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.
In the book of Ecclesiastes (Ecclesiastes 3.1) we read these words: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven. These words are well-known in some form or the other. Sadly, they are too often used to suppress conversation and teaching, rather than evoking it. Too often, we hear of ‘appropriate’ times and places for certain subjects to be discussed. Too often we are left feeling that there is never an appropriate time or place to discuss matters of faith, for fear of causing embarrassment to others.
Today’s reading opens with Jesus being mobbed by a crowd that was anxious to hear the word of God. In just a few words, Luke describes a lakeside scene that seems to be getting out of control. The crowds are pressing in, and they are clamouring to hear the word of God. As we heard yesterday, Jesus was well aware of his vocation to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, but how was he to achieve it in this situation? The crowds were pressing in and there could be no way in which he could effectively fulfil his vocation in such circumstances. But, he was not prepared to give up …
Jesus was at the lakeside and he saw the boats that had recently returned from fishing. Using his imagination he got into one of the boats and had it anchored just offshore, just out of reach of the clamouring crowd. It was from that boat that Jesus then satisfied the crowds’ demand to hear the word of God.
Jesus’ time of teaching ended with yet another demonstration of his authority and power. Simon’s night of fruitless labour is rewarded with a catch that was almost too large to handle. Jesus taught from Simon’s boat; Simon, despite his tiredness, allowed Jesus to urge him back into deep waters; Simon was rewarded with a great catch. Then we see Simon rearranging the pieces and completing the jigsaw as he kneels before Jesus and says: Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.
Of course, Jesus does not go away. Instead, Jesus calls Simon to not be afraid but to set everything else aside and, from that moment on, to catch people rather than fish. Jesus calls Simon into a life of discipleship. And, rather than challenging and doubting Jesus’ words, we read that: they left everything and followed him.
This may seem strange to us, this need to hear the word of God. But, certainly in my lifetime, there have been sell-out crusades of eloquent and divinely inspired evangelists. Such people show us how we should be more imaginative and determined in our desire to fulfil the call to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God. Just as he called Simon, Jesus is calling us to join him in proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God, and to become fishers of people.
Let us pray that the catch may be beyond our wildest imaginings.