“One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding round him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’
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.’
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signalled to 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.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 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.’ So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:1-11)
It’s the familiar account of a vivid scene that introduces us to the inner core of Jesus’ band of brothers: Simon with his brother Andrew and James with his brother John. They had spent a dreary night-shift fishing and caught nothing. And now, exhausted, under the morning sun on the beach, they were disconsolately washing their nets, and idly listening to this travelling preacher. And then Jesus commandeered one of the boats as a preaching platform. It’s vividly recalled, isn’t it? An unforgettable moment when something changed forever in a the lives of a bunch of men.
After the impromptu sermon, Jesus encourages the weary fishermen back out into the lake to fish once more and Peter sighs, “We’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. Nevertheless, at your word…” They cast the nets and are astonished at the immediate and abundant catch. They signal to their partners in the other boat to come and help them with the catch.
And the weird occurrence shakes them to their core. Simon Peter realises that he is in the presence of something – Someone- that he cannot explain or understand. And the encounter leaves him feeling stirred and exposed – as if this unknown preacher was looking right through him. The word that describes all the fishermen is “astonished.”
And on the spot, Jesus calls them not to fear, but to follow him, and tells them that together (with Him) they will “catch men instead of fish.”
So who are the kind of guys God uses?
That is to say: if this passage formed the list of qualifications, would you get the job?
The first thing that you notice is that they were all normal. Seriously. There was nothing strange or special about them on the outside. You should think about that. All of these men died for the choice they made that day. And there is absolutely no doubt that that they changed the world forever.
But they were normal. He chose people who were normal.
You can tell that they were normal because when something weird happened (and the fish started biting), Peter shook his head and wanted out.
Some years later, Paul wrote: “Think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” (1 Cor 1:26) These guys were not powerful or wealthy, not movers or shakers, just normal guys.
And working guys. He chose people who were working. They were busy on the 9-5 (or rather, on the 10pm till 4am, in this case). They had taken their lives in their hands and were trying to survive. It was a tough economy and there was no welfare. Those who did not work, did not eat. That’s why the young church took such care of the widows and orphans – because no one else did, and without such compassion these marginalised groups would simply starve to death.
So when Jesus took workers, it meant He chose people with a sense of purpose, moral responsibility and determination. I’m not slagging the unemployed here – just simply noting that in their culture you couldn’t be unemployed.
And to give up secure employment was a massive and scary step.
And that’s the third qualification. He chose people who responded. They agreed to let Him use their boat; they agreed to go out fishing again and then they agreed to follow Him. It’s like a three-step programme of commitment.
How did He know that they would respond? Well, not all did, of course. Matthew tells a story about a “rich young ruler” whom Jesus thought the world of (and the disciples were pretty impressed too!). Jesus told him to give up all his money and influence and “Come, follow me.” And the man “went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.” Sometimes all that stuff just gets in the way.
And last, he chose guys who were ready to work together. Did you see the subtext of the story? In the face of their effort and hard work (“We have toiled”) and discouragement (“and caught nothing”), they encounter Jesus and respond (“nevertheless, at your word…”). The harvest is plentiful…immediate… and then they “signalled to the partners in the other boat.”
That’s a key concept. God calls us into team.
I remember my father’s description of his wartime experiences as a young sergeant in the commandos. He described a connection to the other men in the unit that was unlike anything he experienced since. During basic training these men came from all over, with different religious backgrounds, different accents, different family traditions, and different political views. Often they disliked each other and even came to blows in early training. But when called into combat, all differences were left to one side. They saw fellow soldiers getting wounded and killed, and suddenly everything changed. Religion, politics, family background, and accents didn’t mean anything anymore. Those barriers were broken down to the point that they would risk their lives for one another.
What made the difference? They had a shared mission.
And once we have responded to Jesus Christ, so do we.
So, can I just say that you’ve made the grade and God has called you. You’re normal, (well, normal-ish) and you have a sense about doing something with your life. You are intrigued by the person of Jesus and long to know more.
And when Jesus says “Come follow me,” He summons us into combat, together. And nothing can ever be the same again.