LIVING THE LECTIONARY 5

LUKE 5: 1-11

Once while Jesus[a] was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and 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 way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning 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 that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 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.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.

Mark, whose gospel was used by Luke as a source, has a simple story of Jesus calling his fishermen disciples, without any accompanying miracle. Matthew following Mark has a similar account. Luke has access to a fuller tradition, which may or may not have been associated with the call of the disciples before Luke. John knows the miracle story but places it after Jesus’ resurrection, which might be its original context. We can see that Luke, alone of the gospel writers, sees an important meaning of the story at this point in Jesus’ ministry.

Doubtless stories about unsuccessful fishing abounded in fishing communities then as now. There would be a sub -class where there was a surprising upturn of good fortune. In this case the upturn is due to Jesus, whose ability to direct the fishing is considered supernatural by Peter. The emphasis of the story is on a complete reversal of the failure which went before.

The action of Jesus does not make the long hard work in the darkness disappear, but it makes it worthwhile and joyful rather than simply negative. This prefigures the toil and darkness which is never far from Jesus ministry, culminating in the barren darkness of his death. But he is the bringer of life and abundance through his resurrection.

The fishermen lived in an economy of scarcity and thrift. The story of the miraculous catch signals that Jesus brings plenty, although there will still be times of hard toil and darkness. Placed at the outset of discipleship it offers a wonderful promise and a sober warning.

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