Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 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. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 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.’ When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
Luke gives a different picture of the calling of the fishermen to that in Mark’s gospel, where Jesus calls them as he walks along the shore. Here the context is a great gathering or people, captivated by Jesus’ words and pressing hard to hear and touch him. He sees the fishermen and asks to use one of the boats as an informal pulpit, from which to carry on speaking to the crowd. The fishermen at this point seem to be just bystanders, watching on as Jesus proclaims the word of God. But as he comes to the end of his teaching he turns to the fisherman Simon and invites him to take the boat out to catch fish. They have had an unsuccessful night and expect nothing, but the amazing catch stuns Simon (now named by Luke as Simon Peter) and brings him to his knees. He knows he is in the presence of holiness, is glimpsing God’s glory, and he sees his own lack of grace and goodness in comparison. He tries to send Jesus away but Jesus persists, gently telling him not to be afraid and assuring him that he will have a part to play in Jesus’ fishing work. Everything else fades into the background and Simon and his companions begin their journey with Jesus.
This amazing story of lives transformed has an echo at the very end of John’s gospel where again Simon Peter and his fishermen friends go fishing and meet the now risen Lord Jesus. Having deserted and denied Jesus in the Temple courtyard, here Simon Peter is called back to love, to tend and to follow. We need to hear the call of Jesus more than once as we stumble along in our following; and those words of assurance, ‘Do not be afraid’.
Lord Jesus, we are drawn to your word of life, longing for that word to take root within us. We see in you the glory of God, the light of love, the beauty of truth. We glimpse what it means to be truly human and recognise how far we fall short of you. Take from us our fears and lead us on that we may be part of work today drawing others into the net of grace. Amen.
The Rev’d Terry Hinks, minister of Trinity Church, High Wycombe and Cores End Church