One while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.
Jesus enters the town like the lone ranger. He barely receives a nod from the movers and shakers as he makes his way around. The people are good country folk, they know how to mind their own business, and someone new in town is sure to make a mess of things.
And Jesus, well, that’s exactly what he does.
He starts teaching, if that’s what we want to call it. He tells stories. He makes people laugh, he makes people think, and he makes some people mad.
Talk of the first being last and the last being first always sounds like good news to those on the bottom, but it doesn’t ring with the same kind of joy for those with all the power in the world.
Anyway, it doesn’t take long before this stranger attracts a crowd wherever he goes. At first it was just an opportunity for people to leave their lives for a moment, disappearing into the stories about good neighbors, and wandering sheep, and prodigal children. But then Jesus started the healings and the feedings. The hungry walked away with full bellies and the paralytics, well they just walked away which was miracle enough.
And it all started to get a little out of hand.
So much so that one day, while standing by the lake, the crowd had grown so large that the Lord in the flesh decided to do something about it.
Down the way, along the shore, were a few boats and the men who had been out all night fishing. They were busy cleaning their nets when Jesus walked up, hopped into a boat, and said, “Hey, what are we doing here on the shore? Let’s get out on the water.”
And without thinking twice about it, Peter pushed the boat in, and started oaring the Lord away from the crowds.
“This is perfect right here Pete,” Jesus remarked, “Now I can see everyone and everyone can hear. Keep it steady for a bit, okay?”
And then the teaching started up again. There was talk of loving enemies and praying for the people that make the world a messy place. There were stories of fig trees and lost coins. There were apocalyptic proclamations about all things being made new.
Most of it went right over Peter’s head. Literally and figuratively.
But then Jesus looked down and said, “Pete, let’s go a little deeper and see if we can’t find ourselves some fish.”
“No offense, Lord,” Peter sheepishly replied, “But I’ve been out all night fishing. You see, fishing is what I do. And there ain’t no fish to be caught. But you seem to be on a roll today, so why not?”
Within 15 minutes they had caught more fish than could be safely get aboard the boat and they had to call for the other fishermen to help.
10 minutes later they had so many fish that the boats started sinking.
Peter saw all this happen right in front of him, with his arms giving out from hauling in all the fish, and he fell to the bottom of the boat and shouted, “Get out of here Lord! I’m not worthy of all this!”
And Jesus said, “No one is. But you don’t need to be afraid, from now on you’ll be catching people.”
And Peter, along with his partners, left everything at the shore and followed Jesus.
What a great and confounding story.
Theologically, it points to the bewildering nature of Jesus’ command over creation and how, whether we like it or not, we’re all caught up in something far greater than any of us realize.
But practically, it’s also an awesome story about fishing.
Those who enjoy fishing inevitably know how to tell tales. For, most of the time, the fish we brag about are never quite as large in real life. The amount of effort that goes into fishing, getting the gear and the bait, finding the right water, going at the right time of day, practicing patience… It’s all a lot of work for a slippery little thing that, most of the time, you just toss back into the water anyway.
Notably, there’s a good deal of fishing in the New Testament and no one EVER catches a fish unless Jesus is with them. It’s doesn’t matter whether they’ve been doing it for years, or they have the right bait and gear, or if they’re in their lucky fishing spot – If Jesus isn’t in the boat, then there will be no fish.
And I’ve always loved how this little story ends. Luke puts all the attention and all the details on the fishing, but in the end, they leave all the fish behind to start fishing for Jesus.
It’s hard to know when it happened exactly, but somewhere along the line Jesus caught each of us.
That’s what Jesus does – its not just the telling of tales, and the proclamation of parables, and the making of miracles. Jesus delights in gathering all of us into the great net that, in the church, we call salvation.
And Jesus is very good at what he does.
Life, as we often perceive it, is little more than going through the motions over and over again. But Jesus comes to bring us life and life abundant. That’s what Christmas is all about – the lengths to which God was willing to go to come and shake up the monotony of life, to set us free from the chains of sin and death, and to welcome us to Supper of the Lamb that never ever ends.
Jesus’ divine fishing charter is not merely about gathering in whoever he can whenever he can, but it is also all purposed to bring us to a place we could never arrive on our own.
The tall and the small, the good and the bad… Jesus’ net is wide enough for all of us.
Thanks be to God.