1 One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. 2 He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. 3 Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”
5 “Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn't catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” 6 And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! 7 A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.
8 When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m too much of a sinner to be around you.” 9 For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. 10 His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed. Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” 11 And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.
RM: Not all of the twelve Apostles were fishermen by trade before Jesus called them, but many of them were.
But the impact that Jesus made on them was so radical and profound that it caused them to be willing to leave everything in their lives and follow him. What was it about Jesus that could make them be willing to leave everything and follow him?
I want to answer three questions about the disciples following him. Where? How? & Why?
Where did they follow him? Jesus used their vocation as symbolism for where he was going. He said, “from now on, your mission will not be catching fish, but catching people. The Mission of the church … is to catch people.
What this means is that it’s not unchurched people’s responsibility to come to us. It’s our responsibility to go to them. The disciples were not allowed to stay on the comfortable shore. Jesus made them go out. The fish were not going to jump up onto the shore. The disciples had to go get them. And that is where the church must go.
God is calling us to be a church “not for ourselves.” That is what this passage is about. We call it the Great Commission. Reaching the lost, as Jesus put it, needs to be at the center of our church. If we want to follow Jesus, that is where he’s going. The mission of the church is catching people.
The next question is, How? How do we catch people? First, we catch people by realizing that it’s actually only Jesus that catches people. The disciples realized that they didn’t ultimately catch the fish. Jesus did. They couldn’t have done it without his miracle. And neither can we. We don’t have the power to catch people. God might use our words and efforts in someone’s journey, but it’s only Jesus that makes it work. It’s always literally a miracle when anyone becomes a Christian. Only Jesus can bring a person to believe in him and follow him.
Secondly, Jesus does, however, call us to cast our nets. He calls us both as individuals and as a church.
As individuals, the New Testament teaches so much about the importance of practicing intentional hospitality for those who don’t yet believe, courageously and creatively making safe places in your life for people who don’t yet believe, reaching out to an unchurched acquaintance, not to invite them into your church since that might scare them, but just inviting them into your life, starting a friendship, intentionally, to just serve them and get to know them. What would it look like for us to practice intentional hospitality to a non-churched neighbor?
God also calls us to cast our nets, as a church. At each of our denomination’s (ECO) national gatherings, almost every message they give is encouraging us to adapt every space in our church, every ministry, to make every part of our church be an attractive and safe place for unchurched people to come and feel welcome and make sense of things, for them to be welcome as they consider the message, even though they may not yet believe.
In 1st Corinthians 14:23, St. Paul teaches us that the church as a whole, even in the way that we worship, needs to be adapted intentionally for the “outsider” (it says), so that he or she can relate with it, and make sense of things here.
That’s how we cast nets and catch people! As a Church and as individuals, the Bible is teaching us to adapt ourselves to reach out to unchurched people.
The last question is, Why? Why would we be willing to do this? We are never going to be willing to do something so radical as leave everything and follow Jesus to catch people, until we find our real happiness no longer in our comfortable, suburban lives, living for our routines and our own families. We won’t be willing to follow Jesus into Mission, not authentically, until we find our deepest fundamental happiness in Him.
In verse 8, when Peter realizes that Jesus is God, from his performing a miracle, Peter felt profound shame at first. He said, “Go away from me! for I am a sinful man!” (i.e. “I’ve been living for things other than God. I’ve been living for myself!”) He felt guilty. And what was Jesus’ response? “Don’t be afraid! I’m not going to condemn you. I’m going to forgive you and love you! Not only am I going to cover your shame, I’m even going to make you my partner! ...to do Mission together!”
Peter (and the others) found their happiness, their security, their identity and meaning, in a new relationship with this gracious God who dies to be with us.
When we find our deepest happiness and identity in Jesus, that’s what makes us willing to let go of our lives, and follow him with our whole life and help him catch people! …to cut back on our comfortable lives and routines and scale back, so that we can carve out time for hospitality, and even be willing to readjust our church to be geared for people who don’t yet believe. Jesus’ loving grace is the reason that we would follow Jesus into his Mission…the mission of catching people.
Prayer: Jesus, I want to be totally open and honest before you. You know that I really prefer to live a comfortable life that serves me most. But show me what the disciples saw in you. As John Donne says, “Ravish me!” Let me see your beauty, your acceptance of me, the joy and adventure of knowing you, so that it will motivate me to live for you, from here on. And let me and all of us at Grace Presbyterian Church get courageous in our desire to live a life in mission with you. Let us even get risky in our endeavor to catch people. Amen.