The Call of Simon the Fisherman (Luke 5:1-11)

The Call of Simon the Fisherman.* a

1b While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.

2 He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets.

3 Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.

4c After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”

5 Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.”

6 When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing.

7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that they were in danger of sinking.

8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

9 For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made seized him and all those with him,

10 and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were partners of Simon. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”d

11 When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything* and followed him.e

Spiritual – You shall love the Lord your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength

We don’t know for how long, but probably for at least several weeks, Jesus has been away, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God, preaching in the Synagogues of Judea.  Now he has returned to Galilee and the crowds are listening to him teach.  In fact, this scripture tells us that they were “listening to the word of God.” (Luke 5:1) (I won’t even go into the double meaning of this phrase. I’ll leave it for you to pray about.  That is, in one sense, anything Jesus says is the word of God; in another sense Jesus is himself the Word of God.)

Simon had a front row seat to Christ’s teaching. Although we don’t have the text of His sermon, we can be sure that it was potent and moving.  When he finished teaching, he guided the boat to what Simon and his partners believed to be a miraculous catch of fish.  So how did Simon respond?  He fell at the knees of Jesus and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” (Luke 5:8).

Why?  Why would Simon (who will later be renamed Peter) say “depart from me lord”.  It’s important to pray about this question because we can’t say that it has only one correct answer.  For instance, it could be because Simon doesn’t feel worthy to be in Jesus’ presence.  But I want to suggest another reason.  But first, we need to look a little deeper into Simon’s life.

Recall how when you read the last several stories of Luke Chapter 4 you made a real effort to imagine that you were there.  You tried to visualize the entire scene in each story.  You might not have known it at the time, but you were trying to visualize everything that Simon was actually seeing.  He saw Jesus teach with authority in the Synagogue; he saw the cure of the man possessed by a demon; he saw Jesus heal his mother-in law; and he saw the stream of people coming throughout the night to his house to be healed by Jesus.  After Jesus departed, for weeks Simon would have been thinking about everything that he had seen and heard.

Additionally, as a Jew, Simon would have grown up praying what could arguably called the central prayer of Judaism, the Shema.  It’s likely the first scripture he learned as a child, and he would probably have customarily prayed it at least twice a day.  The Shema begins as follows:

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! 5 Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength. (Deuteronomy 6:4, 5)

Why would I bring up this prayer?  In order to understand that, I need to say a little about what it means to love God with your whole heart.  You see, in our modern western culture we take “the heart” to be the emotional center of a person.  But that’s not its meaning in the Scriptures.  In the biblical concept, the heart is the spiritual interior of the person (it includes the intellect, the will, and the emotions). It is particularly the place where we hear God speak to us and as such can be open or closed (i.e., hardened) to Him.  The “heart” is where we say “yes” or “no” to God.

Now, in the presence of Christ one more time, Simon’s life is about to change … and he knows it.  In this moment, the Shema isn’t just some wrote prayer that he’s been saying all of his life.  In this moment, in the core of his spiritual being, in his heart, he must say “yes” or “no” to loving God with his whole being.  When we say “yes” to God with our whole being, we undergo profound conversion.  Simon knows that is about to happen, and his last chance at living his old life is for Christ to depart from him.

The first words of Jesus reply speak volumes for us: “Do not be afraid.”  With Simon, just like with us, it can be a scary prospect to completely re-orient our lives so that they are God-centered.  Verse 11 tells us that they left “everything” and followed Jesus.  We can take this to mean that they left more than just the fish, their nets, and their boats.  We can understand this to mean that they left their old, sinful lives behind.

We too, can leave everything to follow Christ.  We don’t need to quit our jobs, or leave our nets and boats. (However, we do need to leave them if they do in fact keep us from conforming our hearts to Jesus.)  When we “leave everything” we can leave behind everything that has kept us from committing our lives to God.

Cultural – Teachers sit

Notice that in this story, in order to have enough room to teach, Jesus gets into Simon’s boat and goes a short distance from the shore.  The second verse tells us, “He sat down and taught the crowds.”  Unlike our present-day classrooms, where the teacher stands and the students sit, in the time of Christ, it was customary for the teacher to sit, and for the students to stand.  Although we don’t get to read his words today, whenever you read that Jesus “sat” it’s a good idea to pay close attention to what follows.

Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition© 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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