Gospel: Luke 5:1-11

Goin' Fishin

Have you ever gone fishing? What fish stories do you have?

I hate to admit it. I've never caught a fish in my life. I've fished in the clear, fresh water lakes of Minnesota, the running streams of Colorado, and the warm waters off the coast of Southern California. I've tried. But, no luck. Been "shunked."

I can empathize with Simon in Luke's gospel. He worked all night without a single fish to call his own. Then, he met Jesus. And the fish came in abundance. So did a call.

Popular Translation

1 The people crowded around Jesus to hear him preach God's word. He stood along the shore of Lake Gennesaret 2 and saw two boats docked there. The fishermen had left the boats and were cleaning their nets. 3 Jesus got into Simon's boat and asked him, "Put your boat out just a little." Then, Jesus sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 When he finished teaching, Jesus told Simon, "Sail out to deeper water and go fishing."

5 "Teacher, we've worked all night long and haven't caught a thing," Simon replied. "But, when you give the order, we'll lower our nets." 6 They lowered their nets into the water and pulled them back up with so many fish, the nets were tearing apart! 7 "Come and help us!" they called to their friends in the other boat. After other boat sailed close by, the fishermen filled both boats up with so many fish, the boats almost sank! 8 When Simon Peter saw what happened, he got down on his knees in front of Jesus. "Leave me, Lord," Simon pleaded, "because I'm a sinner!" 9 Simon and all his friends were amazed at the large number of fish they caught. 10 James and John, fishermen who worked with Simon, were also amazed.

"Don't be afraid," Jesus said to Simon. "From now on, you'll catch people for me." 11 They brought their boats back up onto the shore. Then, they left everything they had and followed Jesus.

On one level, Luke presented Simon's call in a straightforward manner. After Jesus ordered the fisherman to lower his nets, the catch overwhelmed Simon. So did the call. On a deeper level, however, the narrative revealed the influence of the Galilean ministry on the writing of the gospels (and the Christian tradition).

Literal Translation

1 As the crowd pressed around HIM to hear the word of God, HE was standing by Lake Gennesaret, 2 and HE saw two boats on the lake (shore). But the fisherman, having left (the boats) were washing the nets. 3 Having entered one of the boats, which was Simon's, HE asked him to put out a little from the land. Having sat down, he taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he finished speaking (to the people), HE said to Simon, "Put out to the deep (water) and lower your nets for a catch." 5 Having answered, Simon said, "Master, having worked throughout the night, we took (in) nothing. But, on your order, I will lower the nets." 6 Having done this, they closed together a great quantity of fish, but their nets were tearing apart. 7 They signaled to their co-workers in the other boats to come and help them. They came and filled both boats so that they (were about) to sink. 8 Having seen (what happened), Simon Peter fell at the knees of JESUS, saying, "Go away from me, LORD, because I am a sinner!" 9 For astonishment engulfed him and all the men with him at the catch which they together took in, 10 but likewise James and John who were Simon's co-workers. JESUS said to Simon, "Do not fear! From now on, you will capture men alive." 11 Having brought their boats upon land, having left everything, they followed HIM.

5:1 "As the crowd pressed around HIM to hear the word of God" is literally "It happened in the crowd's pressing about him and hearing the word of God." The phrase"It happened" introduced the action of the crowd as a subordinate clause to the main focus: the action of Jesus. The verb "to hear" depends upon the verb "to press on." The crowd came to hear Jesus by the shore of Lake Gennesaret (also known as the "Sea of Galilee"), a fresh water lake that feeds the Jordan river.

5:2 "But the fisherman, having left (the boats) were washing the nets" The fishermen docked the boats, then washed their nets away from the boats. They were cleaning up after an early morning's work and getting ready to go home.

5:8 "Simon Peter" Luke anticipated the name Jesus would give Simon later.

"Lord" The word "Lord" ("Kyrios" in Greek) is the standard title given to God (and, in Christianity, to Jesus). This title was different from the one Simon gave Jesus in 5:5. At the point of the great catch, Simon understood the source of Jesus' power: God the Father.

"I am a sinner!" Simon did not reflect on his own sinfulness, but upon his lower class status. Only the holy could perform such miracles. Fishermen were a gruff lot, unworthy of such a godly man as Jesus.

5:10b "you will capture men alive" Using a fishing analogy, Jesus invited Simon to follow him. Evangelization is at the core of the discipleship.

The narrative line was simple. In Luke, Jesus moved to the coast of Lake Gennesaret (Sea of Galilee) in Capernaum. Here he called his first disciples (who become his closest friends). The context of the story indicated that Jesus arrived early in the morning, a time of day when the fishermen were cleaning up after a night's fishing. [1-2] Jesus entered the boat of Simon and began to preach to the crowd. [3] If Simon (the assumed leader) allowed Jesus, the rabbi, to teach from his boat (an honor that would have raised the reputation of Simon to a higher level), he certainly would not have objected to Jesus' next request. So, the teaching of Jesus set up the willingness of Simon and his partners in the following verses.

Luke enfolded a fish story that turns common sense upside down. To maximize a catch, fishing was done at night when water was cool and the activity of the fish was minimal. During the day, the fish would see the activity of the boats on the surface and, with the water warming, would easily swim away. Notice Peter's surprise to Jesus' command, and greater surprise to the size of the catch, enough to fill two boats! In the sight of the miracle, Peter declares his sinful status before the man who has the power of God. [4-10]

With the revelation of God's power, Jesus called Peter and friends to fish for people. Together, they left their boats and their livelihoods to join with the rabbi. [10-11]

On a deeper level, the impact of the fishermen, Simon, Andrew, James, and John, upon the Christian tradition cannot be underestimated. For example, the method of transportation. Without a knowledge of sailing, how was Jesus, a traveling preacher, going to visit towns and hamlets along the lake shore line? (Remember the towns of Bethsaida, Capernaum, Chorazin, Gadara, Gennesaret, Magdala, and Tiberias?) Enter Simon and his friends.

The commodity Simon and the others used for income had influence. As a food, fish itself was common in the region, after the discovery of drying techniques. Fish figured in the stories of the multiplication of the loaves (Matthew 14.13-21; Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9.10-17; John 6.1-14) and John's post-resurrection narrative that paralleled this narrative (John 21:1-19). Jesus used fish in his parable on prayer (Luke 11:11) and in the story of paying the Temple Tax (Matthew 17:24-26). And, let's not forget the famous IXTHUS or Christian "fish" symbol of the early Church.

Finally, the fishing boat Simon and his friends used for travel became a symbol for the Church. When Jesus walked on the water of the lake (Matthew 14.22-33; Mark 6:45-49; John 6.15-21), the boat in the storm tossed the doubting disciples about. This image symbolized the Church in a state of anxiety when it faced persecution.

In his early ministry, Jesus formed a traveling ministry that was supported the hospitality of believers in a rural lake region. After his resurrection and ascension, followers formed communities in urban settings. While there was a real (and radical) shift in setting, the traditions of Jesus' early lake ministry found its way into the oral and written gospels of city churches.

Catechism Theme: The Holiness of God (CCC 206-209)

Confronted with the size of catch, Simon realized the power and presence of God before him. As he begged Jesus to leave, he was shaken to his core. Before the sign, Simon had his life laid before him: another nameless, faceless fisherman who would live and die by the Sea of Galilee. After the sign, however, he faced with a reality that demanded a response. And a change.

An encounter with God is an experience that transcends our perceptions. Moses encountered God in the burning bush. When asked for a name, God responded with an enigma that transcended understanding: "I Am who I Am." The name itself described the unknowable and totally Other. Yet, the name also revealed God's eternal presence. He who was beyond all understanding would be close, present to whom he revealed himself. The encounter and the name revealed told Moses that God always was and always would be present. God was eternally transcendent, yet eternally immanent. An encounter with such a reality demanded a response. It could not be ignored.

An encounter with God also transcends our expectations. God is radically free. And he calls us to his will. We do not call him to ours. Simon could not anticipate nor expect a call from God. Yet, he received a call to reach beyond himself and follow the Lord. We, too, receive the same call. Reach beyond and follow Jesus.

How has God "caught you in his net?" How has that experience changed your life?

I've never caught a fish. But that doesn't mean I haven't been caught. In fact, I was caught a long time ago. Chances are most of you who have read this have been caught, too. God, through people, went fishing. God caught more than my average. A lot more. Let's pray we can be part of that fishing expedition.

How can you be part of God's fishing expedition this week? Remember who the Captain of the boat really is.