35 The next day John was standing again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus walking along, he said, “Look! The Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard what he said, and they followed Jesus.
38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he asked, “What are you looking for?”
They said, “Rabbi (which is translated Teacher), where are you staying?”
39 He replied, “Come and see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.
40 One of the two disciples who heard what John said and followed Jesus was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Christ). 42 He led him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
Luke 5:1-11, CEB
5:1 One day Jesus was standing beside Lake Gennesaret when the crowd pressed in around him to hear God’s word. 2 Jesus saw two boats sitting by the lake. The fishermen had gone ashore and were washing their nets. 3 Jesus boarded one of the boats, the one that belonged to Simon, then asked him to row out a little distance from the shore. Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he finished speaking to the crowds, he said to Simon, “Row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.”
5 Simon replied, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.”
6 So they dropped the nets and their catch was so huge that their nets were splitting. 7 They signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They filled both boats so full that they were about to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw the catch, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!” 9 Peter and those with him were overcome with amazement because of the number of fish they caught.10 James and John, Zebedee’s sons, were Simon’s partners and they were amazed too.
Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” 11 As soon as they brought the boats to the shore, they left everything and followed Jesus.
Each of the gospels have their own perspective of the call of the first disciples. When you put John’s story first, you can see that Peter and the others may have already met Jesus on a previous occasion. Their willingness to leave everything behind to follow him makes more sense to me then. In John’s Gospel we see that John the Baptist encouraged two of his followers to meet Jesus. One of these, Andrew, is soon convinced that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah. He quickly brings his brother to meet Jesus.
We’ve just skimmed the surface of the first story, and there is already so much to gather from it. First, with regard to teaching: It occurs to me that when Jesus taught the crowds, it has the feel of a university lecture hall. You’d find me in the back row. When Jesus taught at the synagogue, that might feel more like a classroom, and I picture the chairs arranged in a circle so everyone can see and hear well. As disciples come to the rabbi (students coming to learn more from the teacher), it could either be like a short-term seminar or a long-term special club.
Adam Hamilton, looking at the geography of this story, suggests that the four fishermen have taken a week away from their work on the Sea of Galilee to hear John the Baptist who is preaching to the south along the Jordan River closer to the Dead Sea. It would be like taking a week of your vacation to go to Synod School, or when I have gone for a week to the seminars on Washington Island. It happens to be the same week that Jesus came to his cousin, John, to be baptized. The next day, John is standing with two of the students, Andrew and another. As Jesus walks by, John repeats his claim that Jesus is the Lamb of God. It’s as if he added, “There’s the one you need to listen to and learn from, not me.” So, they follow Jesus to talk with him.
The second point then, is that both John the Baptist and Andrew are all about leading others to Jesus. John has been clear that Jesus is greater, that Jesus must increase while he, John, will decrease, that John is himself just a forerunner preparing the way for Jesus’ ministry. Andrew also is willing to take a back seat. Even though he met Jesus first, he couldn’t wait to bring his older brother. Throughout the rest of the gospels, Andrew remains in the background while Simon Peter is prominently in the foreground. His brother is not the only one Andrew brings to Jesus. Later he will bring the boy who is willing to share his lunch, and later yet some Greeks who come with questions to ask the Master.
We see Jesus invite Andrew and friend, to “Come and see” what his ministry is about. They have the opportunity to spend the afternoon and evening conversing with Jesus. I once titled a sermon, “Come and See, Go and Tell.” I think that is a major theme of the gospels, still inviting us to come and see what Jesus is about, but like Andrew, it’s no good to keep it to ourselves. Once we have learned something about Jesus and his message, we are to extend that invitation by going to tell others about him. That’s what Andrew does as he goes to his brother with these words, “We have found the Messiah!”
Now Simon comes to see for himself at Andrew’s urging. I can picture Andrew as excited as a little kid, tugging on his brother’s sleeve to get him to hurry along.
When Jesus meets Simon, he identifies him by his family (Simon bar Jonah, meaning son of Jonah or some translations say of John.) and by his nickname. Cephas in Simon’s native Aramaic translates Petra or Peter in Greek, and in English, “Rock.”
We also identify with family names. I took Klemmedson from my grandparents. My grandpa was Klemment John Klemmedson, so I’m not Klemment’s son, but I am his granddaughter! Most people have nicknames. Of all the ones I have accumulated, my favorite is Gypsy. It was given to me in high school independently by both a friend and my pastor. I looked like a gypsy by my clothing choices. I later lived up to it when I spent a lot of time driving all over Wisconsin or the summers I lived in my tent. I’m a lot more mundane now, but there’s still a Gypsy spirit in here somewhere. Both family names and nicknames tell us something about who we are or how others perceive us.
Jesus placed Simon within his family heritage, but Jesus also saw his potential. We know later Jesus would say, “Upon this rock I will build my church.” In the Old Testament God is referred to as a rock often in the psalms. A rock is sturdy and steady. But when I think of Peter, I also notice that a rock can cause you to stumble, and Peter had a bit of that in him as he got easily sidetracked.
I love the subtitle to Adam Hamilton’s book, Simon Peter, because it is not only an ongoing theme for this supporting character of the New Testament, but it is an honest assessment for many of us, myself included. Peter is a “Flawed but Faithful Disciple.” So am I. He will make some excuses and a lot of mistakes, but he will also be a major building block in the early church.
Hamilton assumes those who came to hear John the Baptist and subsequently met Jesus then went home to Galilee and back to work on the water. This particular body of water is said to be one of the most beautiful in the world. Located in the Jordan Valley, it is a freshwater lake 13 miles long, 8 miles wide, 700 feet below sea level, and surrounded by dormant volcanoes. (Hamilton, p. 17) The Jordan flows through it north to south and on to the Dead Sea. It is known as the Sea of Galilee, the Sea of Tiberius, and Lake Gennesaret. These are references to surrounding territories. We would recognize some of the villages along its shores in Jesus’ day. Philip, Peter, and Andrew all grew up in Bethsaida. But the fishermen later lived in Capernaum, and Jesus’ early ministry centered there. We know the Mary who came from Magdala. South of there was Tiberias, the largest town on the lake in those days, named after Tiberias Caesar.
We know from the gospels, that after his baptism, Jesus was sent by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness on a 40 day fast facing the tests given by the Tempter. Jesus did not give in to the temptations Satan offered, but passing through them, Jesus was ready to begin his earthly ministry: preaching, teaching, healing, and doing good wherever he went. That ministry soon included inviting students to follow him. When he moved to Capernaum, Jesus came to the place where the brothers were fishing.
There were three styles of fishing in Peter’s day. Line fishing included line and hook cast usually from shore. Jesus told Peter to cast his line to find the fish with a coin in its mouth to pay their tax. That story is in Matthew 17. Casting nets were used from shore or in the shallows. These weighted circular nets could be as wide as 9 feet in diameter and were thrown outward hoping to surround a good catch of fish as they sank to the bottom, then were drawn in forming a bell shape as they were pulled through the water.
A dragnet used by professional fisherman was cast from a boat and pulled often between two boats. It was a large square with a weighted bottom forming almost a wall in the water. As it was dragged between two boats spreading out and moving forward, it caught all the fish on its way. Then as the two boats came back together it was hauled aboard one or the other, hopefully full of fish. The brothers Simon and Andrew partnered with another set of brothers, James and John, for this work. (These come from Hamilton, pp. 22-23 and Barclay, Matthew, Vol.1, pp. 77-78)
On some of the variety shows I watch I’ve seen various styles of fishing. While we are used to a rod and reel for line fishing, the simpler version is to toss a plain line with a hook by hand and slowly pull it in. I’ve seen many celebrities go after fish with just a landing net in rivers, shallows, and even scuba diving. It seems to me the casting net would take a lot more skill but might also catch a lot more fish. I’ve also watched crews go out on a professional fishing boat with huge nets tossed out, dragged, and then hauled aboard, hoping for a big catch, but I can imagine the two-boat method would be more effective.
I remember at camp, Don always said dawn and dusk were the best times for fishing on Pine Lake. On Lake Gennesaret the professionals were out all night. The day Jesus walked along that stretch of shoreline, the four fishermen had come in from a long night with empty nets. It must have been a somber mood of frustration as they cleaned and mended those nets getting them ready for the next time. They were exhausted when Jesus climbed in Simon Peter’s boat and asked to be taken out on the water. But Simon Peter obliged this itinerant preacher who then delivered his message to the crowds from the boat, letting the water amplify his voice. I tried that once. When I worked at Pine Lake, preaching on Sunday morning for the Tent & Trailer guests was part of the job. So, on a Sunday when I used this story, I preached from a rowboat in the swimming area while campers sat on the pier or shore. It was a very different experience, but it actually worked quite well.
When he finished speaking, Jesus asked Simon to take the boat out to deeper water. Now that was the real test. Remember, they worked hard all night, so they were very tired. They just sat through a sermon. Now without a meal or sleep, Jesus wanted them to go fishing again, in the daytime which was not optimal for fishing. Would Peter say yes? Or would he use these very valid excuses to say no? Simon Peter’s response shows just how much he had already come to respect Jesus while being completely honest with him, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.” (Luke 5:5) You know the rest. The haul of fish was so great, the nets were breaking, and they had to call for their friends to come and help bring in the catch. Again, there is a lot we can take away from this part of the story.
First, Hamilton writes that Jesus will sometimes ask to borrow our possessions, our talents, or our time, just as he borrowed Peter’s boat, his skill in managing that boat on water, and Peter’s time when he might rather have gone home to his wife, his meal, and his bed. So, too, Jesus asks to borrow from us, and we have a choice in how we will respond. Hamilton shares stories from his congregation to illustrate the point. One couple offered a homeless woman a ride after church, thinking they would drop her off on their way to lunch. But this woman needed a lot more than a ride. Their plans changed as they paid for her to stay in a hotel room and the next morning helped her find assistance from local agencies. Another gentleman who loved fixing cars let Jesus use his passion, skills, and resources to buy an auto repair shop not just for business, but as a place where volunteers could come after hours and offer services to those who couldn’t afford the repairs they needed. Think about the ways Jesus has asked to put your skills, your interests, your resources to work to meet the needs of others and the purposes of God’s kingdom.
Second, Peter could have said no. He had plenty of valid excuses. But he didn’t. He may have been reluctant, but he went. How many times has Jesus asked something of you, and you made excuses? The Bible is full of such stories from Moses to Jonah as well as Peter. I’ve made excuses why I didn’t want to go to college, why I couldn’t go into ministry, why I shouldn’t come back to the pulpit, but here I am anyway. Jesus has an answer for every excuse we can claim. If we weren’t capable of what Jesus asks, with Jesus’ help of course, he wouldn’t have asked us in the first place. That’s why it is significant that Peter said okay, because it’s you, Lord, let’s go fishing. His level of trust in that moment sets a worthy example for us to follow.
Third, there was a reward for Peter’s obedience. It was a huge haul of fish. It more than made up for the empty nets of the night before. There was enough for both boats. While it may not always be that immediate, I believe that when we are faithful, Christ does take care of us, and sometimes the blessings are far more than we could have imagined.
Peter was dumbfounded! He already admired or respected Jesus. His brother already suggested Jesus was the Messiah! But I think this great catch of fish filled Peter with a deep reverence and awe for the man in his boat. Peter’s response was humble; “Leave me, Lord, I’m a sinner.” (Luke 5:8) It’s as if he was saying, obviously you are too mighty a person to share my simple boat, I’m not good enough to assist you. John the Baptist had said something similar, “I’m not even worthy to untie his sandal.” (John 1:7) Isn’t that often one of our main excuses? How could I possibly be good enough to serve God? I’m not worthy to hang-out with Jesus! How could God forgive a sinner like me?
But here’s the problem with that line of thinking; it’s a kind of false humility. What we are forgetting as we think that way is that God made us. God is the one who put us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13) and has watched over us ever since. God knows exactly how we are wired; God did the work! God knows our potential far better than we do. Yes, God also knows each of us is a sinner, but God already dealt with our sin when Jesus was willing to take it to the cross. Seriously, our excuses of “not good enough” aren’t going to work with God.
It’s important to know that about our excuses, because ultimately Jesus asked for more than just borrowing Peter’s boat and time for a few hours one day. The real request came after the miraculous catch of fish. “Come and follow me, and I’ll teach you how to fish for people.” It’s a recruiting session, like a business representative sampling your work, taking you out for a great lunch and talking up the company where he or she works. Then comes the clincher, laying down a business card while picking up the tab for lunch, “Why don’t you come and work with me?” That’s what Jesus was asking. “Actually, Simon Peter, I want more than your boat rental for a day. I want you to come work with me for the rest of your life. Andrew, James, John, I want all of you to come. You can leave this behind. Come with me! I’ve got something even greater in mind for all of you.”
Honestly, I’m always surprised they didn’t hesitate. They didn’t offer more excuses. Peter didn’t say, “But I’ve got a wife at home.” James and John didn’t hold back with, “But dad expects us to carry on the family business.” They just left the nets and the boats and followed him. I wish I could say I was like that, but my call story has involved all kinds of hesitation, excuses, detours, and holding back. Yet, much to my amazement, God continues to use me in ways I could never have imagined. God can do that with you, too.
We don’t all have the same call. God needs teachers and carpenters and salesmen and secretaries and medical staff and musicians and lawyers and mechanics and good neighbors and grandparents and volunteers and engineers and every other skill you can think of or claim. God still needs fishermen, too! God has used your gifts to make a difference in many lives in the past and will continue to do so in the future whenever you are willing to say yes, to answer that call. This call isn’t just for a few hours one afternoon; it has been and continues to be a lifetime, though what you do in service to God will change from season to season, from one stage of life to the next. Some things we once did are no longer physically possible. Some of what we can offer now we didn’t have the wisdom or experience to do back then. But God in great wisdom can make use of it all.
Answering that call when Jesus asks you to follow is just the beginning; it’s a training ground for the future. But as we will see with Simon Peter, when we are willing there is much to learn, even from our flaws and mistakes. As we grow in Christ, we will become more and more useful, until one day we look back and see that we have spent much of our lifetime joyfully walking with Jesus and serving our God.