By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
February 6, 2022
Luke 5:1–11 (ESV)
1 On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished 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. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
Every so often I spend some time considering my spiritual life. I reflect on where I have been and what has happened. I consider what areas I have grown, and sometimes I consider areas of thought that I might need to study more in so that I can encourage people in a fuller way. I might be the only person that I know of that takes this approach. Other people I know choose a word to focus on: like grace, strength, or peace. Not me I try to understand theological positions in a better way or how particle physics and the church might encourage each other. There are times when I do center on a passage of scripture or reflect on an aspect of God’s character, I especially do this when I am feeling stressed.
I have to admit to you all that as much as I love the odd spiritual formation practices that I have developed over the years, there are times that I find them extremely frustrating. I am constantly challenging myself to consider things from a different perspective. I challenge myself because I want to be able to hear someone more fully. I am half deaf so to hear someone more fully is challenging in itself, but what I mean is that I want them to know that faith and reason are not separate. God wants us to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, body and spirit, so I challenge myself. I am also an extremely curious person that loves the pursuit of knowledge.
I say this because I think it is necessary to challenge ourselves. Why do we attend this Meeting out of all the other places we could worship? What drew us to this expression? And why do we stay? What challenges do we face as a community, and how can our understanding of faith direct us into the future?
Some of you may have noticed but I speak largely from the Gospel passages that are found in the lectionary. And for those of you that may not know what the lectionary is. The lectionary is a list of scripture readings that various leaders within the various expressions of faith have found compiled that speak into the cycles of the church year. The church year follows the anticipation of Jesus’s first coming during advent, the celebration of his birth during Christmas. The mystery and revelation of his incarnation during Epiphany. The trials of faith are memorialized during the season of Lent, and hope is remembered during the season of Easter. Then there is Pentecost where Christ has ascended and the spirit is given. The church was born and lives in Pentecost. All these seasons are there to remind us of Christ’s life and the aspects of nature surrounding us speak to this as well.
But there is one season that has probably the most important name, ordinary time. This is the time after Pentecost. I just mentioned that the church was born and lives in Pentecost, and many protestant churches have renamed ordinary time the season after Pentecost. I personally prefer ordinary time. I like it because it reminds us that life is ordinary. There are times of celebration yes, but there are also times where we just struggle through. It is not bad, and it is not spectacular, life can just be ordinary.
This is why I use the lectionary and why I tend to speak primarily from the gospel passages. I want us to know Christ and his life and lifestyle to such a degree that reflection that life becomes easier to do. I want us to know Christ and his life experiences so that when we face trials, we can remember the life of Jesus and draw strength from him as we reflect and pray.
What does this have to do with today’s passage? Today we meet up with Jesus in an interesting place. The last couple of weeks we were reminded that Jesus made it his custom to worship with his community in the synagogues. Jesus participated in worship, he read scriptures, he sang songs of praise, and he prayed with his community. But Jesus did not live in the synagogue. Jesus took everything that occurred in that time of worship, and he lived it in the community in word and in deed.
Jesus left his hometown and he returned to Capernaum. This town become in many ways Jesus’s headquarters of ministry. He spent a great deal of time in this city and many of his most recognizable teachings were given from this region. He goes to Capernaum and he again joins with the community there to worship on the Sabbath. There is a different response to Jesus in this town compared to how the people treated him in Nazareth. In Nazareth, the people ran him out of the city and up to the top of a cliff and prepared to throw him off, all because he had the nerve to suggest that they might possibly be wrong in their theological thinking. But in Capernaum. They watched as a demon possessed man among them was freed from his spiritual bondage. They watched as people from all over the city were relieved from their illnesses. And Simon, one of the characters we meet in the passage today invited Jesus to eat with him in his house. And his mother-in-law was laying sick in her bed. They pleaded with Jesus to heal her and Jesus had compassion and rebuked her fever and she immediately began to serve them.
That was then. This is a new day. The sabbath is over and everyone is supposed to be back at work. Simon and his companions left after the sun set and they got into their boats to begin their week’s labors. Remember in the traditions of the Hebrew people the day begins when the sun sets instead of at midnight like we render time. They did this because in scripture evening comes first. When the sun set on that Saturday evening the men went out to the boats.
I am not sure if I fully understand why they fish at night. Some scholars say that they did this because the nets can be seen during the day so the fish avoid them. But I have always thought that it had more to do with the temperature of the water. No mater what the reason is they fished at night. Maybe it was because they needed to establish the precedent of fishing at night so eventually someone could write an iconic country song about it.
They went out that evening in their boats. They would sail out to the deeper area of the sea and let down their nets, probably a trammel net. This type of net is interesting because it was complex. These men were skilled craftsmen. Sometimes we do not realize how skilled ancient people actually were, but these nets had three layers. The inner layer was made of a fine mesh and the two outer layers were of wider mesh. The fish could swim through the outer potion and would get caught in the inner net. They sail their boats out into the deep area and they would begin to lay the net over the side. They attached floats to the top of the net to keep it from sinking completely and weights to the bottom so that once the net was placed in the water it would stretch out creating this nearly invisible wall that would trap the fish. Once the net was completely laid out into the water they would begin to row. The turbulence of the boat would scare the fish and they would begin to flee into the trap the net made. And as they began to move the net was hauled in and the fish were caught alive in that inner net.
All night long these men toiled in the wet wind of the sea, and as the sun rose the made their way to the shore with nothing to show for the labors. They unpacked their gear onto the shore and began to mend and clean their nets. While they worked on their nets, they noticed a large crowd of people gathering and the man they had eaten with the day before was there teaching them. Simon was at his boat probably stowing the newly repaired net in preparation for their work the next day and Jesus comes to him. And asks if he could barrow the boat.
The reason Jesus needed the assistance of Simon is because the crowd was getting so large, that Jesus did not have any more space. He needed to be a certain distance from the people so that the natural formation of the rocks could properly amplify the sound. Simon looked Jesus and promptly pushed the boat off the shore and took Jesus out a way so that he could continue his teaching.
In one of the commentaries, I read this week, the author spoke about why Simon was so agreeable. He knew Jesus, he knew his teaching, but they look at the terminology used in verse five when Simon refers to Jesus as master, and they speculate that Peter does what Jesus asks as a way to express gratitude for the healing of his wife’s mother. He takes Jesus out a way from the shore and he sits listening to the words Jesus spoke. Luke does not tell us what Jesus said on this day, he simply says that the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God. Simon and his crew sat in the boat manning the oars to keep Jesus in one place as he taught. When he concluded his message, he turns to Simon and tells him to put out into the deep and let down your nets.
This is where things begin to get interesting. Jesus says these words to people that are experienced fishermen. These men know their trade, they have been doing this their entire adult lives. Jesus is approximately thirty years old. And it is not too far fetched to think that Simon and the others were around a similar age, if not a bit older. When a boy would turn thirteen, they would begin to work with their fathers’ learning their trade. For Jesus he went to become a carpenter or a handyman. For Simon, they went out to fish. They had been doing this for around seventeen years if they were the same age as Jesus. If anyone had been doing the same job for that amount of time, we could be confident to say they were a master of the trade. Jesus looks at these men and tells them to go back out, after they had just cleaned and repaired their nets, to let down the nets again.
Simon pipes up and says, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” Simon did not fully know what was going on. But scholars look at the usage of the word we translate as master, and they notice that it is interesting. Simon is basically saying, “Whatever you are the boss.” You know how that is. The manager comes over to you and begins to tell you how to do your job, the job you have done every day for the past few years, and the job your manager has not done. They tell you to do it differently than you normally do things and you look at them with annoyance and say whatever and just to keep your job you do what they say.
Simon looks to his crew and they begin to go out and lay out the nets. The people on the shore are watching, because this is strange. They know the rhythm of life in this community. The men go out in the evening and come back in the morning. Those that do not fish expect to come down after they come in from the deep to make their purchases while the crew cleans the nets. Its shopping time, not the time to go out for a catch. They all stand there in wonder. What are they doing? And to their shock the crew begins to frantically wave at their friends in the other boat. They realize the something is in this net, and its not going well. Their lifestyle is being threatened, their nets are stretched to their maximum. What is going on? The other men get their boat out to meet them And I do not know what exactly they do to get the net in. Maybe they have ropes that they can somehow work underneath the drawn nets to alleviate the strain. I do not know because I am not a master in that trade. But they are. They know what to do. They have done this many times. They know how to fish. They know what to do in any situation. They have been doing this for their entire lives.
But the men in the boats are still frantic. They begin to unload the net to the best of their ability. Their boats are filling and there is still more to bring in. Both boats are being loaded with the fish and they are setting low in the water. Now the nets are not the concern, but their boats are overloaded. They went from a day without any income to such an abundance that their capital investments might be lost due to the strain. And the entire town is watching.
These men carefully get back to the shore. The people are probably crying out their orders in excitement. They may have come down initially to buy fish to eat that day, and just happened to listen to Jesus teach. Maybe he was saying something like, “Do not worry about what you will eat or what you will wear. Look at the birds, they do not store up in barns and yet the Father feeds them. Are you not more valuable than a sparrow? Look at the lilies of the valley they do not spin and yet Solomon in all his glory was not clothed so richly as the grass of the field which is here today and gone tomorrow.”
Maybe the people went out that day expecting to make a purchase of fish, which was the primary protein source to the people of that area. And the fisherman had nothing to offer. They were about to go home empty handed to face their family without food to eat that day. And yet after Jesus taught, they watch as these men went out and cast their nets one last time. The people were about to go home empty handed and now they had plenty.
After the ordeal has been dealt with. The boats and the nets are no longer under threat and Simon turns to Jesus. In verse 8 we see a transition. Prior to this Luke only called him Simon but now he says Simon Peter. Peter falls at the feet of Jesus and says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, o Lord.” This is significant. Before Simon was a mouthy know it all say to Jesus sure thing boss. Now he is saying Lord. Luke only uses this word in reference to God. And Peter is transformed before Jesus. And like Isiah he is saying who am I. Depart from me for I am a man of unclean lips from a people of unclean lips. I am not worthy of being in your presence.
Jesus saw the people of the city. He got to know them and he understood them. He knew their worries and he sat with them in their struggles. He helped where he could but they lacked something still. They did not fully entrust their lives to God. They were relying on their own understanding and their own strength. Jesus met them in that place. He met Simon and the others on the boat, in their area of expertise. He met them where they were and he spoke to them in their language. And showed them the glory of God in a manner they could understand. And he spoke the word of God to the people on the shore in a manner they could understand. They understood fish. They understood hunger and the satisfaction of that hunger. And Jesus turned to them and said, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they stowed everything away and buttoned down the hatches. Or whatever the sailor talk is for parking a boat. They turned away from that lifestyle and began to follow Jesus.
Why are we here? What are we doing? We are at this place for a reason. For some reason the Spirit of God at this moment wants you to be here at this place. I do not know why you might be here. I know why I am here and the fact I’m the pastor is not the reason. I am here because in all my prayers I do not sense anywhere else I should be. I have been here for twelve years now and when I pray this is still where I am to be. Why? God knows. But why are you?
Jesus met Peter and the others with a voice they needed to hear. He spoke through their strength and showed them that God is greater. God is prompting me to examine my life once again. Where is my strength where is my weakness? And he is calling me to entrust even my strength to him. And he is pleading with you as well.
In William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible his commentary says, “We need the eye that really sees. Many people saw steam raise the lid of a kettle; only James Watt went on to think of a steam engine. Many people saw an apple fall; only Isaac Newton went on to think out the law of gravity. The earth is full of miracles for the eye that sees.” He continues, “There is the spirit that will make an effort. If Jesus it, tired as he was Peter was prepared to try again. For most people the disaster of life is that they give up just one effort too soon.” And finally, he says, “There is the spirit which will attempt what seems hopeless. The night was past and that was the time for fishing. All the circumstance were unfavorable, but peter said, ‘Let circumstances be what they may, if you say so, we will try again.’ Too often we wait because the time is not opportune. If we wait for a perfect set of circumstances, we will never begin at all. If we want a miracle, we must take Jesus at his word when he bids us attempt the impossible.”
Why are you here? It is because this is where the Spirit wants you at this moment. But we are here for a reason. We are here not just for worship but so that we can be encouraged and equip to carry on the ministry of Jesus in our world today. Will we be like the mouthy Simon saying, “You’re the boss.” Or will we be like Peter, “O Lord”. Will we love God, embrace the Spirit, and live the love of Christ with others? Will we give our strength for his kingdom cause?
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