This coming Sunday is the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time in Lectionary Year C. Let’s begin with some context to help us locate this gospel narrative in the larger setting of Luke’s gospel.
For the two previous weeks in the lectionary cycle, Jesus has been in Nazareth engaging the citizens of his own hometown (4:14-30). As Jesus indicated, no prophet is accepted in his own native place (v.24). Leaving Nazareth, Jesus moved on to Capernaum. Again he amazed people while teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath. While present, there was a man with the spirit of an unclean demon (v.33). Jesus casts the demon from the man, again amazing the people: For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out.”(v.36) Also while in Capernaum, Jesus cured Simon’s mother-in-law (vv.38-39) and all manner of people sick with various diseases (v.40) and case out other demons (v.41).
42 At daybreak, Jesus left and went to a deserted place. The crowds went looking for him, and when they came to him, they tried to prevent him from leaving them. 43 But he said to them, “To the other towns also I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God, because for this purpose I have been sent.” 44 And he was preaching in the synagogues of Judea.
This is the first place in Luke where Jesus mentions proclaiming the Kingdom of God as a compelling necessity – something that will become a hallmark of later sections of Luke’s gospel.
The Capernaum ministry consists of four scenes in which Jesus performs the first healings and exorcisms in the Gospel of Luke. Luke’s account of the healings in Capernaum makes several connections. It connects the healings and exorcisms with Jesus’ teaching so that the power of his words is dramatically demonstrated in his mighty works. By implication, where his words are heard, there the power that was manifested in the miracles continues to be active. As Culpepper notes [112-113], “Running through both the Nazareth and the Capernaum episode, however, is the warning that the power of God cannot be possessed, contained, or limited for our own purposes. It moves on, and it is always reaching across the barriers that separate communities and peoples from one another. The mighty works of Jesus’ ministry, however, are a manifestation of the power of the Spirit. As the Lord’s anointed, Jesus was empowered to extend the work of the prophets and begin the work of the kingdom. What was stated in the reading from Isaiah 61 saw its first small beginnings in the healings in Capernaum. God was moving to free persons from the debilitating and dehumanizing conditions that prevented human beings from living as God willed life to be. In that respect, the text gives up a significant clue when as a result of Jesus’ healings, demons flee from those who have been delivered from their illness or impairment. The healings are theologically significant, therefore, because they convey important insights into God’s intention for human life and God’s unrelenting efforts to free captives and give sight to the blind. Healing and deliverance are manifestations of the work of the kingdom.”
Jesus continues his Galilean ministry near Capernaum and Nazareth in the territory around the Lake, here called Gennesaret after the fertile plain on its northwest shore. To this point Jesus has acted alone, unaccompanied by disciples – that however is about to change.
The beginning of traditio. Christian tradition and popular biblical opinion is the St. Luke was a physician. I occupy the minority camp on that matter. There have been lots of studies comparing his writing and language to know physicians of his age. There is nothing about this Gospel (or Acts of the Apostles) that points to a physician. But as many have pointed out, there is much that points to another occupation: rhetorical historian (and yes, he could have been both…). As the rhetorical historian, he writes with a purpose and intent. Green  writes: “Within his overall narrative strategy, the initial purpose of this episode is to secure for Luke’s audience the nature of appropriate response to the ministry of Jesus. Simon’s obedience and declaration of his sinfulness, and especially the final note that Simon, James, and John “left everything and followed” contrast both with the earlier “amazement” of the crowds and with the questions and opposition characteristic of the Pharisees and teachers of the law in the later episodes of this chapter. His further statement, “Go away from me, Lord,” contrasts even more sharply with attempts by people at Nazareth and Capernaum, as it were, to keep Jesus to themselves.”
The intent can be seen in the structure Luke carefully assembles. This narrative, which we commonly refer to as “calling disciples” actually has no moment in which Jesus says “follow me.” Rather the narrative takes on the form of an extended pronouncement story centered around Jesus’ challenge to Simon in v.10. The larger unit is a composite constructed from three distinct parts: the setting by the lake (5:1–3), for which Luke echoes Mark 4:1–2; a miracle story—the catch of fish (5:4–7), for which there is a parallel in John 21:3–8; and the call of the fishermen (5:8–11), for which carries the resonance of Mark 1:16–20. The first three verses set the scene and introduce the characters. The catch of fish introduces the first dialogue between Jesus and Simon Peter and prepares for the call to discipleship at the end of the scene. Isolating the dialogue serves to highlight its role in this scene:
Jesus: “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
Simon: “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing. But at your command, I will lower the nets.”
Simon: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
Jesus: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”
Following the narrative technique of framing scenes or episodes by means of entrances and departures that Luke uses repeatedly, the scene is introduced by a reference to the crowd’s coming to Jesus and closes with the report that the fishermen left everything to follow Jesus. The disciples depart, not from the holy places of the Temple or synagogue, but from the ordinary of everyday life – called by “the word of God” (the first time so described in Luke; v.1). It is important to note that here, as the disciples are being called to their new vocation, that it is also the beginning of the traditio, the handing on, of the ministry of this word that will continue in the church (Acts 4:31; 6:2).
- R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke.” New Interpreter’s Bible. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. 9. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994–2004) 112–18
- Joel B. Green, “The Gospel of Luke.” The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997) 230- 35