Within a short time, Simon Peter has three experiences of Jesus’ power.  Just before this, Jesus has healed his mother-in-law from a fever.  Now he hears Jesus teach. Finally, Jesus sends him back out, after a night without catching any fish, to try again.  The huge haul of fish finally breaks Peter’s mind open about Jesus.  The healing was received with joy, no doubt.  The teaching may have been compelling, at least the parts he heard while he continued to mend his nets and worry about the night with the empty nets.  But now Jesus has Peter’s attention.

Read the scripture here.

Find the Working Preacher commentary here.

When Jesus presence allows them to catch way more fish than they think is possible, Simon Peter reacts with shame.  He urges Jesus to get away from him, “for I am a sinful man.” Peter knows that he is experiencing more than fish – he’s getting a glimpse of the divine, breaking into the ordinary world of fishing.   It evokes the later moment, after Peter has been with Jesus for a long time, when Jesus tells Peter to get behind him, because Peter’s understanding then is so limited.  In this early moment, Peter sees clearly who stands before him.

Peter breaks out of the routine of the fishing boat to acknowledge Jesus.  While everyone else is hauling in the catch, while the boat is still in danger of sinking, Peter lets go of the nets to fall on his knees in front of Jesus.  He is overwhelmed by what he sees – and he trusts Jesus enough to know that the boat isn’t going to sink.  In that moment, Jesus takes priority over fishing.  In that moment, Peter’s life changes.  Jesus gets Peter’s attention by beating him at his own game – by being a better fisherman than even Peter is.  With this display, Jesus proves to be worthy of Peter’s time, attention and finally his life.

Fishing in Jesus’ time was a highly regulated system, where licenses were purchased and had to be paid for.  A night of catching no fish is not just a disappointment, it’s an economic stress.  When Peter, James and John leave their nets to follow Jesus, they’re stepping out of a rigid, economically demanding system into a life of more freedom — and also more risk.  Jesus is offering them a change of vocation, and also a change of identity.  Family groups often fished together, and Jesus is pulling them out of that familiar, family-based life, into a new family group.  His telling them not to be afraid is a well-timed word  – they’re leaving the trade and relatives they know for something completely unknown.

Jesus doesn’t end this exploitative system, but he offers a different vision of it to Simon, James and John – and they have the courage to accept his offer of something different.  The large catch is more than a display – it also leaves the families left behind with an economic cushion.  Jesus is taking the men away from their work, and he leaves behind a practical gift, a way for the families to pay the bills that are due.

Stepping out of everything familiar into a whole new life is an act of tremendous daring.  Often in the gospels, the disciples look like clueless bumblers, but they show great spiritual and economic courage here.  May we have the same, as we follow Jesus into new ways of living.

Sermon possibilities:

  • Peter is unmoved by whatever Jesus is talking about in the boat, but he recognizes the divine spirit in Jesus when he sees the miracle of the huge catch of fish. In this action, Jesus speaks to Peter in Peter’s own language.  If we are fishers for people in our own time, how do we speak to people in ways they understand?
  • Jesus intervenes in a rigid economic system and draws people out of it. How might our work do the same?  How do we, as congregations, step into systems that exploit people, and work toward another way of doing business?   Attentive congregations serve free trade coffee, but what steps can we take beyond that?  Catholic Relief Services and Fair Trade USA have some starting suggestions.
  • Jesus moves from the shallow water to the deep water, and our spiritual lives often follow the same pattern. Where do you notice your congregation, or yourself, moving into deeper water with Jesus?
  • How do Peter, James and John find the courage to move out of their old lives into the new life that Jesus offers? How do they manage the fury of family left behind to do all the work, and the complaint that they’re abandoning their responsibilities?  How do we find the nerve to follow God’s call in unexpected ways?

Where are your thoughts taking you this week?  We would love to hear your thoughts, and to continue the conversation in the comments section below.

Rev. Mary Austin is the pastor of Westminster Church of Detroit, a diverse Presbyterian church.  Her greatest spiritual lessons come from being the parent of a teenager.  She blogs from time to time at Stained Glass in the City.  The image above is from the Vanderbilt Library of Art in the Christian Tradition and is from Coventry Cathedral.


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4 thoughts on “Narrative Lectionary: Deep Water (Luke 5:1-11)

  1. I ended up with the unseen Holy Spirit work that’s been done so far (pre-birth to temptation) and the work, support, and encouragement the HS does in you. We’re not all called to be preachers or evangelists but we are all called to a vocation of serving our neighbors, through our jobs/careers and as parents, friends, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

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