The art of fishing

Yesterday we took a moment to look at the arc of Luke’s narrative, his craft in writing, and all the leads up to this gospel that serves as the Lukan recounting of the calling of the first apostles. Continuing our look into the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time, we begin:

1 While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. 2 He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”

Twice in this section “the crowd” is mentioned. Who are they? They are people who come to Jesus to hear the word of God (v. 1). They are people who are taught by Jesus (v. 3), but are they people willing to leave everything and follow Jesus (v. 11)? In our text, there is a difference between the crowd (ochlos) and the fishermen (halieus). The crowd listens to Jesus. The fishermen act. The crowd stays on the land. The fishermen will go out into the deep. At first, Jesus and Simon go out just “a little way from the shore” (ge). Later Jesus will ask Simon to go out to the deep water. Could these be images of different levels of trust in Jesus — the safety of the land, the slightly more dangers position of being “a short distance from the shore,” and the quite dangerous position of being out in deep waters?

Although I have labeled this section as a teaching moment, we actually are not told the content of Jesus’ teaching, but there is perhaps an acute allegory at play in Luke’s writing. The crowds have been listening to the word of God, yet we are never told of their reaction to Jesus’ preaching, to the clear miracles of the catch, and one assumes that as the scene ends, the disciples left everything and followed  Jesus, the crowds were still in place. Perhaps moved, but not moving.

The account begins with a wide-angle view: the press of the crowd leading to Jesus’ teaching in a natural amphitheater from a boat on the lake. Quickly, however, events on the boat move to the forefront and the crowd disappears completely from view. The important interaction here is between Jesus and Peter, who represent the ones who respond positively to Jesus.

4 After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon said in reply, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing, but at your command I will lower the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish and their nets were tearing. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come to help them. They came and filled both boats so that they were in danger of sinking.

From Culpepper [116]: “Fish was one of the staples in first-century Palestine, where more fish was eaten than any other meat (see Luke 11:11; 24:42) and a thriving fishing industry flourished on the Sea of Galilee. Fish was eaten fresh, processed, salted, dried, or pickled, for export. The fish of the Sea of Galilee are of three main varieties: the cichlidae, a family of large panfish that includes “St. Peter’s fish”; the cyprinidae, or carp family; and the siluridae, or catfish. The Jews did not eat catfish, however, because it did not have “fins and scales” (Lev 11:9–12; Deut 14:9–10).”

“The various types of nets mentioned in the NT were probably similar to the nets used by Arab fishermen until recent decades. These include (1) the casting net (amphiblēstron, Matt 4:18), a circular net that was cast by a wading fisherman; (2) the trammel net (though this word is used generically for various nets [diktyon, Matt 4:20]), or a line of three nets hanging from floats, the inner net having a small mesh that trapped the fish; and (3) the drag net (sagēnē, Matt 13:47), which could be several hundred yards long. Luke’s description of putting out into deep water and letting down nets suggests that the fishermen were using the trammel nets.”

In Mark’s version of the call of the first disciples (Mark 1:16–20), the scene is shared by two sets of brothers. Here the spotlight is on Simon, with his partners in the background (Andrew is not even mentioned by name). Jesus seems familiar with this group and they know him (see 4:38). While the fishermen are doing their morning cleaning of the nets and hanging them to dry, Jesus uses Simon’s boat to distance himself from the crowd a little in order to preach. There are many natural coves that would have formed a natural amphitheater with the water helping to carry his voice. With v.4, the crowd is suddenly gone, and the rest of the scene is interaction and dialogue between Jesus and Simon.


  • R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke.” New Interpreter’s Bible. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. 9. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994–2004) 112–18
  • Scripture quotes from New American Bible

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