By Amber Noel
A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 5:1-11
1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed 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. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
When does Peter start following Jesus? It seems clear enough from this passage. But at some point before this calling, Peter is already in Jesus’ orbit, maybe already a disciple. Jesus is spending time at Peter’s house. He heals Simon’s mother-in-law. He performs miracles in Peter’s house in the evenings. He uses Peter’s boat as a pulpit. Peter is already in a closer-than-average relationship with Jesus. He is already one to whom Jesus speaks, with whom he dwells, from whom he asks. What more is there?
Peter is burning the candle at both ends. In the day and evening he is hosting Jesus, and at night he’s working full-time, and in the morning he’s multitasking: cleaning the nets while listening to sermons. Perhaps Peter thinks he can do everything. If Jesus were to tell him “Your commitment to me now? It will increase a hundredfold before the month is out,” what would Peter have thought? How would he have felt?
Maybe, like his all-night fishing, Peter had come to the end of what he could give the Lord on his own. And that was an important step. It was good, a vital beginning. But the change Jesus invites isn’t merely “More.” It requires a listening, and a turn. A new path. A deeper “letting down.” We might say, when it comes to the offering of Peter’s life to God, this is a matter of quality, not just quantity. “You think there’s no more your life can hold?” Jesus seems to say. “Compared to what I still have for you, my friend, you are an empty net.”
The Lord regards our faithfulness and makes much of it. And yet… and yet… is it possible to serve him for years and still be invited into a new depth: of love, of joy, of rootedness, of patience, of forgiveness, of sacrifice? He leads us each differently. Abundance takes many forms. Might it be your turn to answer with a new “Yes,” as Peter does here?
Amber Noel, M.Div., is Associate Editor at the Living Church and Associate Director of The Living Church Institute. Off the clock, she is the author of short fiction, book and culture reviews, and work for the stage.
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