The Text: Luke 5:1-11
Do you have a favourite food to eat? In the times of Jesus, fish was most commonly eaten. There were many boats on the Lake of Gennesaret trying to catch fish during the night when the fish came closer to the surface of the water. Fish were even exported to Rome. The opening letters in the Greek word fish (ICTHUS) were used to symbolise what was central to the Christian Faith: Jesus Christ, God’s Own Saviour”. Boats were seen as symbols for the Christian community, the Christian Church.
It’s fascinating to watch people catch fish from a jetty. We can’t help but admire their dedication, patience and persistence. I wonder if this doesn’t have something to do with Jesus calling fishing folk to become His full-time disciples. Just before this event, Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Now Jesus is preaching at the lakeside, where a great crowd has come to hear Him speak God’s Word to them. He hops onto Peter’s boat and continues teaching from it so the people crowded around them can hear Him better.
Jesus is especially keen to make an impact on Peter, so after His preaching, He asks Peter to go out into deeper waters and let his nets down for a catch. Peter shows a bit of reluctance initially, because they had caught nothing all night, but ends up obeying Jesus and discovering what a blessing it is to obey our Lord. In today’s Gospel we see how Jesus calls the most unlikely and most unexpected of people to assist Him in the most important work in the world. Our Lord does His best work through those who have no tickets on themselves, those who are initially reluctant to serve Him because they feel not up to the task. Jesus can do wonders through such folk because they, in their humility, depend on Christ from start to finish. Jesus values those who come to Him only too aware of their failures and faults.
Jesus enters the workplace of Peter and his fellow fishermen, just when they’d been unsuccessful in their daily work. It’s there that He finally gets through to Peter and changes his life forever. When Jesus has finished preaching, he asks Peter to resume his work. Will you also do what Jesus wants you to do once today’s sermon is finished? Jesus asks Peter to do something contrary to regular practice. Now Peter often puts his foot in his mouth and speaks without thinking. He responds to Jesus’ request, saying, “Master, we have worked all night long, but caught nothing. Yet, if You say so, I will let down the nets.” Peter is no doubt tired from a night of unsuccessful fishing and is unsure about what to do. Who can blame him? Sometimes Jesus asks us to do something for Him when we feel too tired to do it. But when Jesus wants us to do something for Him He will provide us with the energy needed to obey Him.
Miracles often occur when someone takes Jesus at His Word and obeys Him. Taking on board our Lord’s agenda for our lives becomes a privilege rather than an interruption, the privilege of winning followers for Jesus among the people around us, and a privilege that creates persistence. Monica, the mother of Saint Augustine prayed for the conversion of her son for 30 years before her prayers were answered and he became Saint Augustine, the greatest biblical scholar who lived between New Testament times and the time of Martin Luther.
Peter and his fishing friends experience the greatest catch of fish ever. They’re overwhelmed, not just at the catch of fish, but more so at discovering who Jesus is. Jesus isn’t just another teacher or preacher. Rather, He is the Lord of everyone, worthy of our wholehearted, lifelong loyalty and devotion. Peter, instead of being filled with immense joy and happiness at his good fortune, is overwhelmed with his own unworthiness and sinfulness. He feels he doesn’t deserve Jesus’ bountiful goodness and generosity. He feels all he can do is to kneel at Jesus’ feet and say, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Peter feels he is in God’s presence, full of regret for his failure to do what God expects of him.
Peter now realises that Jesus, the Son of God, treats him so much better than he deserves. Jesus is delighted with Peter’s confession and instead of rejecting him, calls him into lifelong service. We too are never more pleasing to our Lord than when we confess to Him our own unworthiness and feelings of inadequacy. He then welcomes us with open arms and helps us do things for Him that we never thought possible before. With Christ as part of our daily lives, we can do so much more than we could ever do on our own.
Jesus also says to us, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching people alive”, that is, bringing them into close connection with Christ Himself, so that He can bestow on them life abundant, life that’s a joyful foretaste of eternity.
Above all, our Lord is seeking teachable people of all ages, people who never want to stop learning more about Him. That’s why He called Peter to follow Him. Peter becomes someone who is never satisfied with what he knows about Jesus so far. He wants to know all he can about Jesus, asking more questions of Jesus than does anyone else in all our four Gospels. Luther says, “God’s Word is a beautiful flower, the longer I have to enjoy it the better.” In the Book of Acts we see how Peter grew in his knowledge and understanding of God’s Word. For all Peter’s weaknesses, Jesus calls him to be His lifelong apostle because He sees Peter as He sees us, in terms of our future potential.
It’s so exciting to think that our best days of serving our Saviour may still be ahead of us. To encourage us, we’re assured that whatever we do for our Lord will never be in vain. Jesus reassures us that our service for Him will bear fruit beyond what we may see in our lifetime. Our best way forward is simply to serve Him faithfully day by day, week by week. It’s a contradiction is terms, is it not, to be a Christian and yet not serve Christ as best we can.
The story of the Fishless Fishing Folk illustrates this:
There were fishing folk who lived by a big lake full of fish.
They met regularly and spoke of their call to fish. They defined what fishing means and what were the best fish to catch.
They built beautiful places called “Fishing Centres”, where everyone was encouraged to go out into the lake and fish.
One thing they never did, though, was to go and catch any fish.
They appointed boards of enquiry to find out why this was so. The thick reports of these boards took lots of time to study and make recommendations.
Some folk felt their job was to relate to the fish in a good way so that the fish would know the difference between good and bad fishermen.
After a meeting on “The Necessity for Fishing”, one young person went fishing and caught two outstanding fish. He was honoured for his catch and, as a result, quit fishing to tell others of his experience. They were all shocked when someone asked one day: “Is a person a fisherman if he or she never goes fishing?”
Don’t let this be true of you. Today or tomorrow, pray for the conversion or return to God of one of your friends or family members who has wandered away from Him. Ask God to give them a living, active faith in Jesus. And pray, “Revive Your Church, O Lord, beginning with me.”