The bedeviled soul is drawn to this text. The woman or man who has despaired of ever being useful to God is touched. The person who has turned his back on his Savior in the past is comforted because this text is about Jesus going fishing for lost souls.
You can tell this text is about something big by the way Luke starts off. Well, you could if you were reading the King James. Luke doesn't say as the insert translates, "One day," or "Now it came about," or, "On one occasion," as other translations interpret. Such translations sound like Luke is passing from one story about Jesus to another. No, Luke wrote as the King James literally translates, "And it came to pass." You recognize those words. That's how Luke begins the Christmas Gospel. It's a solemn Hebrew expression. It lets us know an important event is being related. Just as bedtime stories beginning with "Once upon a time" rivet your attention to what they have to say, so Hebrew uses, "And it came to pass."
Something big is going on. This isn't a story about Jesus fishing for lost souls in general. This is about Him fishing for Peter in particular. Five times Simon, Peter's Hebrew name, is used. Once the special name Jesus gave him a year before, Peter, is used. James and John are called "Simon's partners," and while Matthew relates that Jesus called Peter, his brother Andrew, James, and John, our text says Jesus spoke to Simon. "Then Jesus said to Simon."
This text is about Jesus gone fishin' for Peter: the chief apostle, the first among equals, the spokesman for the group for good and bad. This is a year after Peter was called the first time in John 1. Peter left John the Baptist to follow Jesus because Andrew said Jesus was the Christ and John the Baptist said Jesus was the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. Peter saw Jesus turn water into wine, cleanse the temple, and proclaim Himself the Messiah to the Samaritans. Yet, Peter has left off following Jesus. He has gone back to his trade of fishing.
So this is a big event. "And it came to passJesus was standing by the lake with the people listening to the Word of God." Jesus is fishing for lost souls casting His Word out to them. The lost souls school about Him, but what's this? The people "are crowding around Him listening," but what are the fishermen doing? They are "washing their nets." Jesus, the one Peter had confessed to be the Messiah, the Son of God, the Lamb of God, the Word made flesh, is teaching, and Peter isn't among the feeding souls. The Word is being taught no less here than in a sermon or a Bible class and Peter doesn't have the time to listen, to learn. He's given up being a disciple. And it came to pass Peter's a fisherman again.
Jesus politely engages Peter the way a teacher uses the name of the student not listening. He gets into Peter's boat and asks not commands, asks as one would an equal, Peter to put out a little from shore. Then Jesus sat down; sitting is the synagogue position for teaching, and He taught the people from the boat.
This is a great way to fish. You stay a little out from the shore and cast back to it. Fish feed in the shallows in the morning. See Jesus casting words gently back to shore to those hungry souls. When it says that Jesus "taught the people," you must not think that Jesus taught them "how to be a disciple," "how to live the Christian life," or "the purpose driven life." No, Jesus taught them about their sins and how these were taking them straight to hell and there wasn't a thing they could do about it. He taught them that they were wrong for thinking the Law of Moses could save them. He taught them He was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He taught them that He was the resurrection and the life. He taught them their salvation was in Him keeping the law and in Him paying for their sins.
The lost souls eagerly feed on Jesus' teaching, but not Peter. Now Jesus turns to teach Peter. The text doesn't say that Jesus "finished speaking" and said to Simon, "Put out into the deep and let down the nets for a catch." No, it's like the King James translates, "When Jesus had left speaking." Our English word pause comes from this Greek one. Jesus paused speaking to the crowd and turned to Peter. You can tell Jesus is still in the teaching mode because He remains seated. We know this because when the miracle struck Peter, the text says he "fell at Jesus' knees" not feet.
And it came to pass that Jesus has gone fishin' for Peter. Peter is away from shore where a fish not feeding would be. Every fisherman knows you need special bait to catch a fish not feeding. So Jesus tells Peter to put out into the deep, and Jesus commands, He doesn't ask, Peter to let down the nets for a catch. Jesus is preaching the law here. Peter's a commercial fisherman. He knows that you don't use nets to catch fish in deep water; they're too heavy to pull up so they break. Second, he knows you don't fish with nets during the day but at night. Third, Peter knows he's worked hard all night without catching a thing, and that he's just finished washing the nets. Peter just wants to go home and get to bed. He needs sleep more than anything else to face another night of fishing.
Peter is upset. That's how you feel when you think Jesus is all about commanding you to do what is ridiculous, pointless, useless. Upset is how you feel when you're under the law and you think Jesus just wants to get things from you. You can tell Peter is upset and under the law in two places. One, he doesn't call Jesus Teacher,' or Lord', but Master." This is the Greek Word for an overseer master." "Yeah, yeah, you're the boss Jesus. I do what you tell me to do." Second, Peter pictures himself personally under the heel of an overseeing master. Jesus had commanded them (plural) to let down the nets, but Peter says, "I (singular) will let down the nets." Peter sees it as between him and Jesus only, and that's the way Jesus the Bass Master Pro wants it.
And it came to pass that Jesus landed a lunker with the right bait. Peter had seen Jesus heal many diseases. He'd seen Jesus free people from demons. He'd seen Jesus heal his own mother-in-law from a high fever. He had heard the Sermon on the Mount, but still he had quit following Jesus. Jesus had been casting for him with words and deeds for a year. He hooked him time and again, but He couldn't land him. Peter always ran out the line. Peter is what fisherman call a "drag ripper": a fish that takes out all your line, so you lose it. Jesus needs to turn Peter. But healings, exorcisms, Words of sin and grace don't stop Peter's hell-bent run away from Jesus. But it came to pass that a boatload of fish did.
Simon, his name before he was known by Jesus, calls Jesus Master," but the Holy Spirit tells us it is "Simon Peter," who fell at the knees of Jesus and called Him Lord.' This is the first time anyone in the Gospel of Luke calls Jesus Lord' i.e. Jehovah. Peter the lunker fish is reeled back to Jesus, but wait there's a problem as there often is with a big fish. It flops around the boat and sometimes flop right out of the boat and is gone. Peter is at the knees of Jesus, His Lord, but he commands, yes commands Jesus to go away from him because he's a sinful man. Again this is personal. Peter bolds me and I am. Jesus must get away from me because I am such a miserable, stinking sinner. I'm not worth catching. What would Jesus want with me? I've already turned my back on Him once.
And it came to pass that Jesus goes fishin' for sinners. He sits on the boat and casts into shore with His Word of Law and Gospel. Hungry souls feed on the Word of Christ. Full souls, like Peter's, put a higher priority on their work or rest and view any Word from Jesus as coming from a Master. Jesus wants to deprive them of sleep. Jesus wants them to dirty their nets, so they have to spend more time washing them again. Under the Law, it can never be that Jesus wants to give you anything. Under the Law, it can never be that Jesus wants to do far more for you than you could ever do for Him.
But Jesus does. He casts blessing after blessing into your lap. He gives you a boatload of blessings. Food, drink, house, home, spouse children. And there's more. He give you eyes to read His Word and more importantly ears to hear that precious Word that forgives your sins, baptizes you into a new life, and feeds you with His Body and Blood. Though you have repeatedly turned your nose up at His Word viewing it as only commands, as imposing on your time, Jesus hasn't ceased to cast His Words of eternal life out for you to feed on and be hooked for everlasting life.
Now comes the dangerous part. You're hooked again, but you realize more than ever what a serious sinner you've been. Despising the Word of God is the most serious sin a person can commit because it's a sin against the only cure for sin, death and the Devil. You see your sins, and you can't stand it. Jesus should just leave you. You don't deserve Him. You don't deserve to have Him teach you let alone save you.
And of course, you're right, you are a sinner and you don't deserve the Word made flesh, the written Word, or the Word embreaded in Communion, but that Word is for sinners, and I mean serious sinners. The Word is not for sinners who can forgive themselves, but for those who know they can't. It's not for sinners who can forget their sins by being busy but for sinners who see their sins everywhere they turn. The Word who worked forgiveness, the Word that gives forgiveness, is for sinners such as you. You're the type of sinner Jesus is gone fishin' for today and everyday that His word is cast out. Like any fisherman, Jesus is thrilled when He catches, but unlike any other fisherman, rather than taking you home to eat, Jesus takes you home to eat Him. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The 5th Sunday after the Epiphany (20070204); Luke 5: 1-11