Saturday, 6 February 2010

Fishers of Men

Luke 5:1-11

Jesus was standing one day by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the crowd pressing round him listening to the word of God, when he caught sight of two boats close to the bank. The fishermen had got out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats – it was Simon’s – and asked him to put out a little 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 deep water and pay out your nets for a catch.’ ‘Master,’ Simon replied, ‘we worked hard all night long and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will pay out the nets.’ And when they had done this they netted such a huge number of fish that their nets began to tear, so they signaled to their companions in the other boat to come and help them; when these came, they filled the two boats to sinking point.
When Simon Peter saw this he fell at the knees of Jesus saying, ‘Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man.’ For he and all his companions were completely overcome by the catch they had made; so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were Simon’s partners. But Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on it is men you will catch.’ Then, bringing their boats back to land, they left everything and followed him.

The fishermen had got out of them and were washing their nets

There are times in our lives when we are comfortable and confident. Those times when we have reached a certain status; achieved something we have aspired to; or earned the respect of our peers.
Our faith fits in to our routine; we pick out what we want to hear and believe what suits our way of thinking. When God tries to get involved in our lives we move to a discreet distance, after all we have better things to do. Our lives are content; maybe things go wrong; but nothing we can’t handle.

Like Simon Peter, who had his own boat, his own business and a happy enough family life that he was content to have the mother-in-law living with him. For him, the Word was something to listen to whilst he was cleaning his nets; a background hum to his daily life. The poor night’s fishing was a disappointment but nothing he wasn’t used to – part of the job, part of life.

But then, he let Jesus into his boat; into his very life – and for a man of action, rather than words this was Simon Peter’s first ever real ‘Yes’ to God.

If you say so,

It isn’t the big Angel Gabriel moment, probably that would have frightened the life out of Simon Peter – but the words are about the same – ‘your Will be done’. The background hum has grown into something more; a heartbeat that matched his own; an invitation to move on; awareness that the life Simon Peter had surrounded himself with was good – but not enough.

It seems like a small request; just put out the nets again – what harm can it do? But ask any lake fisherman what that entails. The men are already tired – getting close to twenty or so hours without sleep. They know their lake; if they haven’t found a catch they’ll doubt it’s there. And they have just cleaned the nets – hours and hours of untangling, mending, rinsing and folding to be ready for the next night. There would be no fishing tonight if they put out now – and now was not a good time. But Simon Peter, for some reason, said ‘yes’; put his trust in Jesus and saw that immediate reward. More fish than he could handle.

Strange that, at first glance, this part of the Gospel seems to be about the wealth, the prosperity that faith in Jesus can bring. Like churches that offer a promise of success through faith in the Lord as long as you are willing to make a monetary tithe.
But this isn’t about prosperity. The catch is so overwhelming that the fishermen’s lives are put at risk; their nets tear, the boats fill with water and there is a chance they might lose everything. The only thing that saves them is that they call out to the other boat; by helping them, the other boat shares in the catch. Wealth is not something to keep to yourself; sharing with others becomes a two way relationship where the person in need may change from one day to another. On the other hand, being self-centred, ‘it’s all about me’ will simply drag you under and there will be no-one there to save you.

Equally, the Grace that we receive as God’s gift is not something to hoard. The more that you are blessed with the more need there is to share, to call out to others, to be in fellowship – Simon Peter’s faith has ‘saved’ him and he had ‘saved’ himself by including his friends in his good fortune.

Do not be afraid

Simon Peter had been shown the rewards of believing in the Lord in ways he could only dream of. Realising the authority of this man that he had tolerated in his boat now he could not bear to face him; could not believe that Jesus would want anything to do with him. And Jesus says the most common phrase used in the Gospel – do not be afraid. Simon Peter must have hesitated, wondering what else this man was going to do. Then he heard the call ‘to be fishers of men’. To leave the business, the boats, the home, family and the mother-in-law; to make them all secondary to this man, this Son of God who stood before him. And, as a man of action, there was no better reply than to simply moor the boat and walk away.

The Lord makes claims on our lives every day - how do we handle it? Is it so simple to up sticks and respond to a calling, a vocation of following Christ’s footsteps?

We would certainly find ourselves leading fairly transitory lives if this calling to physically leave everything behind, was for everyone. But remember there were always others; others that stayed; families and friends, disciples who followed in their hearts if not on their feet; building fellowship in the communities they lived in. A discipleship of the everyday that can be just as risky; a discipleship that asks us to witness in the minutia of our lives; to move away from our comfort zone. A discipleship that also needs to hear the words ‘do not be afraid’.


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