I was never much of a fisherman. My father loved to fish and took me out on a few fishing excursions. We fished at rivers and lakes. I caught a few fish but I never really caught the bug. We even went out on a few salmon fishing trips in San Francisco bay. One time we caught a lot of fish. Another time the waves were pretty bad and I spent most of my time getting seasick off the side of the boat and trying to sleep in the cabin. I knew I did not have much of an itch for fishing. I think this led me to not have much connection to the fishing miracles of Jesus. Heck, even beyond not truly enjoying fishing, I’ve never had to work a job like that to earn a living or depend on the skill/luck of catching my food in order to eat. Honestly, I bet most of you who are reading this have not had to work those kind of jobs either. That’s why we probably often jump to the spiritual meanings behind the story before really grasping some of the practical side.
Which, as I came to realize recently, may lead us to a whole new level of understanding in this famous miracle story. But, before we dig in too much let’s read the story as recounted in the Gospel according to Luke.
When he finished speaking to the crowds, he said to Simon, “Row out farther, into the deep water, and drop your nets for a catch.”
Simon replied, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and caught nothing. But because you say so, I’ll drop the nets.”
So they dropped the nets and their catch was so huge that their nets were splitting. They signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They filled both boats so full that they were about to sink. When Simon Peter saw the catch, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Leave me, Lord, for I’m a sinner!” Peter and those with him were overcome with amazement because of the number of fish they caught. James and John, Zebedee’s sons, were Simon’s partners and they were amazed too.
Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid. From now on, you will be fishing for people.” As soon as they brought the boats to the shore, they left everything and followed Jesus.
Luke 5:4-11 (CEB)
We are probably all familiar with this story. Most of the time when I have read this story, the miracle is the catching of the fish which leads Peter and the others to leave everything and follow Jesus. Jesus tells them they will now be “fishing” for men rather than for fish. Honestly, this is truly miraculous. I would like to think that I would also follow Jesus after having something like that happen. But, I think there’s another, more practical, miracle in this story that we overlook.
Think about it this way. Peter and the others are professional fishermen. They have spent their life learning the trade, how to fish effectively and efficiently. In the story, they had not been very successful and were probably about to go home worrying how ends were going to be met. Then, Jesus shows up and they catch more fish than they have ever caught before. So much fish that everyone is amazed. Then, as far as we can tell from the story, they give up on fishing drop everything and follow Jesus.
Let me restate that just in case you missed it. Peter and his companions worst day fishing has just become their *BEST* day fishing by far…and they leave the whole thing behind. They potentially have just made the most money they have ever made but instead drop everything and follow Jesus.
What’s more miraculous then? Catching loads of fish or getting professional fishermen to give up after hauling in their biggest catch ever?
I mean, would it not have been better to try to convince Jesus to join their fishing crew? I’m sure the Deadliest Catch guys would have asked Jesus back every season if he caused them to always pull up pots overflowing with crab.
I think this miracle in the opening chapters of Luke is meant to show us more than who Jesus is through a miraculous number of fish caught in these fishermen’s nets. There is a subtle hint at what this whole Kingdom of God and Church thing should to look like.
Financial blessings, miraculous business ventures and “success” as the world might see it is not necessarily the measure of success in the Kingdom of God. Hauling in an amazing number of fish is not the point.
Learning who Jesus is, recognizing what he has come to do and following him towards the people he wants to reach is the real end game of the Kingdom of God. This story may not be simply about demonstrating who Jesus is but more about revealing what the character of his followers look like. Not people who constantly chase success, trying to recreate the success of the miracle over and over again. But people who are drawn to who Jesus is and are then willing to walk away from the success in order to allow others to find out about Jesus.
We can be so tempted by success that we try to recreate that feeling over and over. What worked once is then repeated, potentially ad nauseum, until it really has no purpose and meaning. We constantly ask Jesus to get back in the boat and bring up the fish again so we can have that feeling of success over and over.
Many churches fall prey to this temptation and are unwilling to accept the call to drop their nets and return to fish for people.
In reality, Jesus is pointing us towards the shore and asking us to drop our nets, give up the idol of success and seek people. He leads us away from the ever shifting temptation of success and redirects that drive towards restored relationships and redemptive community.
What good is it if you can catch a lot of fish but are not willing to feed 5000 people?
What do you think? Would you be able to leave the greatest financial/career success of your life behind? What would it look like for you to forfeit that kind of success and follow Jesus? Would we ever consider giving up something that might be a miracle or blessing?