One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
One of the modern conveniences that we often take for granted is sound amplification technology. You can hear the words that I say because I have a microphone. This is especially important in a large sanctuary or when speaking outside. So how did people communicate with large crowds before microphones, speakers, and sound amplification? One solution was to use the way that sound bounces off things to naturally amplify the volume. You have probably seen natural amphitheaters that are dug into one side of a hill with a stage near the bottom, surrounded by seating.
A couple of times in the New Testament we find Jesus preaching to large crowds using his surroundings to help amplify his voice. In today’s passage, Jesus is beside a lake, and to make his voice amplify, he actually tries to get further away from his audience, because sound bounces off people and comes back at the speaker.
We are told that Jesus comes to the lake, finds a boat owned by some guy named Simon, who we also know as Peter, and asks Simon to push him out on the lake so that he can speak to the crowd that has been following him.
This passage of scripture tells us of Jesus’ calling of his first disciples. And sometimes preachers like to say things like, The disciples were so full of faith that they dropped everything to follow this man whom they had never met before! But if we look at the text in the earlier chapters of Luke’s gospel, we find that Jesus did have a relationship with at least Simon, as Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law in chapter four. He heals a number of people, and performs some exorcisms, all leading up to his calling of the first disciples. We also know that Simon and Andrew were brothers, and though Andrew was not a part of today’s story, we can assume that Simon had told him about the healings that he had witnessed at the hand of Jesus.
So Jesus’ reputation has already begun growing when we get to today’s passage, and this is why he is being followed around by a crowd big enough to require that he get into a boat and utilize the natural acoustics of the area. And this is why Simon lets him get into his boat and push off into the lake. You wouldn’t just let some stranger get into your boat for a joy ride!
It is what happens after Jesus’ public presentation that we all remember. When he comes back to shore, Jesus says to Simon in verse 4, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
Growing up, I heard this story many times, and of course it has been embedded in my memory in the form of a children’s song. They fished all night, but caught no fishes. Obviously, teaching proper grammar is not all that important in the formative years of our children’s lives. The point that this story and the song seems to convey is that Simon and he fellow fishermen are tired. They are just getting off the night shift, and here Jesus is telling them to go back out and fish some more?!
I’m sure that the fishermen were tired, but there is more to this story that we miss when we read it in our modern translations.
I know very little about fishing, but I do at least know that the gear that a fisherman uses is important. The last time I went fishing, I used a Mini Mouse fishing pole, and we as a family caught a total of one fish. But you use a different fishing pole to fish in a lake than you would if you were fly-fishing in a river. And if you went deep-sea fishing, you would need a different kind of fishing pole as well. The types of fishing nets used in commercial fishing is even greater in number. The omniscient Wikipedia told me that there are at least 24 distinct styles of nets. There are casting nets, dragnets, nets you use while on a boat, nets you use while on land. Who knew?!
There are also nets that you use at certain times of the day or night, because fishing practices tend to be different depending on the time of day. So a fisherman might have nets for daytime fishing as well as having other nets for nighttime fishing. And when Jesus tells Simon to push out into the deeper water and drop his nets, the word Jesus uses for net is specifically a nighttime fishing net. And this makes sense because they had been fishing all night, so they would have their nighttime fishing nets right there, while their daytime nets were probably back home.
Simon repeats this back to Jesus, saying that they had fished all night, but because Jesus told them to, he would go back out and lower their nighttime nets.
So why is this important? It shows the level of trust, a level of obedience, and the growing level of faith that Simon Peter and the other soon-to-be disciples had in Jesus. I spent a little bit of time saying how Simon had some previous experience with Jesus, and now his trust is being put on display.
Think about this from Simon’s perspective. Sure, Jesus is a good public speaker, attracting a large crowd. And yes, he is obviously able to heal people. But what does he know about fishing? Rumor has it that he grew up learning carpentry, not fishing. And now Simon was about to go out into the water and fish the wrong way with the wrong nets at the wrong time of day. And not only would this be a potential waste of energy for this man, that entire crowd that had come to hear Jesus teach was still there, as were other fishermen. This could be embarrassing! It would be like using your driver on the green while on national television. It would be like showing up to the Daytona 500 in a Ford Fiesta. It would be like wearing flip-flops and cargo shorts on the red carpet at the Oscars. It would be like coming to play at the Super Bowl in a basketball uniform. It would be embarrassing on a large scale because everyone would see you and think that you didn’t know what you were doing.
Sometimes, having faith in Jesus means looking a little bit foolish. I sometimes need to remind myself that I believe that God came to this earth, lived as a human being for 33 years, did a number of miracles, taught a lot of important lessons, was killed by the very human beings he had created, and then rose from the dead on the third day. So Simon Peter, if you are afraid of feeling a bit foolish when a bunch of people see you out fishing with the wrong net, just wait until you start telling them that you follow a crucified man who came back from the dead! I’m just saying, you’re going to look a little foolish!
The apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:18 that the message of the cross is foolish to those who aren’t a part of the movement. It doesn’t make sense. And he elaborates in verse 23, “But we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness.”
Paul specifically says “Christ,” not Jesus. Jesus was a common name in the 1st century, and it is roughly the equivalent of our English name Joshua. Some guy named Josh getting put to death is a bad thing, but it is not foolish or a stumbling block. What is foolish and a stumbling block is that Christ was killed. Christ isn’t Jesus’ last name. This is the Meshiac, the Christos, the anointed one of God. And Simon Peter is going to tell people that he follows a God’s anointed leader who was killed and is in some way still alive, and will reign forever and ever.
Utter foolishness. Poppycock. And we haven’t even got into his message yet!
This crucified Messiah loved the unlovable, touched the untouchable, broke bead with society’s outcasts, and washed the feet of his followers like some servant. And then he tells them to do likewise. He says that the first shall be last, and the last will be first, in some kind of great reversal of roles. He tells a rich guy to sell all that he has and give the money to the poor. He tells his followers to forgive others, not seven times, but 70 times 7. He says to love not only your friends and family, but your enemy as well.
Simon Peter was likely worried about looking foolish when he used the wrong net at the wrong time of day, but he had no idea what was to come. He would look like a fool for proclaiming the lordship of a crucified messiah, and he would look like a fool for actually following his teachings.
But Jesus isn’t trying to make people look foolish just for the sake of making them look foolish. Jesus is looking for obedience and faithfulness. Sometimes obedience and faithfulness will look foolish to those on the outside of the movement of people following the crucified messiah. But ultimately, the point of all of this foolishness is not to look foolish at all. The goal is to show the rest of the world how foolish they truly are when they fail to follow Jesus.
I’m sure many of you remember the 1980’s, with its neon colors, leg warmers, and big hair. I occasionally like to channel my inner 1980’s high school girl, whom I have named Trisha. Trisha likes to say such things as, “Like, oh my gosh,” and “Like, totally.” It seems like, like, every sentence, begins with like. And when Trisha gets embarrassed, she says, “I like, almost died, I was so embarrassed.”
I’ve never heard of anyone literally dying from embarrassment, but maybe we are called to die a little bit when we are foolish for Jesus.
I think of another children’s song when I read the second half of verse 10, “Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’” The song uses the less gender inclusive “fishers of men,” but of course this includes men and women, and the song also included motions.
As I thought about this passage this week, I came to realize something about fishing. Most of the fishing that takes place on the planet earth is not done to capture goldfish and betas that you keep in an aquarium in your living room, or those large koi that you see in some restaurants and home fishponds. Most fish that are caught end up in the frozen food section at your local grocery store.
I don’t want to overstretch this metaphor, but when you fish, especially a commercial fisherman like Peter, that fish doesn’t come out of the water and live for long. The fish is removed from an environment where it may have been thriving and excelling. And when it is removed from that environment, the fish must die.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in his book The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Bonhoeffer actually did die at the hands of the Nazis as a resister of the Hitler regime. But when he wrote these words, he didn’t have his own physical death in mind. He is talking about a death where you enter a new environment, a new world, and a new self, leaving much of the old behind.
This is what Jesus is telling this foolish fisherman Simon Peter that he will be doing. He will be fishing for more followers of Jesus. And when they see Peter, hear his message, and look at their own lives, they will see their own foolishness and die to the ways that they have been living. Being a fisher of men or women means that you expose the foolishness of this world so that others might die to the ways of this world
There is an old story about a man who lived in a small town where he was known as the village idiot. It seemed that he was always making the wrong decisions, bad choices, and just making mistake after mistake.
One joke the people liked to play on the man was to offer him two coins, a penny and a quarter, and tell him that he could choose one and keep it. This joke went on for years and it seemed as if every person in the town had made the offer of the penny or the quarter to the man, and without fail, he would choose the penny. Some had played the trick on the man multiple times, and still, he chose the penny, much to the liking of the people.
One day, a visitor came through the town and he witnessed this little game take place three times as he sat at an outdoor diner. When the visitor had finished his meal, he went to the village idiot and asked him about this game. “Why do you keep choosing the penny? Don’t you know that the quarter is worth more?”
“Of course I know the quarter is worth more,” said the village idiot. “But if I chose the quarter, they’d stop giving me pennies.”
Who is foolish? The man who keeps choosing the penny over the quarter or the hundreds of people who keep giving him pennies?
Our society tells us that we need to strive for money, power, and greatness. You would be a fool to pass up a promotion at work, even if it meant spending less time with your family. Our society tells us that marriage vows are not to be held tightly. If an attractive person finds you attractive, you go sleep with them until someone more attractive comes along. Or when times get tough, you just move on to the next person.
We have seen a number of young football players retiring after just a few seasons of playing professional football. Our society says, “You fool. You were making millions of dollars every year to play a game. And you walked away at your prime!” How foolish to worry about your body and your brain. You had money and fame.
This world tends to operate on a different set of assumptions and rules. And sometimes it is our job as the church to stand up and show them the foolishness of it all. We must die to the ways of the world so that we can truly live.
We follow a crucified messiah. How foolish is that? Our crucified messiah taught us to love others, putting their well-being before our own. Foolish, foolish, foolish. But like the village idiot who kept choosing the penny over the quarter, we might look foolish, but in reality, we just know something more, something greater. We know that the crucified messiah is Lord over all.