The Miracle of a Large Catch of Fish
How did you become a passionate disciple of Jesus? Was it the family you were born into? Did God reveal himself to you in "signs and wonders" that transformed your life? Did God circumcise your stoney heart and reveal that soft flesh that allows Jesus in? What turns a halfhearted Christian into a person driven for God? Initially, the apostle Peter was one such lukewarm disciple. It wasn't until he looked deep inside that he caved into to himself and opened up to the light of Christ.
|Cause||A Large Catch of Fish
|Formal:||Nets full of fish|
|Final:||God's glory, apostolic vision, salvation|
|Aristotle's Four Causes|
In the miracle of a large catch of fish described in the early part of the gospel of Luke we find Jesus teaching the crowds near Capernaum along the Sea of Galilee. Nearby, some fishermen were present taking care of their nets, who we discover are none other than Simon Peter and the Zebedee brothers, James and John. At first, they all seem more interested in their nets than Jesus. What changed this? What caused Peter (who was still known as Simon) in particular to become the diehard disciple we know him to be?
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
Notice that in this story, we find Peter washing his nets with James and John. They certainly aren't gung-ho disciples at this point. They are not sitting at his feet learning from God's Son. It seems as if they are just watching the hordes who are following that Jesus fellow.
But let's back up a bit. There's something else important we already know about Peter. He had already met Jesus. He had seen him casting out demons and healing the sick. In fact, Peter was already compelled enough by what he saw to call on Jesus to heal his mother-in-law. In Luke 4 we read, "Jesus left the synagogue and went to the home of Simon. Now Simon’s mother-in-law was suffering from a high fever, and they asked Jesus to help her. So he bent over her and rebuked the fever, and it left her. She got up at once and began to wait on them."
Can we add to that "and Peter and his friends then went back to their boats to go fishing"? I suppose Peter thanked Jesus for healing his mother-in-law, but he wasn't yet awestruck and dumbfounded to the point of fervent discipleship. What would it take for him to take that next step of discipleship?
But Jesus wasn't done with Peter yet, not by a long shot. As we come to understand in the miracle of a large catch of fish, Jesus requested to teach specifically from Peter's boat. Jesus had Peter take him just offshore so he could teach the crowds from the water. Why did he choose Peter's boat? Some of the ancient fathers of the Church believed this symbolized the importance of the 'Barque of Peter', the Church with the leadership of Peter. Augustine believed that the waters of the sea often represented the choppy waters of aimless humanity. With certainty we can say that the boat symbolized the Church, like the Noah's ark and the Ark of the Covenant pointed to as well. The boat from which Jesus taught from was not a grand ship. It was a humble fisherman's boat. A boat of simplicity and utility. How have we strayed from that image in our churches!
So, Jesus finished speaking to the crowds from Peter's boat, but he wasn't done teaching. He told Peter to row out to deep water and put his nets out, probably in the same area he and his friends had been fishing earlier and had caught nothing. Peter obeyed. Once again we find obedience to be that special supernatural law that was the efficient cause of so many of Jesus' miracles.
We learn that the Peter did in fact catch an enormous number of fish. Now Peter was awestruck. Now he knows who Jesus is. But did Peter's conversion have anything to do with this miracle? I think we are being taught that it was not the miracle itself that transformed Peter. Peter had previously witnessed other miraculous healings and still went about his old business. If it wasn't the signs and wonders which enabled Jesus to catch Peter, what was it?
Peter falls on his knees and exclaims, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!" For some reason, through this miracle and through the presence of Christ in his boat, Peter discovered the depth of his sin. We can only speculate why he discovered this reality about himself. And in his discovery, he also uncovered the great expanse of grace and mercy our Lord Jesus showers upon us. Jesus simply replies, "Don't be afraid, from now on you will be a fisher of men."
Can you see the sin which lurks deep in your heart? I can and when I see it face to face, it never ceases to amaze me. I say to myself, "I can't believe I'm thinking this or thinking that. I even acted upon that thought." For this, we learn the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner."
It's the grace and mercy of God that makes us passionate about Jesus. Signs and wonders and miracles will never do it. Magicians make us say "Wow!" Our merciful redeemer makes us fall on our knees and belt out, "My Lord and my God, forgive me! I am not worthy!"
We must all "put out in deep water and let down our nets for a catch." It is there in the depths of our hearts that we will find the breadth of our sin and selfishness. It will take our breath away. In his mercy, he will give us his living breath back. But like Simon, we will have a new name. We will have a new purpose. We will find that the price tag of our sin has been paid in full. And nothing will be more important than loving our redeemer in all that we do. Only then will we passionately and mercifully seek the lost and help Jesus lead them back home.