“Fishing Advice from a Carpenter”
5th Sunday after the Epiphany - February 10, 2019
Luke 5:1-11 (NRSV)
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way 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 the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
Do you know that feeling when you meet someone and you’re having a conversation and they start explaining something to you that you already know about? Or, better yet, you’re at work and a customer or client comes up and tries to explain to you how to do your job. The other person here assumes that you’re ignorant about a topic that you’re actually quite familiar with, maybe even an expert in. This can feel disrespectful or annoying. It can make you feel like the person you’re talking to underestimates you or thinks you’re incompetent.
That’s how I imagine that Simon Peter felt in the middle of this story.
Jesus was passing by the lake. People gathered around him to hear him preach. As the crowds grew it became harder to see and hear him (without electronic amplification, I might add). So he steps out onto a boat -- Simon’s boat. He asks if he can use it to get some distance from the crowd and some natural sound boost off the shore. Simon agrees as he and his colleagues continue to wash and mend their nets.
Jesus preaches and the mini-revival has come to a close. People liked what he said. Even Simon Peter appreciated the sermon, not that he goes to synagogue all that often, but it’s nice to hear a good speaker from time to time.
So they are packing up their things and getting ready to go home. Simon and the other fishermen were out fishing all night. That’s when the fish are most active and it’s easiest to catch them in the nets. So it’s getting into the afternoon now and they haven’t slept because they worked all night, and they haven’t eaten because they didn’t catch any fish.
But right before they say goodbye to Jesus and plan to head on their way, the Teacher calls Simon over for a word. He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
Again, Simon (who will be re-named Peter a little later) is a professional fisherman. He does this for a living. He’s so successful at it that he is in charge of the boat. He is the boss in this crew. He is the one who gives the orders about where to go and when to go out and come in. He was a business partner with the Zebedee family, and had Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, working for him.
Jesus was a stone mason or carpenter (in Greek, tekton) by trade. Taking after his father, Joseph, he knew how to work with his hands. But Jesus had also clearly studied the Torah. He was a religious teacher now and so he spent more time in synagogue now than in the workshop. And even if he were a master craftsman, that doesn’t make him a master fisherman.
Jesus is giving fishing advice to a fisherman. Simon Peter must be thinking, “Stay in your lane, bro.” Stick to preaching and I’ll stick to catching fish. It’s true that Simon and his crew came up empty-handed today, but those are the breaks. You win some and you lose some when it comes to fishing. But it wasn’t because he didn’t know what he was doing. He went fishing at the right time and in the right place, and it just didn’t work out. You call it a day, get some rest, and then go back out tomorrow night. But you don’t go fishing during the day. That’s a waste of time and energy. That’s foolish, and Simon knows it.
So he answers Jesus, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing.” Now I imagine there was a long pause after this line and the next one. Maybe he turns around to look at the faces of his fishing partners. Remember that they have already cleaned and mended their nets. They are out of the boat, all packed up and ready to quit for the day. Going back out doesn’t just mean spending time on the water; it means spending an hour or more afterward resetting everything for the next night’s work.
But something about Jesus made Simon reconsider. Something made him pause and imagine a new possibility. Something about what he had said in his preaching, or the way he carried himself inspired Simon Peter to do something foolish. Maybe even against the protests of his men, Simon continued, “Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
This is a critical moment for Simon. His life changes completely because of this decision. They end up catching a miraculously large haul of fish, which means both lots of food for them and their families and lots of money for their businesses.
But more than that, Simon’s life changes because of what he decides next. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” He was amazed at the strange power emanating from this Rabbi Jesus. He was amazed at his ability to predict or control the movement of fish in the water. And he knew there was something more to be gained than full bellies and pockets.
Simon, James, and John returned to the shore, left everything and followed Jesus. They embarked on the adventure of a lifetime, following the Messiah for the rest of their lives and changing the whole world through it. And it all happened because Simon took fishing advice from a smooth-talking carpenter.
Wisdom comes from strange and unexpected places. When we have exhausted all of our efforts and resources trying to go it alone, Jesus is there to call us out into the deep waters. We may think we have it all figured out, that we are the experts in our personal, professional, or church lives, but God has a bigger plan.
Through Simon’s story, we learn that Jesus’s grace can take us beyond our current capacities and our wildest dreams. Jesus can take a fisherman named Simon and turn him into a bishop and evangelist named Peter. In the Letter to the Ephesians, Paul puts it this way: “[God’s] power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20 as found in BCP, 102).
So what are our possibilities? What are our deep waters? Where is Jesus calling St. Matthew’s to take a step of faith into the uncharted territories of God’s grace? Where might God’s power, working in us, bring us to more than we could ever ask for or imagine? I hope we can listen closely enough together to find out. Amen.