This chapter starts with the heading “The Calling of the First Disciples”. Until now, Jesus traveled and ministered alone (which, oddly, I hadn’t noticed before today). Some of the men he eventually called might have been in the crowds that were constantly searching him out “to hear the word of God”. Certainly, living in or near Capernaum, they would have known him or, at least, of him. Jesus no doubt knew Simon, since we read in Chapter 4 that “he went out of the synagogue and entered Simon’s house”.
But now Jesus begins to identify those he wants to be his close companions, those whom he will disciple to carry on his message and works after he has left the earth. We see the first calling of the disciples in this very revealing encounter with Simon.
I confess this isn’t a new insight from my present reading of the chapter. It struck me some time ago, so forcefully and happily, that I wrote about it in 25,000 Mornings with the title Beginning Again, in the section entitled Starting Out or Starting Over. Some of you will have the book and recognize the post. Some of you won’t have the book, so I wanted to share the story again, here, for you. An abbreviated version, but it still speaks, I think.
After Jesus borrowed Simon’s boat to more efficiently speak to the gathering crowd, he repays him for the kindness by telling him to launch out again and “let down your nets for a catch.”
Obviously, Simon and his crew are tired, and none of them want to launch out again. They had caught no fish at night, which, apparently, is the best time for a catch, so it made no sense to go out again. But Simon, probably not wanting to appear the contrarian, launches out.
For years I wondered why, after he sees the net-breaking catch, Simon falls to his knees, saying, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” What on earth brought that on?
What shamed him was the broken net! Jesus had told him to let down the nets, but Simon had let down only one, and that one not his best. The broken net had told Jesus, and everyone else, that Simon’s faith in the Master, and therefore his obedience, had been half-hearted.
Haven’t we all been there at some point? When we look at our own abilities, not God’s? Perhaps we feel like we are the ones who have to make “the fish” appear, and don’t want to disappoint the Master with our failure. Maybe that’s why we don’t obey the direction we were given—direction that was meant for our victory, or for someone else’s—or we obey only half-heartedly, expecting nothing.
I have certainly felt that shame.
But look at Jesus’ response. Not condemnation, not “try to do better next time.” Just the comforting word, “Don’t be afraid,” and the prophecy, even knowing this wouldn’t be the last time his friend would fail, “From now on you will catch men!”
Wow! Such love! Such grace! If there’s anything the Christmas message offers the world Jesus came to, it is the hope of a new beginning, and the reality of a new creation, to those who believe.
“The Lord’s mercies…are knew every morning,” (Lamentations 3:22-23).