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Luke 5:1-11 1

1 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.

Background 2

The first four apostles were fishermen. With their own boats, they were similar to middle class business owners today. They had no specific religious credentials to qualify them to  join Jesus. They represented the age of living under Roman oppression, including high taxes and military enforcement of Roman law. There were other forms of social conflict and economic distress. The world that these fishermen lived in was a mess. Many Christians today can identify with the world that the apostles lived in. The question we all seek the answer for is “Why did Jesus choose these twelve?” For Luke, Jesus evidently chose them under prophetic inspiration. Since Jesus ascended to the right hand of God, He could still work through the apostles through the Holy Spirit (Luke 24:50-52; Acts 1: 1-11; 7:56).

Jesus directed Simon (soon to be Peter) to put down their nets in the deep water. Simon’s response begins with an old age point of view: they had fished all night and caught nothing, so why should they expect anything different? Yet they do what Jesus says to do. This specific response is what we all will model in the Christian Church, to do what Jesus says to do. In the midst of an unpromising situation, the future apostles let down their nets again. When they do so, they catch a super-abundance of fish. Their old nets cannot handle the catch and begin to break.

This first and specific event helps us establish apostolic authority and  model what the apostles and the church are to do. The soon-to-be-apostles indicate their willingness to follow Jesus by doing what He said to do.  When they listen and respond, even in the face of unpromising circumstances, Jesus comes through providing them with the catch of a lifetime. Why should Luke’s church pay attention to the apostolic tradition as interpreted by Luke? Because that tradition was confirmed in the experience of the apostles from their first encounter with Jesus.

There is a subtle aspect to this Scripture that we should not miss, its connection to the “deep water” (bathos). This theme occurs several times in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Torah, Prophets and Writings) in connection with the primordial sea, a powerful Jewish symbol of chaos (see also Psalm 68:2; Ezekiel 26:20; 32:18-24; Sirach 24:5; 51:5). Luke perceives his world as a chaotic and hostile place, stuck between traditional Judaism and the followers of Jesus, the repressive behavior of the Empire, and conflict within the church.

Luke spells out the mission of the apostles in an image well-known to them: “from now on you will be catching people.” This image of fishing recalls earlier instructions from God to prophets to bring people together (to catch them) for judgement (see Jeremiah 16:16; Amos 4:2; see Habakkuk 1:14-15). The ministry of the apostles becomes the model for the disciples and the church.  As the apostles pulled their nets from the sea teeming with fish in Luke 5:1-11, so the church in Acts fills its nets (membership) to create a new community for God.

Luke is encouraging the church to drop its nets into the chaos of life, that is, to witness  the impact of God  can have on lives, and to invite people into the movement towards God’s Kingdom. The threat of chaos is self-evident in national politics, relationships among races and ethnic communities, international relationships, and many other places. According to Luke, the church continues the apostolic tradition when it offers individuals, households, and communities the values and practices of the Peace of God as an alternative way of life.

Items for Discussion

  • Have you ever felt a call?  Please explain.
  • Where do you see the Peace of God, the Reality of God, standing out in our world?
  • What conclusion can you draw from the fact that Jesus took fishermen, not religious scholars, to create His first team of disciples?
  • What are the most important attributes of a good disciple (your opinion)?
  • Why do you think we needed disciples in the first place?
  • What are the risks to effective discipleship today?

Discussion Challenge

  • Yes, the world is in chaos and we need more disciples – But when the odds of becoming a martyr are high, how do you recruit more help? 

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations
  2. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3958
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