Here Jesus decides it’s time to multiply himself by gathering around himself a group of men he can teach. As we might expect, we find him teaching again, but again it’s not in the synagogue, but next to the lake, trying to reach as many people as possible. The scene was actually not some pastoral setting like a small lake nestled in the Pocono Mountains, but more like the boardwalk at Atlantic City. So far, the main work of Jesus, at least in Luke, is preaching, not doing healings and miracles. We’ve seen him teaching in the temple when he was 12, teaching in Nazareth and getting rejected for it, exorcizing a demon in Capernaum, healing Peter’s mother-in-law and then many in Capernaum, and then he goes on a preaching tour in the synagogues in Judea. Here we find him preaching again. He’s problem-solving: how do I reach more people? Go to them, instead of waiting for them to come to me.
While teaching, though, he just “happens” to be near where Peter and his mates are working. Curious-er and curious-er: the same Peter whose mother-in-law he healed. If I wasn’t a male and completely devoid of intuition, I’d say he was targeting Peter and already building into his life. Of all the boats there, he gets into Peter’s, allowing him to start to participate, even in a small way, in what Jesus was doing. But Jesus is about as dumb as a fox, y’know? Now he has a captive audience: one Simon Peter. The people on the shore can stop listening and leave; Simon, on the other hand, has to stay for all the teaching. Jesus is already playing out the principle of “move with the movers.” He has left Nazareth, and their needs, and their lack of faith, for good. And here? Sure, he’s preaching to the masses, but he seems to have a “mover”—Simon Peter—in his sights.
“Put out a little from the shore,” he says. He’s problem-solving again: the people were so many that it was impeding his teaching. What to do? He looked around for what resources he did have (similar to the small lunch he used when he fed the 5,000: use what you have handy), he made use of it, and continued to do what he came to do, not by miraculous provision in this case, but by using the tools at his disposal.
Suddenly he makes an odd request: “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets.” Why would Jesus leave the teaching of an enraptured crowd and suddenly, unprompted and of his own initiative, push out into deeper water and let down nets? Is this more important than teaching? It would seem that he has a plan, and that once again Peter is targeted, and this one-on-one lesson will invest in a soul far more than teaching the masses.
Peter doesn’t understand. Oh, he knows what Jesus means to do, but it doesn’t make sense to him since Peter knows there aren’t any fish to catch right now. First of all, nobody goes fishing at this time of day; any idiot knows that. Second, they’ve already proven that there’s nothing in their part of the lake right now, and lastly, why would Jesus leave his teaching to fish? Peter must think the man is seriously deluded.
“But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” Peter has heard something in Jesus’ teaching, and has seen a few miracles, and so we see in him a surprising spirit of obedience, even in the face of overwhelming skepticism. It’s the same trait was see in Noah, Abraham, Moses, and that we wish we saw in Peter and the disciples for the next several years. His rookie perceptions must have given way, through time, to a more reasoned thinking that clouded his spiritual vision and made him less believing, as we see at the feeding of the 5000, the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and even at the resurrection scene.
Anyway, you know the story. Fishermen say that the kind of fish Peter would have caught were called musht, weighing up to 4-5 lbs each. Using a trammel net, a normal take in one haul could be 10-20 pounds. But during the right season, that could be doubled or tripled. Veteran fishermen speak of single hauls of as much as 1000 pounds. You’re getting the idea.
OK, Jesus isn’t a fisherman, so he either knew where they were (by his divine omniscience) or he made them assemble here for the catch (by his divine omnipotence). Either way, something fishy 🙂 is going on here. Whether it’s knowledge or power, it’s unearthly.
“When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; for I am a sinful man.” This is most likely the response of humility, knowing that one is in the presence of someone on the stature of, say, a prophet. By saying this he is acknowledging his own skepticism at the onset, and that he has been schooled : ) by another. But it’s not just, “Oh, you got me with that one!”, but more like he is aware of spiritual power. But I think he also could have been thinking that Jesus somehow got lucky, or saw them (or there are a dozen excuses he could make in his mind to explain it). He’s humbled and astonished, but he’s not worshipping yet. Peter considers himself too practical for that for the time being.
Then Jesus gives the cryptic saying, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” What—are they going to be bounty hunters? Actually, Jesus is closing his net in on Peter and the gang. First they watch, then he’s in the boat, then they put out a little, then they put out to deep water, then he gives them a great catch, and now he lets them know that they are not only going to listen and learn, but that they will take an active part in what he is doing. It was a call to go, and he appeals to them through their normal way of life, in words and concepts they could understand, and utilizing their vocational skills. Brilliant.
It’s a living object lesson. Jesus is going out and fishing for men, and he’s caught Peter and the gang in his net. Then they “go out” and they catch a great catch of fish, but not by their skill, but by the omniscience and omnipotence of God. And then Jesus says, “What you just did (the catch of fish)? You’re going to do that to do what I’m doing (go out and reaching people).”
Either a sense of obedience, or an excited curiosity caught the best of them, and they followed. At least at this point they didn’t see it as a permanent following—they’re found back at their nets after this. But I’m guessing they’re curious enough, impressed enough, and they feel a tug of his authority that they are willing to follow for the time being based on their limited understanding of Him. And that’s good enough for Jesus.