This Week’s Text: Luke 5:1-11
This passage occurs right after Jesus had begun his ministry in the region- preaching, teaching, healing- and he was beginning to draw a crowd. As his ministry was growing, it was time to select some disciples. Jesus should have been looking for disciples among the best of the best religious school students. Yet here he is among fishermen.
Jesus doesn’t start with an invitation to be his disciple. Instead, Jesus starts with a small question- will you go fishing with me? These guys had been fishing all night and caught nothing. They have also already cleaned the nets. Essentially, they are packed and ready to go home and get some sleep. So, while it is a small question, it does take investment. Do you trust me? Are you willing to follow me? Even in this small matter?
However, that’s not the first contact. Jesus and a large crowd showed up, and Jesus gets into one of the boats and asks its owner, Peter, to take him a little off shore. In fact, if we take the story literally as it is given to us here, Peter isn’t even in his boat when Jesus gets in. He’s washing the nets with the rest of the fishermen.
Imagine you are Peter. You are tired and likely cranky. You just want to get the nets cleaned and go home and get some sleep. Then, this Rabbi gets into your boat. There’s now a stranger in your boat.* You throw down your net in mild annoyance, and you walk over. He asks you to take him a little way off shore so he can teach the crowd.
You sit there in the boat, and you hear him teach. This teaching clearly made an impact in Peter’s heart and mind because when Jesus dismisses the crowd and invites him to go fishing, Peter agrees. He tells Jesus very clearly that there is nothing to be caught, but if Jesus really wants to go fishing, then fishing they will go. Perhaps Peter is just making sure Jesus knows it will be his fault that they wasted time. But I don’t think that’s what Peter is doing here because Peter calls him Master. The word here that gets translated as Master is a term that recognizes authority.
To me, the amazing thing about this first part of the story is that Peter could easily have sent Jesus on his way. Jesus is a stranger. Clearly, he has a following, and other people think he’s important, but traveling teachers are a dime a dozen. If you miss this one, you can catch the next one. What would you do? We are often so comfortable with our own lives and bubbles and the things we can control that we miss the opportunities we have to engage the stranger or try the unfamiliar and thereby miss an opportunity for God to expand our vision of the Kingdom and ultimately of discipleship.
I want to take it one step further. What if God is calling you or calling us as a church not simply to be Peter and be open to new people and new things? What if God is inviting us to be the stranger? We are called to be the hands and feet- the presence of Jesus- here on earth. We may not be able to miraculously fill a net with fish, but we can get in other people’s boats. We can put ourselves in positions where we engage strangers. We can do things with people that, to them, seem totally normal- like going fishing- but end up being vehicles for them to come to know God one small step at a time.
*To be fair, Jesus wasn’t a complete and total stranger. He had healed Peter’s mother-in-law during the previous chapter in Luke, but she was one of many people miraculously healed that day. Luke notes it because it involves people we will follow in the narrative, but it didn’t imply that Peter and Jesus shared a particularly unique bond that day. Jesus was also only in that town for one day before leaving again for an undetermined period of time. In Matthew and Mark, when Jesus calls these men to become his disciples, it occurs upon their first recorded meeting. So, even if they had heard stories about Jesus or even casually run into him before the interaction that led to their becoming disciples, it wasn’t significant and leaves the actual Jesus a virtual stranger.