Thursday

02 September 2010

"When [Jesus] had finished speaking, he said to Simon, 'Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.'" (v.4)

Background

Jesus' ministry in Galilee now leaves the synagogues and, as crowds press around him, desperate to hear his words, Jesus uses the natural acoustics of the landscape to deliver an outdoor sermon. He knew Simon Peter and had been to his home, and so he now turned to him for help as the fishermen washed their nets after a night's work.

The lake, which Luke records as being called Gennesaret, is actually the Sea of Galilee (also called the Sea of Tiberias) around which Jesus' early ministry began. It is a low-level inland sea with the land rising up around it in a series of steep inlets. Jesus sat down to teach, as was the norm in Jewish education. When he'd finished, he suggested they go fishing - in the deep water.

Simon Peter knew they were unlikely to catch anything in broad daylight, and since they'd caught nothing the previous night, he aired his professional scepticism: it seemed pointless. And yet, maybe out of curiosity, or respect, or maybe just for the chance to spend a bit more time with Jesus, he obeyed.

And, for all his experience, Simon Peter had never had a haul like this! "They caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break." Peter's business partners were called across in their second boat, until both boats began to go under! By following Jesus in a seemingly pointless activity, they succeeded on an unimaginable scale. Interestingly, Jesus doesn't need to say 'follow me' in this story. Peter's reaction showed the call had already been made in his heart - he responded as one confronted with the holy light of God, falling to the ground aware of his own sin. Life could never be the same again for Peter who had witnessed not only Jesus' teaching, but also his power; and not for the first time. Jesus calms Peter and puts into words what God is already confirming in his heart: "from now on you will be catching people". The Greek word used here suggests 'catching for life' (rather than death), and Peter, James and John who've heard Jesus' kingdom-teaching would know what that meant.

I write this fresh from my own ordination into the Methodist ministry. This very reading played an important part in my calling, when I felt God asking me to "put out into deep water" beyond my comfort zone, and follow Christ. Although there have been moments of struggle and hardship, I've never regretted following this vocation of catching for life into the net of God's love. At our ordination services, the congregation call out "They are worthy!" and this is a particularly moving point, especially when (like Simon Peter) we find it hard to imagine that we are worthy. It is worth remembering that our worthiness for what God has called us to comes only from God's call, God's power and God's grace, and not from any goodness of our own.

This is what Peter and the others were soon to learn.

To Ponder

Simon Peter was a married man with his own fishing business. What do you think it meant to him that he "left everything and followed him"?

What are the similarities and differences between this story and John 21:1-14? Why might Jesus have needed to re-establish his followers' call after the resurrection?

In our gospel life, there are sometimes moments of clarity and calling when we realise what is truly important and get a sense of the power of God. Can you think of times in your life when you have felt God calling you? How have you responded?

Bible notes author: Revd Andrew Murphy

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