The Miraculous Catch of Fish

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Every day during this season of Lent we’re looking at the miracles of Jesus – his spectacular displays of supernatural power that are reported in the Gospels.    

A dad joke for fishermen:  What did the magician say to the fisherman?  Pick a cod, any cod.

Mom’s fishing wisdom:  Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish, and you get rid of him for the whole weekend.

Warped fishing humor:  A priest was walking along a beach when he encountered two men pulling on a rope with all their might.  As the rope emerged from the waves, he could see a third man holding on to it for dear life. “Praise God!” said the priest.  “What a glorious example of caring for those in need!”  As he walked away, one man turned to the other and said, “Man, he sure doesn’t much about shark fishing.”

Fishing jokes and tall tales about “the one that got away” are as old as humanity’s first attempts to land the Big One.  But it’s a pretty good bet that no one could tell a better fish story than Simon Peter.

And his story just happened to be true.  It’s reported in Luke 5:1-12. 

“One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret [another name for the Sea of Galilee] with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by fishermen, who were washing their nets [nets needed to be regularly washed so they wouldn’t rot].  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.  When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’  Simon answered, ‘Master,’ we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.” 

Let’s pause here for a moment.  Peter is saying, “Look, I may not understand everything you were just teaching, but I know a little something about fishing.  You don’t catch the kinds of fish that swim in this lake in the middle of the morning.  Trust me.  I know fishing.”

Most of us have had a similar thought cross our minds.  I don’t need some Messiah telling me how to do what I already know how to do.  I don’t need a lecture from Jesus about how to close a business deal, or how to start a text thread, or how to shoot free throws.  I know how to sell real estate.  I know how to make guacamole.  I know the best way to declutter my closets.

These are, of course, the very areas in which it is most difficult for us to follow Jesus.  That’s because we don’t think he has anything to tell us. 

It’s hard for us even to imagine cooking or coaching or day trading or cleaning the cat’s litter box as spiritual activities – perhaps especially cleaning the cat’s litter box.  But the meaning of the resurrection – if we can briefly look ahead to Easter – is that Jesus is loose in the world.  He is loose everywhere – which means no matter what you are doing, Jesus is in your boat.

Returning to our text: “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.’”  That word “but” may represent Peter’s very first surge of faith.  Lord, our nets are empty.  We’ve pulled out all the stops and done everything we know how to do.  But…just in case you do in fact have some clue as to what is going on in our humble profession, we’ll give it a shot.

Whereupon their minds are seriously blown.   

“When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.  So they signaled 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.”

What does Jesus say to every one of us?  “Listen to me.  Let me influence you.” 

The miracles that tend to catch us completely off guard are the ones that happen when we let Jesus climb into our boat – when we actually let him join us in our everyday lives. 

Right now Jesus is in your marriage.  He is in that mess you’re facing at work.  He is in your retirement planning.  Jesus is in your boat whether you’re out in a storm or drifting aimlessly or anguishing over empty nets or wondering what to do with nets that are suddenly so full you suspect God may have just blessed you with an incredible gift – one you weren’t even seeking.

As pastor and author Craig Barnes puts it in Sacred Thirst, “Jesus can find us while we are on the way to the top or the bottom; on the way to a great career or a terrible divorce.  He can find us on the way to our first apartment or on the way to a nursing home; on the way to give birth or on the way to bury the dead.”

Is Peter excited about this?  No.  He is horrified.  He is immediately overcome by the reality of his unworthiness. 

“When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’”  Please, Lord, get off my boat

If Jesus had replied, “You’re not kidding that you’re a hot mess,” he would have been absolutely, theologically correct.  But no such words need to be exchanged.  Peter is already right where he needs to be. 

He can now receive grace because he knows how much he needs grace.  Jesus says, “’Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’ So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.”

What does it mean to fish for people? 

Jesus uses a word that means, “to capture alive or rescue.”  It means to catch people so they don’t fall

Make no mistake.  We are continually surrounded by individuals, organizations, and social forces that are fishing for people for less honorable purposes.  DraftKings is trying to catch people.  They want to convince you that sports is far more fun when you’re wagering your next mortgage payment on the outcome of a game.  Extremist groups on the Left and Right want to draw you into their way of interpreting what just happened on Capitol Hill.  Social media is trying to make you believe that you cannot live without social media.  Retail giants are fishing for your wallet, your calendar, and your brand loyalty.  

When our eyes are opened to the fact that Jesus is in our boat, it suddenly dawns on us that we, too – like Peter – have been given a new mission.  

We may continue to attend the same school, drive to the same office, and square off against the same stacks of dirty dishes. 

But now we realize that we are doing it all for a reason.  We are to help catch people so they don’t fall short of God’s incredible purposes for their lives.

That may turn out to be the miracle that not one of us saw coming. 

And it’s no fish story.