“On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’ And Simon answered, ‘Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.’ ” (Luke 5:1-5)
By now, Simon had partial knowledge of who Jesus was. Jesus was the teacher who recently healed his mother-in-law and who loved to preach the Word of God with authority. If the Master needed his boat for relief from the pressing crowd, so He could preach good news to them, Simon would respectfully comply with Jesus’ request and even lend Him his piloting services. On the other hand, fishing was Simon’s wheelhouse. He and his partners, James, John, and likely his brother, Andrew, had just come back from a night of fishing and had caught nothing. However, despite his skepticism, if Jesus wanted to put out into the deep for a cast, Simon would comply with Jesus’ word.
“And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.” (Luke 5:6-7)
Jesus used this opportunity to bless Simon and is partners with a miraculous catch. However, instead of simply calling down fish from heaven, Jesus blessed their work. This is how God usually works: hidden but within creation. (God is not distant or uninvolved with His creation.) God works for us constantly through human beings working in their various vocations and by physical means. Jesus Himself is the perfect example of God’s power hidden in weakness. If we insist that God no longer works miracles or that miracles only occur when the laws of nature are visibly suspended, then we will fail to recognize (and praise) God’s sustaining presence and work in our lives. Occasionally, a blessing may be immediately recognizable as a miracle, but other times it may be only with hindsight that we recognize God’s hand in a situation.
Jesus does not come or preach for the purpose of providing for our physical needs. Yet, when the first thing sought is His kingdom, He is not unmindful of our physical needs: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt 6:33) Here Jesus provided substantially more than what the bodily needs of Simon and his partners required. Whether it was divine knowledge of where a massive school of fish would be or divine action to bring the fish to the net, we are not told. In any event, the massive catch of fish was so improbable that Simon immediately recognized the presence of God at work on the boat. Jesus was after a different catch using a different net!
“But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.’ For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.’ And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:8-11)
Most Christians are aware that God uses His Law to bring us to repentance by showing us our sin and threatening us with punishment. But God also uses His kindness and blessings to move us to repentance, as Paul teaches: “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Rom 2:4)
If we acknowledge that God is good to us and blesses us constantly with physical life, family, shelter, food and “stuff,” despite the fact that we are covetous, greedy, ungrateful, unmindful of God, etc., then God would have us repent. God wants us to work, but He wants us to depend on Him for our bodily needs. He wants us to work, but God wants us to trust that He will provide for us. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matt 6:25-26)
Without the Gospel, God is terrifying to sinful man. Most of the time, the Divine nature of Jesus was hidden within His human nature. In that way, He was approachable and people did not fear Him (although the demons recognized His divinity). But on this occasion, Simon felt the presence of the Divine through the miracle and this experience immediately called to mind his unworthiness and sin. Being on the boat, Simon could not flee from Jesus; he could only pray that Jesus would depart from him.
This is the first step to repentance, as King David wrote: “a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Ps 51:17) The Good News is that Jesus has another Word: forgiveness. Jesus comes to save, not condemn sinners. True, He desires to kill our old sinful nature inherited from Adam, but only so He can raise His own offspring, after His own likeness and image, and grant us eternal life.
So Jesus did not depart from Simon. Instead, He gave him absolution: “Do not be afraid”. Simon was now clean. Jesus caught Simon with the net of the Gospel.
Jesus cleansed Simon from his sin, just like He cleanses us from our sin, by bearing our sin in His body on the cross as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus defeated sin and death and the devil to give us the grace of His heavenly Father. If we believe this, then we too are caught in the net of the Gospel, which rescues us from the kingdom of darkness and transfers us into the kingdom of Christ in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Amen.
“Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
the Lord answered me and set me free.
The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
What can man do to me?” (Ps 118:5-6) Amen.