The last scene we considered in the gospel for the the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time was Peter’s reaction to the tremendous catch of fish. Peter begs Jesus to depart from him; what’s the point Peter recognizes his own sinfulness. Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” 11 When they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.
Many bibles add a small title to this account: “Calling Fisherman.” In the parallel accounts found in Mark 1:16-20 and Matthew 4:18-22, Jesus calls out to Peter, Andrew, James and John, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Luke’s tradition tells us a, perhaps, more nuanced account.
Upon a close reading, one sees that Jesus never says “come,” “follow,” or any thing that would be taken as a discipleship command. It is not that Jesus does not take such direct action in Luke’s gospel. Later Jesus will give the command, “Follow me,” to Levi the tax collector (5:27), who like these fishermen, “leaves everything and follows him” (5:11, 28). Rather Luke seems to intend something other than a call story here. It is really a proclamation story. Rather than calling Simon and the others, perhaps Jesus announces to Simon (and only to Simon) what Simon will now be doing (v. 10, “from now on you will be catching men.”). Although the task is similar, the words are different from the call stories in Matthew and Mark.
There are certainly some similarities between the “call” stories of Matthew/Mark and Luke, but there is a major difference in Luke’s context. In Luke’s narrative, Jesus is not a stranger to these men. Prior to this fishing event, Jesus has been to Simon’s house and healed his mother-in-law (4:38-39). Because there is no change in location, we assume that later in the evening when Jesus healed all of the sick and demon-possessed who were brought to him, he was still at Simon’s house (4:40-41). It is not until v. 42 that we are told that Jesus departs, which occurs the next morning. In Luke’s narrative, Simon (and perhaps the others?) have already met Jesus and witnessed numerous miracles before the astonishing / miraculous catch of fish. Certainly a first read might too easily conclude that Simon and the others responded to this miraculous catch of fish, a demonstration of power over nature – and on that basis: “they brought their boats to the shore, they left everything and followed him.” Perhaps there is more here that a first read would reveal.
As noted above, this story shares a lot in common with an “epiphany” account in which God, the Word of God, comes to people in the midst of their ordinary, work-a-day lives. Also as noted above, within Luke’s 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 characteristics of the Pharisees and teachers of the law in the later episodes of this chapter. His further statement, “Depart from me, Lord,” contrasts even more sharply with attempts by people at Nazareth [4:23] and Capernaum [4:42] to keep Jesus to themselves.
Jesus responded, not with condemnation, but the assurance “Don’t be afraid” (v. 10, singular speaking only to Peter). As Peter lay at Jesus’ feet, reduced to the humility of a child, Jesus responded with the grace and love of a parent reassuring a child who has lost all confidence in themselves that they still have value and worth. In that moment Jesus redefined who Peter was. He would no longer be the fisherman on the Sea of Galilee catching fish for a living, but he would now be living to fish for men. The event here was far more than a miracle of fish; it was nothing less than an encounter with God that forever changed who Peter and the other men in the boats would be. And it became symbolic of the mission of God’s people in the new world of the church. Their value and worth would no longer be defined by their own efforts and success at their vocation, but would be defined by the power of God at work in their lives in carrying out his work in the world.
“from now on you will be catching men” Literally, the next line reads: “from the now, you shall be catching alive (zogreo) people.” The similar phrase in Matthew and Mark reads: “I will make you (to become) fishermen [halieus] of people.” (This word for “fishermen” is used in v. 2 of our text.)
The Greek verb translated “catching alive” is a compound word: zoos = “alive, living” + agreo = “capture, catch”. (This is a verb closely related to agra used in vv. 4 and 9 about “catching” the fish). Classically, it also came to mean, “to restore to life and strength, to revive.” Maybe a more literal translation might lead us to a sense of this verse as something like “You will be restoring people to life and strength.” This is perhaps a more captivating thought to people who don’t want to be caught in a net… but what about being “caught up in his or her love” or “captured” by love. Being caught in this way can make us feel really alive and energized – captivated! By the end of our text, Peter and some of his friends are captivated by Jesus. They leave everything and follow him. (Stoffregen)
Culpepper  writing on these verses points out that the “fishing” image was not usually a positive one:
The fishermen are themselves caught by Jesus and given a new vocation. In the OT and the Dead Sea Scrolls fishing is used metaphorically for gathering people for judgment (Amos 4:2; Hab 1:14-15; Jer 16:16; 1QH 5:7-8). Seen against this background, the call to the disciples was a commission to gather people for judgment, a theme found in the preaching of John the Baptist (3:7-9). The metaphor of fishing was also common in Greek literature as a metaphor for the activity of philosopher-teachers. In the Gospels, however, the call to become fishers of men becomes a call to gather men and women for the kingdom.
In our evangelical work, this word can remind us that our purpose is to “capture” others in such a way that it is “life-giving” rather than “life-taking”. To use more theological terms, to “capture” them with love and grace and mercy; rather than threats and law and intimidation.
Who are they (and we) to “captivate”? The word is anthropos = “people”. However, the context might narrow the field a little. Immediately after this story, Jesus is confronted by a man with leprosy. Jesus touches him (thus taking on his uncleanness) and heals him. In the next story, some men come to Jesus carrying a paralyzed man (anthropos). Jesus forgives and then cures him. Next Jesus calls Levi, the tax collectors and shares in a feast at his house. A few verses later, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue on the sabbath, a man (anthropos) with a withered hand was there (6:6). Jesus cures him. Prior to the fish story, Jesus had exorcised an unclean spirit from a man (anthropos) (4:33); healed Simon’s mother-in-law, and cured all who were sick.
This suggests that: “You will be restoring people to life and strength” is at least part of the understanding of “catching people”. Or as Green (The Gospel of Luke) suggests that Jesus is identified “as one who crosses boundaries to bring good news to the unworthy” [p. 234].
- 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
- Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at crossmarks.com
- Scripture quotes from New American Bible