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.
Leaving everything to follow Jesus remains, it might seem, the preserve of a very few who manage to scale the loftiest heights of holiness. Some make their holy vows and offer themselves entirely into the hands of God to serve and live as God directs, abandoning all else. Thank God for such calling heard and accepted, and for the religious communities they sustain.
What of the rest of us? Do we simply stand upon the shore and watch it happen for Simon and his fishing partners James and John? As they head off with Jesus into lives changed for ever, do we just quietly walk away? I think not. The details here matter because they are the unique story of how Simon, James and John became disciples. But, behind their story, might we not find our own? I think we can. Perhaps it goes a little like this…
Knowing something about Jesus can be interesting, but not yet truly life-changing. Luke’s narrative is suggestive that Simon and Jesus already know each other well enough for Jesus to visit Simon’s home and for Simon to willingly lend his boat as offshore pulpit. Many become fascinated by the story of Jesus and, perhaps, admire him as a great moral leader. But Jesus, always, wants more.
Jesus wants to demonstrate, through and beyond the teaching, that he brings the very power of God into the complicated contexts of the everyday world. Jesus wants to lay open to the world the way of salvation; the way back to the heart of God. He does so, supremely, upon the cross. But he does so in countless other ways depending upon what each of us might need as he nudges us towards trust. Simon is nudged by an incredible catch; a fisherman’s world rewritten by a fishing tale. It sends Simon to his knees. Salvation has broken in and he knows that he isn’t worthy. We never are. And then it comes, that word of grace and mercy that lifts us up and enfolds us within the saving, calling, transforming love of God: “Do not be afraid…”
Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Then, in your mercy, lift me up that I might sing and serve, pray and praise, follow and forgive, challenge and care, in your name. Let Simon’s meeting with you find echo in my meeting with you as today unfolds. Amen.
The Rev’d Neil Thorogood, Minister, Thornbury URC and Trinity-Henleaze URC