Jesus Calls His First Disciples
5 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who 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 from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
5 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.”
6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signalled 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.
8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 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.”11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
In order to go a little deeper into the meaning of a text, a contemplative reading practice is often helpful. By placing ourselves in the text, we can pick up on subtleties and read between the lines. In imagining ourselves as Simon, we have the opportunity to think about what Simon was feeling, what was going on in his head as he listened to Jesus. This reading practice shares some similarities with the Jewish practice of Midrash, which could be described as a ‘spiritual filling-in-the-blanks’, making connections between the ancient text and our contemporary lives.
So, imagine with me. Put yourself in Simon’s sandals…
After a long night of unsuccessful work, the sun has risen and you’re damp, tired and hungry, frustrated, probably worrying about money, wondering if you’ll ever catch anything again. Jesus comes along and sits down in your boat. The boat you had brought onto the shore while you wash your net, about to go home to sleep. He turns to you and asks you to push the boat out onto the water, and he starts to teach. You’re listening but you’re tired, maybe you find yourself wondering what the point of it all is.
When Jesus asks you to go back out to where the water is deeper and let down your nets again, your eyes widen, you check his face to see if he’s being serious. You look across at James and John and silently ask them – is this guy for real?
But you obey, because, well, what choice do you have…
When the nets start to fill up with fish, you stand up in the boat, excitement and awe brimming through your body, energising your tired limbs as you heave the nets onto the boat, shouting for help at the amazed fishermen on the shore. When the nets are on the deck, and the boat starts to fill with water, you look at Jesus. His face is serene. He gives you a slight smile, maybe a wink. A tear comes to your eye and you fall to your knees on the wooden floor of the boat that has been your livelihood, both friend and foe, for years. You realise that even though you hadn’t been waiting for a saviour, one had appeared anyway.
You feel terrible for doubting this strange, calming man. And you feel so hopeful, so grateful that he chose your boat, despite your exhaustion and your lack of enthusiasm at his request.
When he tells you not to be afraid, you stand up and look him in the eye. You know, somehow, that this is the start of something new. You know that whatever lies ahead, you won’t spend another night toiling away on your own. You don’t think it’ll be cocktail parties and beach holidays, you get the sense that there are challenges ahead. But somehow you know that you won’t be alone: that by leaving your net full of fish and following this unusual man, you are tying your mast to someone great.
Wouldn’t it be helpful if Jesus could step into our place of work – fishing boat, office, classroom, wherever we are. But one of the reasons we have these stories is to understand that what Jesus started on earth has been continued by the Spirit. We can open our eyes to see how Jesus is already turning up in our daily lives.
It’s ok to be frustrated. It’s ok to wonder where Jesus was last night when things were really hard. But how sweet it is to be shown the love and power of the Divine when Jesus says: trust me and I’ll show you – we’re going to do great things together.
Katie is an aspiring writer, an eternal intern, and a passionate Jesus-Feminist. With a Master’s in International Development and a Bachelors in Sociology and French, she is qualified for ... making lattes and pulling pints (skills that she has put to great use). She recently returned to Ireland after working in New York and studying in Edinburgh.