Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken;and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.​

Luke 5:1-11

Pastor Marc's sermon for 5th Sunday after Epiphnay (February 10, 2019) on Luke 5:1-11. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below. 


Some days a superficial reading of Scripture is the best we can do. And it sounds a bit weird to admit that. When we gather together to worship, we want to take this moment seriously. We want to be ready to experience God and to see Jesus in God’s own words. But there are some Sundays when we’re a tad more zonked out than we’d like to be. As we sit in our pew, listening to these texts from the Bible, we might find it hard to follow a long. A big yawn, a crying family member, or thinking about all those things we need to do later today - on days like these, we only hear every third or fourth word. Or maybe there’s something else going on in our lives and just being here is really the best we can do. We pray that the Holy Spirit will, somehow, break through to us, overcoming everything that is stopping us from being fully present right now. But when that doesn’t happen, that doesn’t mean God is ignoring us. It just means we’re tired, exhausted, distracted, and wrapped up in a situation that is taking up all the space available in our brain. On those kinds of Sundays, we’re being exactly who we are. And that’s okay. God’s Word is still for us even when we’re not in the mental, emotional, or spiritual state to discover some deep theological meaning about Jesus telling Simon Peter where to fish. We can, instead, do what we’re able and that might mean only noticing a rough outline of the story itself. Jesus started our reading from the gospel according to Luke surrounded by a large crowd, pressing in on him. But by the end of it, that crowd was replaced by a band of 3. And those 3 didn’t press in on Jesus. They left everything and followed him.

On one level, it’s a bit disappointing to start with a crowd and end up with 3. That’s not usually a recipe for success. Rarely, in the church, do we celebrate those programs or events or moments that, at first, bring in a ton of people but eventually peters out at the end. We remember the initial crowd and we assume we have to hold onto that. Because when we do anything, we want the numbers to validate why it should exist. A faith-filled ministry that’s exactly what were supposed to be doing doesn’t seem worth it if the numbers don’t back it up. We try to tell ourselves that numbers don’t matter but the reality is that they do because we are culturally ingrained to quantify success. We have no problem sitting on the shore, remembering the crowd, seeing the 3, and wondering what just happened.

But there is one system we’re used to where the winnowing of a crowd down to a small number makes sense. And we can see this process most easily in sports, where millions of young kids run onto their local soccer fields but, by the time they’re adults, only a very few end up playing in the World Cup. We like to imagine that the narrowing of the crowd through competition and challenges is how we, together, find the most skilled among us. Yet this winnowing process is never as objective and fair as we would like it to be because there are systems embedded in our society that limit who has an opportunity to compete in the first place. When we watch Jesus being confronted by the crowd on the lakeshore, we assume some process of shrinking is being used by him to chose his disciples. Since Simon Peter is named and we would later identify him as one of Jesus’ original apostles, we assume Jesus used some kind of process to determine why Simon Peter would be one of the “best” disciples for him. Even though the text doesn’t identify any competition between Simon and the rest of the people in the crowd, we might subconsciously add some in. In fact, we use his little excursion with Jesus out into the water as the test to why he was chosen in the first place. And we see the amount of fish that he caught as a quantifiable sign of the kinds of special gifts Simon Peter had. We narrow the crowd to 3 through a competition of our own making because that’s how we can turn Jesus’ moment at the lake of Gennesaret into some kind of success. He came surrounded by a crowd but ended up with 3. And we say that’s okay because those three were, compared to the rest, the very best three there could be.

Except there’s nothing in the text that resembles a competition. In fact, when we consciously or unconsciously insert that experience into this story, we’re no longer doing a superficial reading of the text. We’re reading our experiences into Jesus instead of letting the experience of Jesus read into us. Jesus didn’t ask for Simon Peter to compete for his attention. Jesus just called him. He told Simon Peter to go out into deeper waters. And even though Simon Peter grumbled, he did it anyways. The amazing number of fish wasn’t a sign of the amazing skills Peter had; it was a sign, instead, of what Jesus was about to do. The person Jesus called as his disciple, this Simon Peter, was not really the kind of disciple most of us would like to have. As we will hear in the rest of Luke and throughout the book of Acts, Simon Peter was the kind of disciple who grumbled, who called Jesus a liar to his face, and the one who even denied knowing Jesus during Jesus’ greatest hour of need. Simon Peter was the type of person who always spoke before he thought and he let his personal expectations of Jesus confront the Jesus he actually knew. Simon Peter was the kind of disciple we wouldn’t mind leaving in the crowd and who, if we look at his whole story, we couldn’t imagine as being in our final 3.

And yet Jesus called him anyways. This man who complained to Jesus about having to go and fish is the same disciple who spent the rest of his life giving Jesus to others. Simon Peter was an imperfect disciple which might be exactly why he was chosen because none of us can follow Jesus as perfectly as we would like. There are days when we’re zonked out, preferring to stay in the crowd, and hoping that we don’t have a starring role on Jesus’ dream team. Yet, through your baptism and through your faith, you have exactly that. If Jesus wanted perfect disciples, he never would have called Simon Peter and he never would have called you and me. Yet, Jesus did. Because he knows, through him, you can be the faith-filled success you don’t realize you can be. Success, for Jesus, isn’t measured by numbers. Instead, success is always about love. We are his because he first called us and he knows that we can love others just like he loves us. When we, through faith, finally discover whose we are, we will no longer be limited by our definition of success. Instead, we can leave that all behind and truly follow him.