Sabbath Day Thoughts — “Slow Call” Luke 5:1-11
When Matthew and Mark remembered the day that Jesus called those first disciples, it was an all-at-once experience. Jesus saw the fishermen, Peter, Andrew, James, and John, on the lakeshore. He invited them to a life of discipleship with the words, “Follow me.” Then, the four mariners embarked on a new life of discipleship, leaving Father Zebedee behind in the boat.
Luke remembered things differently. About once every six years, the lectionary brings us today’s reading to expand our understanding of Jesus’s call and the disciples’ response. According to Luke, that transformation from fisherman to disciple didn’t happen all-at-once. It took the better part of a day and required some persistent effort on the part of the Lord.
Peter and his friends had been out on the lake at night and into the early morning hours, casting their drag nets in the hope of an abundant catch. In Peter’s day, fishing on the Sea of Galilee was strictly monitored. People like Peter, Andrew, James, and John, whose families had plied these waters for generations, purchased an annual imperial fishing license. That fee was significant—equivalent to about one-third of their average annual catch. A series of fishless nights, like the one they had just had, meant hardship for hard-working people like Simon Peter.
The men were mending their nets and dreaming of breakfast and a nap, when Jesus came along. Last week, Jesus may have been preaching in the backwater of Nazareth, but this week, Jesus was followed by a large crowd. There was so much pushing, jostling, and vying for position that preaching from the lakeshore was proving to be hazardous. A boat was needed to push out into the shallows where Jesus could safely preach while the multitude took a seat along the breakwater.
That’s where Simon Peter came in. Just the other week, Jesus had impressed Peter by healing his mother-in-law. Despite that, we can imagine the inner struggle as Simon Peter weighed committing his day and his boat to Jesus against heading home for some much-needed rest. Perhaps feeling like he was doing Rabbi Jesus a favor, the fisherman invited Jesus onboard.
That back-and-forth of request and response continued. As Jesus finished his preaching and dispersed the crowd, he made a second, questionable request of Simon Peter. “Put out into deep water and let down your nets.” In Peter’s response, we hear exasperation. Who was the expert on fishing? It wasn’t Jesus. In fact, the Lord had a lot of nerve, expecting Peter to gather his crew, load his nets, and row halfway across the lake. This time when Peter complied, he made it clear that he was half-heartedly following orders, simply out of respect for Jesus as a rabbi.
It wasn’t until Peter was standing knee-deep in a miraculous haul of fish that he changed his mind about Jesus and decided that the Lord was worth following. That improbable catch confounded every law of nature on the Sea of Galilee. All those fish in that place at that time of day made it clear to the fishermen that God Almighty was in their midst and in need of their service. The third time was the charm.
This story with its growing awareness of who Jesus is and the claim that he has upon our lives feels authentic. It definitely feels more in keeping with our own faith journeys than that spectacular, all-at-once, wholehearted commitment that Matthew and Mark described the disciples making. Most of us aren’t pastors or missionaries, who quickly discern the call to walk away from what is comfortable and familiar to live a radical life of discipleship. For most of us, our calling takes time—and persistence on the part of the Lord.
Our journey to discipleship often begins at the initiative of someone else. As infants, our parents or grandparents make the choice for Jesus for us and we are baptized or dedicated. All we have to do is look cute and not put up too much fuss when the water starts to fly. Our family, congregation, and pastor make the promises for us. We may be placed on the way to Jesus as little ones, but we are no disciples.
A second calling to obedience and discipleship may come our way at confirmation. With the pastor, our mentor, and our classmates, we read scripture, ponder what it would mean for us to be followers of Jesus, and even begin to wrap our own language around our faith. But that doesn’t make us disciples. Indeed, according to the statisticians at Lifeway Research, 66% of young people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two will drop out of church. Relocation, college, or the increasing demands of the workplace cause them to lose their connection to the church and the community that formed their faith.
Sometimes, like Peter, we need to be knee-deep in a miracle before we will make Jesus our priority. Do any of these quiet miracles sound familiar?
We find the blessing of love and we realize that, if that love is going to last, we will need God at the very heart of the relationship. We know we need the Lord.
Our first child is born and in the wonder of that perfect little life entrusted to our care, we dedicate ourselves to the Lord.
We are broken by grief, illness, or hardship, and Jesus touches us with grace and strength that bring us on through and we want more of that.
We see ourselves as we truly are, unclean lips and all. Yet as we break the bread and lift the cup, we learn that the Lord loves us enough to die for us and we are truly forgiven. We come to the Lord in humility and gratitude.
One day, knee-deep in those everyday wonders, we hitched our wagon to Jesus, and we’ve been following him along the Way ever since. When did you choose to truly follow Jesus?
We may not leave everything behind—family, community, and possessions—to follow Jesus, but our choice for discipleship changes us. Jesus takes a central place in our lives. He shapes what we do on Sunday mornings. He directs the way we relate to our families. He determines how we conduct ourselves in the community. Our behavior changes. We dare to forgive as we have been forgiven. We stop attaching strings to our love. We begin to notice at-risk neighbors and we seek to make a caring difference. We start to hunger for worship, prayer, the Word, and Christian fellowship.
One day, we realize that Jesus has done it. We have become his disciples. The Lord has worn us down with that back and forth, call and response, that he once shared with Simon Peter, all those years ago on the shores of Galilee. Thanks be to God for that slow call to discipleship and the Lord’s patience with people like Simon Peter, with people like us. Amen.
Aaron Earls. “Most Teenagers Drop Out of Church When They Become Young Adults” in Lifeway Research, January 15, 2019. Accessed online at lifewayresearch.com.
Howard K. Gregory. “Pastoral Perspective on Luke 4:21-30” in Feasting on the Word, Year C. vol. 1. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.
As the crowd was pressing in on Jesus to hear God’s word, He was standing by Lake Gennesaret. 2 He saw two boats at the edge of the lake; the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, which belonged to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from the land. Then He sat down and was teaching the crowds from the boat. 4 When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and let down[c] your nets for a catch.” 5 “Master,” Simon replied, “we’ve worked hard all night long and caught nothing! But at Your word, I’ll let down the nets.” 6 When they did this, they caught a great number of fish, and their nets[e] began to tear. 7 So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them; they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, because I’m a sinful man, Lord!” 9 For he and all those with him were amazed at the catch of fish they took, 10 and so were James and John, Zebedee’s sons, who were Simon’s partners. “Don’t be afraid,” Jesus told Simon. “From now on you will be catching people!” 11 Then they brought the boats to land, left everything, and followed Him.