishers of people is about evangelism – to catch for life, to live in the reign of God. Also, keep in mind what the apostle Paul tells us that there are many callings that some would be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. These gifts and vocations are a means of evangelism because faithful discipleship makes everyday work itself the vehicle of Jesus’ real presence in the life of the world.
Jesus called the disciples not because of who they were or us because of who we are but because of who we will be.
Jesus’ divine wisdom in choosing fishers of people, workers in the vineyard, and all ministers of mission are certainly not of the human kind. In next week’s Gospel, we will hear Jesus pronounce many blessings.
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . the meek . . . the mourners . . . the peacemakers . . . the hungry-for-justice people’ and so on. We all too easily assume that Jesus is saying, ‘try hard to be like this, and if you can manage it, you’ll be the sort of people I want in my kingdom.’ But that’s not the point! The point is that God’s kingdom is on earth as in heaven, and the way it will happen is by God working through people of this sort, (1)of our kind through our baptism. Amen
(1)God and the Pandemic Quotes by N.T. Wright - Goodreads. https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/83876221-god-and-the-pandemic-a-christian-reflection-on-the-coronavirus-and-its