Luke 5:1–11: Called to be different fisher-folk
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on as part of our worship service at Main Street Community Church in the building and over the Internet.
The recording is long.
Before the talk, Bernie read Luke 5:1–11 from the Good News Bible.
Play in browser
MP3 (11.4 MB) (64kb/s constant rate)
This is a story that we know so well, especially if we grew up in Sunday school. Jesus calls his disciples to become fishers of men. I remember, probably at the age of four or five, being taught the song at home, and probably singing at Sunday school:
I will make you fishers of men,
fishers of men, fishers of men,
I will make you fishers of men,
If you follow me.
I’m not going to sing it today. The account of Jesus calling his disciples appears in various formats throughout the four gospels. Matthew’s and Mark’s accounts are pretty similar, where Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, and then James and John. Then a bit later, Levi, Philip, and Nathaniel tag along. I guess, being a tax collector, with Levi coming along a little bit later, and fishermen’s jobs as well, not exactly the best or most exciting of career moves, so when someone that you’ve learned of becomes, perhaps a local celebrity, they invite you to join in their tour, the excitement level rises within you, and you leave what you’re doing there and then.
In our reading of Luke’s version today, it seems that Jesus may have met Simon, or later to be renamed Peter, sometime earlier, was introduced to him by his brother, Andrew, if you look at John 1:40-42. Some of the backstory to Luke Chapter 5 is, surprisingly, Luke Chapter 4, where Jesus is in the synagogue, and he says that he’s coming to preach good news to the poor from Isaiah Chapter 61. “The spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me to preach good news to the poor.”
Then, before he goes to sit down, he says, “Today, these words to be fulfilled in your hearing.” Perhaps Andrew had taken the words to heart, for as John’s Gospel records, he tells his brother Simon, that Jesus is the Messiah. Indeed, Peter’s mother-in-law is unwell in Luke Chapter 4, and Jesus miraculously heals her from her fever. Who wouldn’t want to follow in the footsteps of this amazing man? It would be much more exciting than sitting around all day washing the fishing nets.
Now, there’s a point. Why would fishermen wash their nets? After all, nets are in water all the time, right? Maybe it was the thing to do after a night’s fishing, but I digress. There are a number of people taking part in the story today. Jesus is the teacher, of course. Then there’s Simon, the fisherman, and all the people who are crowding around to hear what Jesus has to say.
Later, James and John appear as well as those who follow Jesus. It could be acceptable, I think, to suggest that this isn’t the first time that the fishermen have seen or heard Jesus, but perhaps there’s a change of venue. This time, Jesus isn’t in someone’s home, he’s not in the synagogue preaching. This time, Jesus is on the beach, and then in the boat. It’s early in the Gospels, and so perhaps, he is fairly early on in his preaching career, perhaps he’s just starting out.
For the people, there’s a change as well. Those who choose to follow, Simon, James, John, catching fish becomes a thing of the past. Jesus chooses to spread the good news of the kingdom with others, not just in tow, but as apprentices, “Come, follow me.” For those of us looking on 2,000 years after, sounds like a lovely story, doesn’t it? A positive career move, Jesus beginning to gather folk around him. Everyone enjoying the warmth of the sun stood around the Sea of Galilee.
I would rather venture to say that in this little snippet today, there’s something uncomfortable for everyone. As we’ve said, for Jesus, his preaching moves from relative safety of the synagogue to a very public arena. He’s going where the masses are, not just where the faithful communities gather. His miracles recorded in Luke Chapter 4 have obviously caused a bit of a stir, and interested folk are gathering on the beach to find out more about this message that Jesus has to bring.
Who knows what teaching Jesus had that day as he stepped into Simon’s boat and pushed out a little way, but it would be a challenge of some description to live Kingdom life, to turn, and to believe. This was Jesus’ mantra. The fisherman may well have been uncomfortable on the seashore with their nets, having spent the night gathering no fish. You might imagine their frustration and their annoyance, perhaps, at having now to contend with a whole crowd of people who are milling around trying to hear Jesus on their patch.
Of course, the most famous bit at the end of this passage, the challenge for those fisher-people to leave their nets, leave the familiar, and to catch people instead. Potentially, it’s uncomfortable for everybody concerned. This bit of the story is directed at Simon Peter, but we may want to direct it at ourselves as well. How will we respond to the invitation of Jesus to follow him? Tom Wright explains that the shores of the northern parts of the Sea of Galilee are zigzagged with inlets, and with coves that lend themselves very much to become natural amphitheatres.
He explains that it would be the most natural thing for somebody to get into a boat and speak at normal volume in order to get a message across. Although Jesus doesn’t need to teach Simon how to fish, somehow he teaches Simon how to fish. Even though the people in the crowd know how to live, Jesus wants them really to have life in all its fullness. He wants them to hear, both with their ears and with their spiritual ears as well, with their hearts.
Simon begins to put together who Jesus really is, maybe he heard him speak at a synagogue beforehand, how Jesus is going to bind up the broken-hearted. Then he recalls the miraculous miracle of the healing of his mother in law, from her illness. And now he hears the teaching and sees a massive catch of fish where there were no fish before. Maybe it dawns on Simon that Jesus is worth listening to, is worth following.
Simon knows that fishing for fish is important. It pays the bills, it gives him a trade, it keeps him fit, but as he begins to follow Jesus more closely, as he gets to know Him more as he walks beside him, and learns from him, this is the same Simon Peter, who will, soon enough in the next few years, preach in Jerusalem, on the day of Pentecost. Come back next week for the sequel. For Simon, although he doesn’t yet know it, the miraculous catch of fish that occurs in his boat is an image of what Jesus calls him to do, as he is invited to become a fisher of people.
Imagine it, having missed out on the night’s fishing because there were literally no fish, and then Jesus says, “Just put your nets down one more time, and then literally hundreds of fish are hauled into your little vessel, and you need your friends who are washing their nets to come and help you get everything from the boat to the shoreline, to rush and help because your boat is sinking for the catch of fish. Simon and James and John, and probably Andrew too, already partners in this business, and Jesus seems to perhaps appreciate this partnership, so He invites them all to follow him.
Maybe Jesus joins the partnership with a different business plan. Immediately, Jesus is building his community, and that’s the theme that we’re going to be talking about over these next few weeks is community, and building a community, building back a community, perhaps. Jesus is no longer doing ministry alone. Straight away, Jesus is introducing his new business partners into a massively different lifestyle.
No more fish, but plenty of miracles. Jesus, in the next section, heals the man lowered through the roof by his friends. You might imagine the surprise and the shock, and the joy perhaps, on the faces of Jesus’ new friends as Jesus does these miracles. As they think, “Gosh, we’re in this too,” and it doesn’t stop there. Just as Jesus called them, so he meets Levi, the tax collector, and invites him to join the band of disciples too. After this, he teaches about new wine having to be put into new wineskins, otherwise, the old wineskins would burst. Perhaps suggesting how the new followers always felt about the new way that Jesus was teaching about the kingdom of God.
The joy, the excitement, the anticipation of following Jesus, the involvement of miracles, and the intimate teaching that they would receive. Even the challenge that we heard last week, perhaps the week before-- last week, the feeding of the 5,000, you give them something to eat. Luke’s Gospel is an all-inclusive gospel that invites folk from all classes and backgrounds to join in the Jesus thing. Luke is telling a story of Jesus building his community, and showing you what his community can be like for everyone.
Following the wineskin teaching, Jesus and his followers begin to get into trouble with the legal teachers, for rubbing corn and eating it on the Sabbath. Jesus points out an old Testament precedent where David and his friends were hungry and ate bread that was consecrated in the temple and only meant for the priests. Following this, there’s an episode where Jesus heals a man’s withered-up hand, again on a Sabbath, which puts him and his followers under the watchful eyes of the ultra-religious folk, as a suspicious group, for not keeping to the usual rules.
In Luke’s gospel, it is only after these activities that Jesus calls the 12. He calls them together and he designates them as apostles. Literally, those who are sent. Quite obviously resembling the 12 tribes of Israel from the Torah, the five first books of the Old Testament. Quite obviously, Jesus is preparing for his wider ministry. For the Apostles, including Simon, as we know is renamed Peter, James, and John, their learning curve is steep. Physical healings is one thing, but to break religious law by doing stuff on the Sabbath, or re-interpreting scripture, gosh, that’s adventurous, perhaps almost mischievous.
Remembering back to when Jesus first said, “From now on, you’ll fish for people,” is that what he meant? Showing the world another better, stronger, miraculous, freer way of life? Remembering back to the miracle of that huge haul of fish that almost broke the nets and sank the boat. If Jesus can do this for fish, what will it mean for people? Which is, of course, the challenge. Catching people was Simon’s calling.
We know that this is part of our calling as we follow Jesus too, as we begin to think seriously about our renewed mission to Frodsham, or wherever we live. As we pray about what it will look like when we open our church buildings afresh, perhaps more often, again, what kind of fisher-folk will we be? What kind of fisher-folk do we need to be? It seems to me that part of that is our availability.
Our availability of what Jesus asks of us, much less to do with our ability. Returning to Luke 5, the original scene was around that seashore, perhaps the centre of the community when the fish came on to land and are sold on the shore. It’s commerce and people are there buying and selling. It’s where the hustle and bustle of life happened because that’s where the morning’s catch happens.
Maybe that’s where you’d like to be, in the thick of it, buy, buy, sell, sell. Maybe your availability is to be involved in this world in one way or another, or perhaps in a different range of things. Perhaps similarly, if we’re back on the beach, maybe you’re a buyer, you’re wandering by. You’re seeing what’s on offer. In this case, it’s fish, but you know the person selling it, you trust them.
Maybe your part in the scenario is to know people and to chat with them, get to know them, able to root yourself firmly in that community as you chat with them. You get to know various people and you build up those links, and you help develop new friendships and community activities that serve as a way to following Jesus. Who knows where it could lead?
Maybe you’re actually doing some of the hard graft. Maybe you’re out on the sea, catching the fish.
You’re out late at nights or early in the morning. You’re by yourself, or perhaps with one or two others, putting down the nets and hoisting them up again. Sometimes it’s easy pickings, at other times, it’s really tough, and there’s not a bite, but you go out this day, and the next day, and the next day. Maybe one day, there’s nothing, and the next day, there’s hundreds of fish. Maybe that’s you, you know what your role in life is to be, and you do it, and you do it so well that nobody knows what you do until you don’t do it. Keep at the graft. Your availability is important.
If you’re an activist, you’re showing people who Jesus is by the work that you do, the places that you go, the people that you see and spend time with. Those fishermen on the edge of the water, washing the nets, it’s a job that somebody has to do. In doing such a task, they’re checking the net strength and ensuring that they’re in good order for the next time that the nets will be used.
Sitting by the sea, they notice folk perhaps doing their daily routine as people go by. You nod, you say, “Hello.” Over time, you maybe get to know them, become friends. You talk about life and the world around you. You both get involved in how one another tick, and what you believe. What’s important to you. You begin to care for one another as acquaintances and friends, maybe get together as a couple, but most certainly, with all these interactions, there are opportunities to share life and community, and what’s important. Appropriately sharing Jesus.
Maybe you’re not a fisherman yet. Maybe you’re on the beach because you’re interested in what Jesus has to say. Maybe you’ve not decided yet about who he is and why this message of love for one another is so important. That’s fine too, because, as Gill said earlier, we’re on some form of a journey together. The Christian faith was, in my opinion, never a list of stuff to believe. It was always about the example and the teachings of following Jesus. We’ve all got different ways of expressing that following. For some, it’s very much a life of activism and encouraging others to join in the sincere importance of life and justice for all.
For others, it’s a life given over to quiet contemplation and prayer. Listening to that still, small voice. There are all sorts of parts to play within the community that, in the New Testament, Paul calls the body of Christ, those ears, eyes, noses, hands, feet, brains, all the things we take for granted that joins that structure of the body together like skin and bone and muscle.
As we begin to emerge from this awful COVID time, hopefully, how will we follow Jesus? What if that following has a bit of a change of direction? What if you don’t feel you can be involved in this ministry or that ministry, or perform that task that you always did, or perhaps you want to be asked to step up to do a different role, but you fear that it’s going to be dumped on you for the rest of your life?
Maybe you’re really looking forward to resuming something that you’ve not been able to do for nearly a year and a half. For us, as a church with a building, yes, we want to meet again on Sundays, yes, but to be that central part of our community, again, for those around us, showing an actively loving folk in our community. As we think about reopening our weekly activities, should they look as they always did, or as Simon and James and John and the other Apostles discovered as they joined in following Jesus? Maybe there’s another way, perhaps a little bit mischievous or fun.
Loving others, but being miracles to one another, of praying and teaching and learning together as part of a wider committee. We’ve learned over these hard months, our building here is not the church. We exist apart from it, and yet, this place can be used for the glory of God. The church building is an important aspect of our faith, but we know that the church is wherever you are, because you, we, are the church. Your book group, your art class, your being at home, your role as a governor or a charity worker.
You’re going on a walk with a friend, meeting at the pub, maybe dropping off some shopping, or getting a prescription for a neighbour. This is where we build the kingdom of God without building our own empires. It’s often where we’re most vulnerable, and people that make up church need to be vulnerable. Maybe our version of church must change to better fit the community that we serve.
Church can’t only serve its internal members, for it exists, as famously been said, for those beyond its walls. Recently, I’ve been reading a book called Intelligent Church. The writer offers some practical, helpful guidance on how churches grow, perhaps better to meet the community’s local needs. The writer wrote this, which really resonated with me. They said, “Jesus’ agenda for the kingdom of God was not about personal renewal, but about societal transformation.”
I’ll read that again. “Jesus’ agenda for the kingdom of God was not about personal renewal, but about societal transformation.” As we fish for people, as we follow Jesus where we are involved in our communities already, what are the links that we can exploit and show off for the love of God? Even if we perhaps don’t even get to mention God until the time is right, can this be church? I’d rather think it can.
That’s not to say that everything we do as we move forwards will be unrecognisable from before. That’s not to say that the stuff that we were doing previous to COVID was wrong. Not at all. We need an element of familiarity. We’ll need folk to take part in those familiar jobs, welcoming at the door on a Sunday, perhaps leading worship, or preaching, or praying, or being involved in Bible study, or stepping into something new, perhaps taking a new role in seeing how this future might work out. There’s plenty to be involved in as we regroup. As Jesus said, “Come, follow me. I’ll teach you to be fishers of men.” Because all it takes is one step in his direction. All it takes is a, “Yes. Okay,” a nod. All it takes is that deep breath, and all that excitement of the miracles and the mystery of following Jesus can be ours.
References and sources
Chalke, Steve, and Watkis, Anthony, Intelligent Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006).
Wright, Tom, Luke for Everyone (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2004), page 53.
This talk is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License