Luke’s version of Jesus calling his first disciples feels like something of a non sequitur. After a chapter full of stories of teaching and healing in and around Galilee, it feels like Jesus has a bit of crew hanging around him. Yet, by the time we get to chapter 5, Luke feels compelled to let us in on how the band first got together. As if by way of a flashback, Luke begins the story of Jesus calling Peter, James, and John with, “Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God…”
So, once upon a time, Jesus was hanging out by a lake with a crowd so large he couldn’t hear himself think. Quick on his feet, as the Son of God should be, Jesus decided to use the natural amphitheater of the lakeshore to his advantage and he asked Simon (Peter) to put his boat out into the water a bit so that he could teach the crowd. When he was finished with his sermon, presumably on the nearness of the Kingdom of God, Jesus asked Simon to head out into the deep water in order to catch some lunch.
Simon (Peter), exhausted from a long night of fishing but not catching, reluctantly follows the Rabbi’s instructions, but not without a good, passive aggressive, gibe. “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. But, if you say so, I’ll let down the nets.” Master caught my attention this morning because it clearly isn’t Lord, which is what people usually call Jesus in the Gospels. In the Greek, the word translated as master is the generic word for someone who is appointed over someone else – a superintendent or an overseer. In the culture of his day, Simon no doubt recognizes that this itinerant Rabbi is of a higher class than him, but he is also pretty sure that lifetime of fishing on that lake made him an expert. In the parlance of the South, it might be as if Simon (Peter) says to Jesus, “OK, hoss, we’ll do it your way.”
What follows is a most miraculous event. The catch of fish is so large that it almost sinks two boats.
Luke tells us that everyone who witnessed this event were amazed at what they say. No doubt the crowd gathered on the lakeshore knew as well as Simon did that fish don’t bite that late into the morning. Yet, there before their very eyes, was a catch such that they had never seen before. Simon Peter is moved from skeptic to believer in that experience. Jesus is no longer simply master, but now he has become Lord. Peter fell to his knees and worshiped Jesus saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” He wasn’t exactly sure what this Jesus guy was, but he knew that God was with him.
Many followers of Jesus since then have had deeply profound encounters with Jesus that helped them come to faith. Many others, myself included, have simply been a part of the Way their whole lives. Being called as a disciple doesn’t require the miraculous catch, but rather, a willingness to see Jesus as something more than simply a special teacher, a master, but rather as Lord.