The call of Peter, James, and John in Luke 5 is not the story of Jesus calling the disciples that sticks in my head. I’m not sure why this isn’t the story I remember, but it isn’t. Jesus teaching the crowd from the boat is reminiscent of other stories. Then Jesus telling Peter and the others to let their nets down in deep water has echoes (or foreshadowing) of Peter’s encounter on the beach with the resurrected Christ at the end of John’s gospel. There’s a pattern to this story that we, as present day disciples, could learn something from.
The story opens with a crowd “pressing in” on Jesus to “hear the word of God.” The crowd remains while Jesus teaches. At the end, a few of the gathered are told to go fish in deeper waters—and they do. As his partners are hauling in the fish, Peter recognizes his inadequacy in Jesus’ presence. Then Jesus reassures them that they have nothing to be afraid of for they will be doing God’s work of “catching people.” Surprisingly, the story ends with Peter, James, and John bringing their boats to the shore and, then, leaving “everything” to follow Jesus. It’s the surprise ending that gets me every time.
The men didn’t prepare their fish for market, clean their nets, or put their boats away. They were so moved by Jesus power and presence that they left everything without delay or excuses. It has me wondering how long it’s been since anyone has followed Jesus with such enthusiasm. The key may be in those echoes or foreshadowing if you prefer.
You may remember that encounter on the beach between Peter and Jesus that has so many parallels to this story. Jesus asks Peter, “Do you love me?” three times. And three times Peter says yes. It’s a bit more complicated than that because the first two times Jesus says, Peter, do you agape me and Peter responds with I phileos you. The third time Jesus asks Peter do you phileos me. And Peter says yes a third time. Jesus’ response to Peter’s affirmation also moves from “feed my lambs” to “tend my sheep” to “feed my sheep.” Jesus meets Peter where he is at instead of insisting that Peter be where Jesus is. This is important.
In Luke’s call story, Peter recognizes that he is a sinner, a flawed human who desires to be worthy of responding to Jesus. You’ll notice that Jesus doesn’t respond to this except to say that there is no reason to be afraid. With Jesus they will fish for people. They will fish using love, whatever level of love people are capable of. Do not demand agape, a deep, transforming love, if what is on offer is phileos, a binding, affectionate love. Don’t worry about defining love so much as embodying it. This is how they will catch people.
Personally, I could use this reminder. The world is not an easy place to be these days. Police are still murdering Black men with impunity (there was another shooting in Minneapolis this week). Our hospitals are still full of COVID patients while many people pretend that COVID is just a cold and the rest is government hype. No one is at their best right now. Patience is short. Frustration is high. Isolation is taking it’s toll on our capacity to deal with stress. And there is no end in sight.
Maybe if we take to heart the essence of this call story. Maybe if we go back to be a part of the crowd and press in on Jesus a bit more, waiting to hear the word of God he has for us today. Then remain in place and listen to what Jesus has to say to us here and now. Once we’ve listened and discerned the action requested of us, we engage in that work – without fear and full of love and compassion. Love of any kind that brings patience and respect and honors those we are called to serve, love that keeps perspective and acknowledges we are all flawed and, sometimes, more sinner than saint. Maybe this way we can get back to saving lives with love rather than the judgement, violence, anger, and hatred that seems pervasive in the world around us.