As has been my tradition, every sermon that I preach will be posted here. This sermon, Teaching, Catching, Calling, was given at The Salvation Army Rochester on Sunday February 10, 2019. The Reading was Luke 5:1-11.
There are plenty of accounts of boats throughout the bible, and many of them involve fishing of some kind. But do you know where there is strangely no mention of fishing? In Chapter 7 of Genesis. Now, if you’re not up to date with your bible reading plan, and that reference doesn’t come straight to your head, let me refresh your memory. Genesis starts with the creation of the world, of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. They get cast out of Egypt, and Cain murders Abel, and then civilisation expands, and we get all the descendents from Adam through to Noah, whom we meet in chapter 6. Chapter 7, therefore, is the great flood. And there is no fishing there. Do you want to know why Noah didn’t go fishing while on the ark? He only brought two worms.
Now, a couple of weeks ago when I last spoke, I talked about the importance of looking at the overall narrative, and the minute details, and how that will aid us in our knowledge of the biblical themes, which goes hand in hand with the spirit’s guidance, and our fight for social justice to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.
And I was thinking about today’s reading and thinking that it’s possibly very familiar to those who have been in the church a long time. “From now on you will be fishers of people.” It lends itself easy to another call to go and evangelise to people and bring them into the faith. So I thought today, I would give you a bit of an example as to what I mean about looking at the big picture, and the small details, and how that helps bring this passage to life for us.
The Salvation Army has 11 Doctrines that summarise what we believe. The first one is very important, and it says:
We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God, and that they only constitute the Divine rule of Christian faith and practice.
Basically, what this is saying that the Scriptures in both the Old and New Testaments were inspired by God, and therefore what is contained within them, and only what is contained within them, contain the standard by which we live out our faith. It’s important to note that the scriptures were inspired by God. They weren’t written by God. And so each book of the Bible has an author that has chosen to write down these things. Some of them – like the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the bible – we attribute to one Author, although there is evidence to say that they have been written, or perhaps heavily edited, by multiple people. Others, like the letters from Paul, we know were written by the same person. Others, such as the Letter of James, we don’t know who the author was. In order for us to know some of the big picture things about this passage, we need to know who wrote it, why it was written, and who it was written to.
The Gospel of Luke, we are fairly confident, was written by a man named Luke. The earliest manuscript that we have of any of the Gospels is an extensive portion of Luke’s Gospel, and dates from 175-225CE, and includes the title “The gospel according to Luke.” Apart from that, we know very little. According to a second century church tradition, Luke was a physician, and likely was a companion of Paul, which is why Paul features so prominently in the other book attributed to Luke, the Acts of the Apostles.
Now, while Luke may be the earliest manuscript we have, it is not generally regarded as the earliest gospel account. Scholars generally regard Mark to be the earliest written account, evidenced by the fact that Matthew and Luke both use large portions of it, as well as their own sources. So there are passages that are found in all three gospels, some which are found only in Matthew and Luke, which scholars believe come from a source they call Q, and then passages that are only found in Luke, which they say comes from a source named L.
Why is this important? Well, the passage we heard today is interesting in that the calling of the first disciples is found in Matthew and Mark, but it doesn’t include the miraculous haul of fish. That passage is included in the Gospel of John, In John 21. This passage contains a very similar account of the disciples out fishing all night, catching nothing, then Jesus instructing them to let out the nets again, only to bring in an enormous catch with the nets breaking. Yet while this passage is found in Luke at the beginning of the Apostles journey, in John it is found at the end, following the resurrection. We’re not sure which one came first, only that either Luke or John took this story and shaped it to further their own story.
So that’s a bit of the big picture that we need to be aware of. Luke is writing for a gentile audience, possibly having been influenced by Paul, and is choosing stories and shaping them in order to get his point across. So what is included – or what isn’t included – is very intentional.
Luke 5:1-11 can be broken into three passages. Teaching (v. 1-3); Catching (v. 4-7); and Calling (v. 8-11)
So let’s drill down a bit. This passage can be broken up into three distinct sections. We first have Jesus teaching the crowd by the lake. Then we have the miraculous catch, and then we have Jesus calling Peter. I want to quickly look at each of these sections.
Jesus is by a lake in Genessaret, which is just south of Capernaum where the previous section was set. Jesus is on his way from Capernaum to Judea, and the crowd that had found him as he looked for a quiet space has likely followed him, so he has decided to teach them a bit. As is tradition, Jesus sat down to teach, and so to avoid getting crowded, he asks a nearby fisherman to put the boat out a little bit so he can sit down and have some space.
But why are these people following Jesus? Well, while Jesus was in Capernaum, he taught them in the synagogue, where it’s reported he spoke with authority. He cast out a demon, and healed Simon’s mother-in-law, as well as many healings of diseases and casting out demons. When he tried to leave, they looked for him and tried to prevent him from leaving as he headed towards Judea.
And I find it interesting that this group, who were so amazed at the incredible healings and miracles, are the ones there standing by the shores of the lake, listening to this man proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God. Not showing them miracles, but teaching them.
Now let’s move our attention to the catch of fish. Jesus just happened to jump into the boat owned by Simon – the same Simon that had a sick mother-in-law healed by Jesus. Did Simon know this? Possibly not. We see that Simon was out fishing all night, and Jesus had healed Simon’s mother-in-law the day before. It’s possible that Simon was either sleeping, or preparing for his night of fishing, and hadn’t called in at home to see how she was doing. But he might have known, and that could be why he was willing to let this guy step into his boat.
After the teaching had happened, Jesus tells Simon to put out into deeper water, and cast the nets again. Simon protested. He was the fisherman. He knew that you need to be out at night to catch the fish. He knew that he had been there all night and caught nothing, so surely there were no fish there. But he does so anyway. And the catch is so large that he needs a second boat to bring it in.
Three types of nets. Casting nets (as used in Matthew’s version found in Matthew 4:20); Drag nets (as mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 13:47), and Trammel Nets (three nets attached to a line, with an inner net of fine mesh to catch the fish)
Now, let me briefly talk to you about the nets. I am, by no means, a fisher. So I am relying completely on google for some of these descriptions. Now there were three types of nets in common use at this time. There was the casting net, which was a circular net cast by wading fishermen. This is the type of net that appears in Matthew’s version of the calling of Simon. Then there was the drag net, a net that would be hundreds of meters long, and would be dragged along by the boats as they moved around the lake. This type of net is mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 13 as a description of the Kingdom of heaven, catching every type of fish, before the fishermen would seperate the good from the bad. The final type is the Trammel net. This is a type of net that would have a line of three nets, with the inner net being a fine mesh. The fish would swim through the outer net, and then get caught on the inner net. This is likely the type of net that Luke is describing in use. I’ll come back to this.
Finally, we have the calling of Peter. James and John are mentioned, and follow Jesus as well, but the action is purely focussed on Peter here. Later in Luke, we will also hear of the calling of Levi, also known as Matthew, but that’s it in terms of the calling narratives. Considering that James and John, with Simon, are considered part of Jesus’ inner circle of friends, the three of the apostles that will accommpany Jesus on his most private moments, it’s odd that they are merely bystanders in this story.
Simon’s response to the miracle, of “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” could indicate that this is Luke taking the post-resurrection narrative and injecting it at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Simon would be very aware of his sinfulness after denying Jesus three times. Or, he could be responding to this miracle, aware of his own sinfulness in the light of this holy man in front of him.
Jesus calms them, saying not to be afraid, and that they would now be catching people. I had a quick look at the Greek used, and when Jesus instructs them to let the nets down for a catch, the word translated as catch is the greek word Agra. When Jesus says you will be catching people, the word for catching is the word Zogreo – a word built on the words Zao, meaning live, and Agra, meaning to catch.
Luke 11:4 “catch” is translated from Agra, meaning a catch of an animal or fish. Luke 11:10 “catching” is translated from Zogreo, a combination of the words Zao meaning “living” and Agra.
And so, they pull their boats up to the shore, leave everything – which I have to assume includes the massive haul of fish – and follow Jesus.
So we’ve zoomed in from the big picture, and taken a look at some details. Let’s zoom back out a bit with a few thoughts.
When I walked you through the passage to begin with, I said that there were three sections, which I entitled Teaching, Catching and Calling. But they could well have been called Catching, Catching and Catching.
The people who followed Jesus did so because they were so caught up with the miracles that they had witnessed. They saw amazing things, and wanted more. But Jesus saw that they needed to be taught, not shown more miracles. The trammel net is an interesting one, because the fish might come in and out of the net, and not get caught. As evidenced by their empty haul the night before, it’s not a guaranteed catch like the drag net might be. But Jesus has shown them a better way. And that is to catch people – as your eye might be caught by an interesting painting, or something intriguing, that makes you want to find out more.
The people from Capernaum were caught up.
The Fish were caught.
Jesus told his followers that they would catch people.
For example, I went and got a coffee the other day, and on the counter was a raffle book. Now normally, I wouldn’t give them a second glance, but the prize made me double take, as it seemed to be an obscenely large amount of alcohol. The pen was obscuring it, so I moved it to see, and the main prize was actually a pallet of beer. Not exactly my cup of tea, but it did strike up a conversation with the barista, and later send me to pray that the person who won it was a generous person who would share it around rather than drink it all, as that is surely not good for their health.
And I think this is what Jesus is showing us. There are many different ways that people will come to faith. Some people might have a miraculous healing miracle, or be so entranced by what is happening that they just want to be there and never want to leave. I think of some of the megachurches, where people will go and get completely caught up with it all. Jesus shows us that this is great, but they need to go deeper, and be taught about the good news of the kingdom. Other people will dip in and out, and for those of us who are the fishers, sometimes it will seem like a long time between big catches, and that we might be pulling the nets in having caught nothing. But when Jesus tells us, we will be faithful, and let out the nets again. Finally, Jesus shows us that there is value in catching people, but catching their attention, investing in them and showing them something that is so intriguing, so valuable, so amazing that they can’t do anything else but follow Jesus. Through the way that we live, by loving God with everything that we have, by loving our neighbour – and our enemy – as ourselves, and through promoting the good news of the Kingdom of God, we will catch people’s attention so much that they will have no other option to drop everything and follow Jesus.
Jesus’ disciples were to carry on Jesus’ ministry once he left this earth, and to continue to make it relevant to the times. The apostolic tradition continues to this day, and through the priesthood of all believes, each and every one of you is left with this same charge: “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” Go and live your life so that you may catch people.