My father used to love fishing. In my early teens I remember the family having to get ready at about 4 on a Sunday morning to go down the Natal south coast fishing. It was a huge performance: gas stoves, eggs, bacon, bread, coffee, etc. I hated it so much that I thought of a way out. I asked my father whether I could go to church each Sunday instead of going fishing. He agreed, and look what happened to me!
In today’s lection we have a story concerning professional fishermen; Peter, James and John. The disciples, after a night out on the water without catching anything, had apparently finished washing their nets and had probably hung them out on the ship to dry. Jesus had finished his teaching, and asked Peter to put out to deeper water, and to let down the nets for a catch. Notice these words of our Lord, in verse 4:
“Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch”.
Jesus did not make a suggestion; He gave a command. And he did not order the disciples to let down their nets to try to catch fish, He ordered them to put out their nets for a catch of fish. In other words, Jesus was issuing both a command and a promise. The command was to put out the nets. The promise was that there would be a catch. And what a catch it would be!
Peter’s words, in verse 5, betray a reticence, perhaps even a bit of irritation:
“Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but at your bidding I will let down the nets”.
In the first place, Peter’s words indicate that he and his partners were dog tired. They had worked hard, all night. Besides that, they had just finished washing their nets. They would have to do it all over again. Second, Peter indicated that their efforts had been futile. Night was the best time to fish. If they had not caught anything at night, why in the world should they catch anything in the daytime, the worst possible time to fish. Third, there is, as I have said, a hint of irritation here. Did Jesus, a carpenter, think that he knew more about fish than these fishermen? His order seemed naive.
Peter, however, relented and let down the nets, but it would seem that he had safeguarded himself for the failure he thought was certain. You almost wonder if Peter didn’t want to fail in this venture, so that he could give Jesus an “I told you so” look. Surely when it came to catching fish, he was the expert. Jesus was the Master, and so his word would be obeyed, albeit under protest.
The result was incredible. There were those stories that all fishermen swapped, about good catches, but this beat all that Peter had ever heard, by far! The nets were absolutely full. They began to break. They signalled their partners for help, and even with two ships, the harvest was so large that both boats began to sink. The catch of a lifetime had been made.
Peter was the leader and the spokesman for the others. He immediately responded by falling down at the feet of Jesus, saying in verse 8:
“Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!”
Falling prostrate at the feet of Jesus was an act of humility and worship. The actions of Jesus had touched Peter in an area of his own expertise. He now saw Jesus in an entirely different light. Jesus was Lord, and he was but a sinful man. In verse 5, Peter had referred to Jesus as “Master,” but now he calls him Lord.
The change of terms is a demonstration of a quantum leap in Peter’s grasp of the greatness and power of Jesus. Peter had accepted that Jesus was a teacher and had authority, but through the episode of the catch of fish the penny finally dropped and he realised that Jesus was so much more. He was the Lord of universe, full of power and might.
The response of Jesus to the words of Peter is very important. He did not say anything about whether Peter was sinful or not, but rather said, “Do not fear!”
Often our response to what God might be saying to us is lukewarm or non-existent because we are afraid. We are scared about what God might expect of us; we are scared of what our family and friends might say about us; we are scared of our own inability to achieve what God wants.
These fears are real and we need to come to terms with them. The most important thing we need to realise is what we are promised by the Scriptures. We are told that perfect love casts out fear. From the Scriptures we can deduce that Jesus loves us perfectly and therefore our fear should be cast out. We have but to believe that those things are true.
May God bless you as he casts out your fear of following him in the week ahead.