This story is in both the gospel of Mark (c1) and the gospel of Matthew (c4). In those gospels, Jesus wanders by the sea of galilee and sees a couple of fishermen. He tells the fishermen to follow him and they do. That’s all there is to the story in Mark and Matthew. Jesus walks by, sees them fishing and tells them to follow him and they do as they become fishers of people. Fair enough, Mark and Matthew make the point that Jesus speaks with authority.
Luke takes a little more time with the story. He sees the two boats there but has to do some teaching with the crowds first. You know, like Jesus does. So Simon Peter takes him out on the water in his boat. In his empty boat.
Somewhere along the line in undergrad I think it was, I heard of a book by Benedictine monk and archaeologist Bargil Pixner called “The Fifth Gospel” that describes natural amphitheaters here and there on the Sea of Galilee. So Peter likely takes him out to the middle of one of these so that Jesus can use the natural surroundings to help his voice carry. Jesus then does his teaching thing.
Now, no doubt this boat was not what we think of as a fishing boat. (BOAT) I’m not well versed in the maritime craft of Jesus’ day but I’m confident in suggesting that Peter’s boat was no sportsmen’s fishing charter with quad outboards. Pretty sure that in Peter’s boat there’s no fighting chair, comfy bench seats, galley or other, shall we say, onboard facilities. It was very likely much less refined.
I deployed to Turkey way back when while I was in the Air Force and one weekend while I was there we had some free time so some genius got the bright idea we should charter a couple of boats and go out on the Mediterranean for some fun. This seemed like a great idea to the rest of us geniuses so we found a local guy to line up some vans to haul us an hour through who knows where to get to the sea shore. Whereupon we located a couple of boats to take us out on the water to some island for a barbecue. All of this seemed like a great idea though in retrospect it may not have been our finest hour.
In any case, I have actually seen fishing boats in this part of world and while we may have been picturing this style of fishing boat when we made our genius plans, the ones we actually ended up on looked very similar to this one (BOAT2) if somewhat less colorful. You will note, of course, the lack of amenities. For the record, we did get out to this island that looked suspiciously like a sandbar on the Platte River and we did manage to return both to shore and to the base, having survived our little adventure.
In any case, I suspect the boat that Jesus goes out in is on the same lines as this one, less the outboard motor, internal combustion engines not having been invented for another 19 centuries or so. No creature comforts of any sort and any extra room taken up by nets, while wide open to the elements.
This is important to note because look what’s going on with Peter and his boat. If Peter had been successful with his catch of fish that day, if Peter has come back to shore with his boat full to the gunwales with fish, what does he say to the idea of hauling Jesus around? Um, sorry Jesus, I’ve got these fish that need to be dealt with. You know, before they go bad and start smelling up the place. Love to help but have to run. Tata!
Instead, what do we find? We find Peter as a failure. More importantly Jesus comes across Peter as a failure as he comes up to them only to find out they’ve caught no fish. They had one job… But what is Jesus’ reaction to the failed fisherman? Does he look at him and say, “Peter, you are such a loser!” and walk on? No, not at all. Jesus tells Peter to follow him and it is in his failure that Peter becomes available to do what Jesus needs him to do. If Simon Peter isn’t a failure at fishing then not only is there no time for Peter follow Jesus there is also no place for Jesus in his boat.
Fortunately, Peter is a failure as a fisherman this day and so he has the time and the place for Jesus. That’s good news for all of us. With time on his hands and room in his boat, Peter responds to Jesus’ call with the obvious choice of emotions… fear. Because that’s the emotion we experience when Jesus calls, isn’t it?
Simon Peter’s faith life likely raised him up with a focus on the ‘fear the lord’ which creates all kinds of problems. In this case, the rock on which Jesus’ church will be built, that is Simon Peter, is saying he’s not worthy. I wonder what happens to the body of Christ as a group if Peter doesn’t connect. For one thing, if Simon Peter doesn’t follow Jesus then he doesn’t see the vision that changes the food laws and if the food laws eliminating the Jewish prohibition on pork don’t get changed then, we don’t get to eat bacon today.
Important as bacon might be, there are perhaps a few somewhat more pressing things to remember here. Don’t get so busy that outside concerns get in the way of your faith life. You may have a boat full of fish but if you don’t make time for Jesus, there will come a time when those fish are going to go bad and start smelling up the place.
Don’t let any kind of failure get in the way of your faith life. We’ve all failed at one time or another. You know it, I know it, and more importantly, Jesus knows it. Thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, you’re forgiven, I’m forgiven and in our brokenness Jesus has work for us to do. It is in our failure that we learn to leave room in our boat for Jesus.
And for the love of all that’s holy, don’t let your fear get in the way of Jesus. This is probably the biggest trap that Satan sets for us. Satan doesn’t have to do anything to us, in fact Satan cannot do anything directly to us but Satan can whisper lies in our ears that other things are more important than our relationship with Christ and that we are big failures. And that whispering sets up what comes next and that’s fear. And when it comes to faith and our connection to God in Jesus Christ, fear never works in our favor. Jesus tells Peter, “do not be afraid” and that pretty well shatters the delusion of fear that Peter has.
Remember, you are called and sent by Christ, the one who has saved all of us. Remember to make room in your boat for Christ. Remember your failures are forgiven. Remember, in Christ there is no fear. Go and share the Good News