In most bibles that give heading titles to sections (which are helpful, but not part of the original text), today’s gospel is labelled, e.g., The Call of Simon the Fisherman. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, get second billing in this account. However Jesus never “calls” them. He never utters a “follow me” to them, like in the accounts of calling the same fishermen in Mark 1:16-20 and Matthew 4:18-22. In our text, Jesus only talks to Simon. Later Jesus will give the command, “Follow me,” to Levi (Luke 5:27), who like these fishermen, “leaves everything and follows him” (5:11, 28). Jesus announces to Simon (and only to Simon!) what Simon will now be doing. This call/announcement comes not in a “holy” place such as the temple or synagogue, but at work. The call comes not to extraordinary, designated holy people such as priests or Pharisees, but to a fisherman; one who knows his sinfulness.
Once the boat returns to land, those who have experienced Jesus’ power on the lake (an image of baptism?), return changed people. They “leave” everything. The word for “leave” (aphiemi) was used earlier of the fever leaving Simon’s mother-in-law (4:39), and the noun form (aphesis) twice in the quote from Isaiah: “release to the captives” and “let the oppressed go free” (4:18); but most often these words are used of forgiving sins (for example: 5:20, 21, 23, 24).
Perhaps we can restate the action of the fisherman as “freeing themselves from all things” or “being released” from them. Levi will do the same thing in v. 28. This could mean that we are released from the punishment we deserve for our sins; but, perhaps also, that our sins or sinfulness no longer have to control us and that we are freed from whatever hinders us from following God’s call to be and live as God’s children. What do we need to be released from so that we can be “church?”
Rick Warren (The Purpose Driven Church, p.16) says: “The wrong question: What will make our church grow? The right question: What is keeping our church from growing?” He goes on to explain:
“All living things grow — you don’t have to make them grow. It’s the natural thing for living organisms to do if they are healthy. For example, I don’t have to command my three children to grow. They naturally grow. As long as I remove hindrances such as poor nutrition or an unsafe environment, their growth will be automatic. If my kids don’t grow, something has gone terribly wrong. Lack of growth usually indicates an unhealthy situation, possibly a disease. In the same way, since the church is a living organism, it is natural for it to grow if it is healthy. The church is a body, not a business. It is an organism, not an organization. It is alive. If a church is not growing, it is dying.”
I think that our text indicates a similar truth about God. The fish are waiting to be caught. Jesus has already prepared them. Jesus has told us that the harvest is plentiful. Jesus has commanded us to go and make disciples. What is keeping us from “capturing” the fish and reaping the harvest and making disciples of all nations? We need to “be released” from whatever is hindering us from following Jesus, from acting on Jesus’ word, from putting in the effort to haul in the catch that Jesus promises us. Warren also points out that God does not want us just to be faithful, but also to be fruitful. Or to use images from our text, we are not just to follow Jesus, we are also to be fishing for (and “catching”) people.
What Jesus announces to Simon is not a wish, but a declaration: “from now on you will be catching men.” Is that statement also addressed to us – both as individuals and parishes? So… what’s keeping us from filling up our nets to the point of breaking? What’s keeping us from having so many new people that we are required to seek extra staff and volunteers to “haul in” all these people?
What’s stopping you?