Jesus Calls the First Disciples
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 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. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 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.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
Called to Deep Water (or the Woods)
Jesus calls Simon Peter and tells him that he will be “catching people” instead of fish. Peter reacts to Jesus’ invitation and walks away from his boat and nets to follow Jesus. How does Jesus call us today?
Peter and his fellow fishers are washing their nets after a failed night’s fishing. Not a single fish to show for their efforts! As a person of limited patience, I would be not a little upset. Fishers, however, are a hopeful lot and don’t easily give up. Peter isn’t giving up or he wouldn’t bother to wash nets. Washing fishing nets couldn’t be much fun, even after a good catch. Day in and day out, a fisher readies the gear as there is always hope of the next catch. It’s the nature of fishing. Jesus finds Peter, James, and John in the middle of normal, everyday living.
Washing nets, perhaps half-listening to Jesus teaching to the crowds, Simon and his partners must have been ready for some sleep. Then Jesus steps into Peter’s boat and asks “Simon” to push offshore. Jesus takes some liberty stepping uninvited into a guy’s boat who has been out all night fishing with nothing to show for his efforts. Peter does as Jesus asks. There is something about this Jesus.
Jesus finishes teaching and asks Peter to put out into deep water to and fish. Go fishing in the daylight?! Peter might have rolled his eyes at the thought of an itinerant rabbi telling him, a professional fisherman, to put out to fish after he had caught nothing the night before. Well, had I been in Peter’s place I would have rolled my eyes. Again, Peter complies with the Lord’s request. The result was amazing, supernatural even—so many fish that two boats are in danger of swamping from the weight. An extraordinary abundance of fish is netted. Peter was right: if you fish, it is good to keep one’s nets washed and ready for action.
Simon’s reaction to Jesus’ request to fish the deep water might be muted, but his reaction to the abundance of the catch is anything but muted. Simon is fearful and repentant in the face of the Divine. He is unwilling to catch Jesus’ eye rather falls down before Jesus to offer his confession. How can he stand before a man capable of such a miracle? Indeed, who could stand and not be moved before such a display of the Divine? Jesus must have let a few seconds pass without words as he hears Peter’s plea. Peter considers who and what he is in the face of the miracle. Peter is not long taking stock of his spiritual condition. Do we often take stock of ourselves; honestly assessing our spiritual condition? How do you and I react when confronted with the Divine?
In another life, I worked in the mid-Atlantic area as an industrial forester. One day, I received a call from an engineer employed by a nationally known company. The company is headquartered in the City of Virginia Beach, VA. The engineer asked if I would look at fourteen acres of woodland behind the headquarters building. The company wanted the trees on the tract removed. Foresters get these sort of requests all the time and we set an appointment time to look at the tract. You might say that “looking” at timber is the forestry equivalent of washing fishing nets. The next day the engineer gave me a key to unlock the gate, but then declined to walk the property with me. It seemed a bit irregular for him not to accompany me. The gate opened with a turn of the key and I was soon “in the woods.” The forest type was typical of lowland eastern VA—unremarkable low-grade hardwoods and spindly pines supporting thick underbrush and abundant briars. The well-saturated, low-lying ground was typical as well—a right proper swamp! Water resistant boots are always requisite in the VA Tidewater.
Carefully picking my way through the underbrush, I began to tally the timber. Gradually, I began to recognize that something was amiss. The underbrush seemed to be concealing shadowy shapes among the trees. I stopped and listened. Not a sound! What were the shapes? Abruptly, I stepped into a small, well-tracked clearing. There, among the trees, were the puzzling “shapes”. They were makeshift dwellings in the middle of this swampy patch. Here, hidden by the underbrush, folks were living. I was stunned by the sheets of tin, haphazardly cut pieces of plywood, stretched plastic, and parts of automobile bodies cobbled together as shelters. I heard someone move, turned around, and a man walked out from under his shelter. Part of his roof was an enormous ancient Cadillac hood.
The man walked up to me and offered his hand. We shook hands and making eye contact, he said, “I know why you are here. You want to cut the trees and tear down our homes.” A second passed and he pleaded, “Please let us stay, this is all we have. We got no place else to go.” As I stared into his eyes, I remember shivering. I knew I was staring directly into the eyes of Jesus. Like Peter, I encountered the Divine in the midst of ordinary life. Jesus had just stepped into my life and sent me to “deep water”. Like Peter, I felt low and humbled. I was spiritually driven to my knees before the gaze of the man living under the Cadillac hood. Only later did I realize this encounter was a large part of my call to pastoral ministry. Where or before whom have you felt humbled before the “eyes of Jesus”?
Since that day, I continue to reckon what Jesus means when he calls and bids his disciples to catch people. I think by “catching” Jesus meant sharing and including all in the Good News. Let me be clear, I’m not talking about “catching” the folks living in the woods although they certainly needed some good news. I am more referring to the engineer and the management of a company willing to acquiesce to the City’s request to clear a forest tract so that the man living under a Cadillac hood and others would be forced to move on. The engineer told me that the City didn’t want the “homeless city” that close to prosperous residential and business areas. I told the engineer that I would bid the job. I did bid the job and, in the jargon of my former occupation, “fixed it with a pencil”. In other words I bid a price too high for consideration. A bid too high was my method of evangelism that day; it was my way of leaving “everything” and following Jesus that day.
Simon Peter was profoundly changed the day he was confronted by the Divine and he reacted with humility and by attempting to distance himself from Jesus because of his perceived sinfulness. He was afraid, but his fear was replaced with trust in Jesus. In Peter’s humility, repentance, and trust, Jesus found a willing and receptive heart. Jesus stepped into Peter’s boat and then called him to follow and trust Him with “everything”. Jesus also steps into our lives and bids us to follow and trust Him. Peter “left everything” and that’s not just a boat and some nets. Because Peter trusted Jesus, Peter takes decisive action and will form new associations with Jesus and the people he would encounter as Jesus’ disciple. Peter’s old habits, behaviors, and loyalties would be exchanged for new ones. We might not have to literally leave “everything” to answer God’s call, but we start as Simon Peter did with a humble heart, willingness to change, and the good sense to take action on God’s call. In short, to completely place our trust in Jesus and prepare for a new life based in that trust.
The eyes and the voice of the man living under the Cadillac hood changed my life then and continues to impact me today. Encountering the Divine can dramatically transform anyone’s life. We all are called to serve the Christ. I would say to expect Divine moments—they give us hope even when we think we have nothing but empty “nets”. Keep “washing nets” and putting “out into the deep water” of ministry and life. There you may find an abundance of hope, so much so that you call someone to help you bring in the “catch”. We are never alone. We go on in love and, thankfully, there is no end to disciple-making (ourselves included). May your “nets” be full. If the Savior can call a person to follow Him from the middle of soggy woods in Virginia Beach, then who can say where the Savior will be calling from next? Do not be afraid.
Shady Spring, WV
When Jesus climbs into our boat
Simon was going about his daily routine. He wasn’t having a particularly good day, but I’m sure the fact that his routine had not changed made his lack of success less difficult to handle.
We like routine – any type of change brings stress – the bigger the change the higher the stress level.
“The body's response to stress is its natural, automatic response to a perceived danger or to an upsetting situation. It activates a chain reaction of events in the body known as the body's physiological responses to stress as it rises to the occasion to meet the stressful situation.
The fight or flight response refers to the physiological response to stress. It is the body's automatic response that occurs when we perceive a situation as dangerous or stressful. This sets off a chain of chemical and hormonal reactions so your body can be ready to fight or flee to keep you from harm.”
Kirsten Schuder, Mental Health Professional
When Jesus walked over and asked Simon to row out a little distance from the shore, I imagine his stress level rising slightly.
When Jesus asked him to row out into the deep and cast his nets, can’t you imagine his stress level rising a little more when he said, “I’ve been out there all night.” But, then the boat was filled to overflowing with fish, I imagine the stress rose a little more, “Who is this man and why is he in my boat?”
When he recognized the fact that Jesus’ climbing into his boat meant his life would be totally different from that day forward – I can imagine his stress level topping the charts.
The flight or fight response would most likely have occurred at that time. Do I trust this man? Do I stay and fight through my concerns and allow this man to stay in my boat? Do I run, paddle to the shore as fast as I can, and get him out of my boat, so that I can remain within the safety of my routine life?
What would our response be?
When Jesus gets into our boat we will be challenged to change? Are we going to fight through our discomfort and explore the challenges Jesus presents? Or are we going to run, seeking the comfort of the familiar?
Simon made his decision – he fell to his knees and called Jesus Master. His life was never the same but was a life blessed to be able to walk in the presence of the Almighty Son of God for not just days but years.
Simon’s routine – familiar brought him empty nets.
Simon’s new life – brought a life so full his boat couldn’t contain it.
We can become fatigued by the familiar, can’t we?
Worse than the mundane or the monotonous is the fatigue that is felt when failure becomes all too… familiar. When it does, it’s hard to hold out hope that tomorrow could be different if yesterday says otherwise.
It’s why we see Jacob petrified at the prospect of revisiting his past with Esau.
Look at Moses begging God not to bring him back to Egypt.
Behold! Just a few chapters ago, barren Elizabeth is having a baby and rather than going into celebration, she goes into seclusion and we wonder why.
They’d gone that route before. They were all…too…familiar. Ever been there?
Simon is sapped, as are his fishing buddies. They’ve struggled with nothing to show for it. His stint at sea was anything but successful: It was a flat out failure. Good sense would suggest he pack it up and call it quits. And yet, this Jesus beckons him to go back…to re-visit..to re-try, to re-hash, to re-peat, which seemed ri-diculous. I don’t know what’s more audacious: The Lord telling or Simon trusting. But the Lord invites and Simon ventures back into an all too familiar place (of failure)—a place where the Lord does the all too familiar.
Did you catch that? Make no mistake: Red Sea or Galilee, Old Testament or New the Lord still beckons. The believing is up to us.
Rev. Jacob Steele
Christ United Methodist Church