Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany [c] February 6, 2022
1 On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on [Jesus] to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, 2 and [Jesus] saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
In the Name of Jesus.
Think of something routine. You know how to do it; you know how it turns out.
Such as fishing. Fishing can be routine. A fisherman knows how. Use the right bait or fly, go to the stream at the best time of the day, where you know the water is running just right, you’ll pull out three or four trout, because you know how this works. Or at a lake—use the right bait, fish at the best depth in the best part of the lake, you’ll get your fish. And then go to the bar and brag about it, about how many you caught, the measurement of the big one, about how other fishermen wouldn’t have been able to do as well.
This is all routine. Things just work this way.
Simon Peter new fishing. Not a hobby, it was his business, his life-blood.
We know from later texts in Scripture how brash Peter could be, maybe even a bit of a braggart. How many times must’ve he reported in to the bar after a long day of fishing and bragged about his catch, about how a lesser fisherman couldn’t have pulled it off?
This time, for these fisherman, it had been a rough night. The fishermen working the two boats get skunked. Nothing to report to their buddies, nothing to brag about. Why no fish this day? Who knows? Maybe bad undercurrents. Maybe the water was changing temperature to quickly. Maybe a circling hawk spooked the fish. Who knows? Sometimes it just works out that way.
And when he had finished speaking, [Jesus] said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking.
Peter’s response? Luke 5:8:
When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”
Peter’s a proud man, we know that. He’s spent his whole life in the fish business. He knows how to catch fish, he knows how to take credit for catching fish, and his identity is fixed to being known as a fisherman. If you take fishing from him, who is he in the community?
Jesus, in giving this great catch of fish, puts a lie to all of that.
Jesus is not doing miracles just to impress. He’s revealing much more than that. Jesus shows that he upholds all things. Those fish Peter was proud of catching on, say, a cold day three months ago when no other fishermen could figure out how to bring in a catch?—Peter now must see that not one fish goes in the net but that Jesus accomplishes it. Every fish caught over the years by hard work, by wise planning, by rightly discerning the currents—every fish caught is by Jesus upholding all things of creation and having it so.
So Peter, the one who had bragged about his skill, who had accomplished his identity with a successful fishing business, now sees it was all, at every point, by gift from the Lord. Peter falls down on his knees, “O Lord, depart from me, for I am a sinful man.”
Jesus is giving Peter a greater gift than the fish! The gift of repentance and forgiveness, the gift of knowing that all things come as gift from the Lord—all things, including a good work ethic, a mind able to form up plans, a desire to build a business to support family, a good day of fishing on the lake—all things come as gift from the Lord.
But the gift is much greater even than that. Jesus is revealing to Peter and the others who will be catching fish for the church. This is comforting for us. Because these fish Jesus is talking about are the sinners. We are the fish. Luke 5:10:
And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”
Now, if we just took that statement on its own and asked, Who will be catching the fish?, we would give the answer, Peter and the other Apostles, because that’s who Jesus is saying will be catching men.
But if we then think to what Jesus did right before this in providing the great catch, and we asked that question, Who’s catching the fish?, even though it was Peter and the others pulling the nets, we all know it was Jesus—he provided the fish.
Now, when Jesus makes Peter and the Apostles fishers of men, who’s to do the actual fishing? They are just doing what the Lord gives them to do. They’re pulling the nets. Or, in the case of sinners, they will be speaking Jesus’ Name, they will be forgiving sins in his Name, they will be baptizing sinners in his Name, they will be calling sinners to his Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins. But it’s Jesus doing the work.
This is comforting for the sinner. It has to be. For although the Lord gives the Church to hear absolution from the mouth of a pastor, that pastor is no more giving the absolution than Peter was putting those fish into the net. Jesus speaks sinners absolved. He just does it by using the mouth of a pastor—a sinful pastor whom Jesus has placed into a holy office. When you bring a baby to be baptized, you will see the pastor’s hand pour water and mouth speak the Name, but it’s Jesus.
Look at Peter, look at the Apostles: sinners all. Look at the pastor: sinner. But Jesus works through those he sets into office. Just as he worked through the hands of Peter and the rest to bring in the fish, but no one, least of all Peter after this great catch of fish, can be confused. It’s Jesus from start to finish.
When Jesus is giving this great catch of fish, as with his other miracles, he’s not just revealing that he can do miracles, that he has all power over nature, that even the fish will follow his Word. He reveals something much more comforting than that.
He does have all power over creation; even the fish follow his Word. How can it be otherwise? Hebrews 1:3:
[God’s Son] is the radiance of the glory of God and the express image of his person, and he upholds all things by the word of his power.
All things of this world, of the universe, all things of creation are daily upheld by Jesus’ word of power. His word by which he created all things with his Father. By this word he upholds the Earth and the Moon in their orbits; he has the rays of the Sun evaporate the waters so the clouds are formed; he gives fertility to the animals of the field so they reproduce. By his word, he has the fish streaking through the waters to find food.
To our eyes, it’s all routine. It seems predictable. Who doubts the Sun will come up tomorrow, or that the tomato plant will point itself to the light looking for photosynthesis; who doubts the fish will look for food as they always have?
But no species created itself, no star in the sky formed up its own material and cast itself out into orbit, and no fish determined that it would feed itself on flies buzzing in the air or plants at the bottom of the sea.
The Lord created by his word, and by his word he is daily upholding and sustaining all of creation.
When Jesus gives the great catch of fish to these Apostles, it’s not to impress with his power. Rather, Jesus reveals, first, that he is the one upholding all creation by his word of power, so that the fish are serving his purpose whether they are hiding from the fishermen or are jumping themselves into the fisherman’s net.
But in this Jesus is revealing, second, that all creation is being upheld toward a purpose. Not some random event to show power. This event, worked by Jesus’ word of power, is in service to Jesus and, specifically, in service to what Jesus wants to give as gift to his Apostles.
Everything is toward his cross. Toward him dying bearing the sins of every sinner. Everything is toward him, Jesus, having that gift proclaimed to sinners, so that by that preaching of the cross, he is gathering sinners into his church, as a fisherman pulling a net.
In the Name of Jesus.