Luke 5:1-11

Shaping the Renewed Community (1)

First Calling

Luke 5:1-11  -  Jesus Calls the First Disciples 

1 Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.  
The crowd was pushing close to him,
listening to the word of God.
2 He saw two boats anchored at the shore.  
The fishermen had disembarked and were cleaning their nets.
3 He got into one of the boats – it belonged to Simon –
and asked him to pull out a little from the shore.  
He sat there in the boat to teach the crowds.

Luke departed from Mark’s Gospel at his stage and drew on a source of his own. Apart from emphasising the popularity of Jesus, the incident would provide a helpful setting for the story that followed – a significant elaboration of Mark’s less detailed calling of the first disciples.

4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon:
"Move out into deep water,
and lower your nets for a catch.
5 Simon answered him:
"Master, we worked hard all through the night,
and caught nothing.
But since you asked for it,
I shall lower the nets.
6 They did so, and netted an enormous haul of fish.  
The nets began to tear.
7 They signalled to their partners in the other boat
to come and help them.  
They came,
and filled both boats till they were almost sinking. 
8 When Simon Peter saw this,
he fell at Jesus' knees and said:
"Keep away from me, Lord;
I am a sinful man!” 
9 Awed amazement had gripped him and all those with him
at the catch they had made,
10 as it had also James and John, sons of Zebedee,
who were Simon's partners.
Jesus then said to Simon:
"Fear no more.  
From now on it is people you will fish for.” 
11 They brought their boats ashore,
left them there
and followed him.

Simon referred to Jesus, firstly, as Master. After the experience of the catch, he called him Lord. Luke was reading back into Simon Peter’s address the Easter faith of the Christian community.

After the experience of the catch, Luke quietly began to refer to Simon as Simon Peter. Simon’s role had begun to change.

The story was in some ways a parable in action, and symbolised graphically much of the Christian calling.

Mark’s reference to the disciples fishing for people carried overtones of disturbing structural changes soon to befaced by the power elites of Israel. Luke did not adopt the reference. For Luke in his different world, “fishing for people” meant bringing them into the ambit where they could share in the Lord’s year of favour.

Jesus called the three to be disciples and commissioned them to work with him on his mission. What might be learnt from the story? 

Jesus asked the disciples to do what they were already familiar with and gifted for (they were fishermen).

  • The result of their activity enormously surpassed what they had been able to achieve unaided. The difference was due to the combined effort of both themselves and Jesus.
  • Having made the catch of their lives, they surrendered it and followed Jesus.

There is another lesson in the story, too. The incident was for Peter a moment of enlightenment. He began to see the mystery of Jesus: to experience the numinous, the Lord.

His first instinctive reaction to that insight into Jesus was to change focus to his own sinfulness. He was still powerfully self-absorbed, unable to sit simply with the mystery of Jesus.

Jesus accepted Peter at his unsophisticated level of spiritual development. At the same time, he entrusted him with a mission, not because his sinfulness was not real. It was (and he would discover even more its extent and its destructiveness). Yet, it did not deter Jesus, nor disqualify Peter.

What Peter still needed to learn above all was to sit with the mystery of Jesus and to train his gaze away from his obsessive preoccupation with self. Only having learnt to do that, would it be safe for him to know his sinfulness and, indeed, to see it as the basis of his need. In its turn his sense of need would give birth to his desire for closeness with Jesus. It would not be cause for separation.

Jesus had so much more to teach. Peter had so much more to learn. So, too, did the members of Luke’s community for whom he fashioned his Gospel.

Jesus – Similar to the Rest of Humanity - or Different?

So far Luke has shown a Jesus who healed the sick, cast out demons and seemed master, too, of the created world (the unusual catch of fish) - who seemed to be able to do whatever he chose.

Did this indicate a Jesus radically different from the rest of humanity? If it did, how did it fit with the description of Jesus in the Epistle to the Hebrews as “like us in every respect except sin”?

Does the modern reader instinctively accept the divinity of Jesus in such a way as to think of the human Jesus more as pretending to be human than really being so? Does Jesus’ divinity so merge into his humanity as to virtually replace it? Does he appear more divine than human?

Catholic faith is insistent that the human nature of Jesus is quite distinct from his divinity. The two natures are united in the person of the Word of God without being in the least way changed or diluted.

Importance. The issue is important because it largely determines people’s instinctive attitude to and assumptions about Jesus; and not only about Jesus but also about God (since it is the humanity of Jesus that reveals most clearly the mystery of God). An “unreal” Jesus could lead people subconsciously to feel that God, likewise, whatever they may say or believe, is somewhat “unreal”. “Magic” and the “wonderful” might sit easily with children; they sit less comfortably with adults.

Luke’s Intention. Regarding “nature miracles” – the abnormal catch of fish just recounted and a later calming of a storm – the problem is to ascertain the mind of the Gospel author.  

There was clear precedent in the Hebrew Scriptures to speak colourfully of past events. The escape of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt and the exploits of Joshua, Samson and King David are clear examples. The stories were told and retold around the campfires; celebrated in the sanctuaries and temples of the Northern and Southern Hebrew Kingdoms; put eventually into written form in the Books of Exodus, Judges and Kings (written centuries after the events); sung about in the Psalms; cited by the Prophets; reflected on in the Book of Wisdom. What the Hebrews were interested in doing was to celebrate the saving action of God in their history. In the honour/debt mentality of the culture, the magnanimity of a patron (God) was praised expansively. The extravagance of the praise was not questioned: it was taken for granted. The details of the stories were irrelevant. It was enough for people that something memorable had happened and that they could draw inspiration and heart from that. Historical accuracy is a recent concern of the Western world.

Luke’s “nature miracle” stories seem to have been told to illustrate a theological point; their details were symbolic. Many thoughtful scripture scholars believe them to be the creation of their author, or based on events so coloured in the re-telling over the fifty or sixty years since the death of Jesus as to make it impossible any longer to get back with certainty to what originally happened. (Luke had made the point in the introduction to his Gospel that his purpose in writing was to bring the diverse material at his disposal into some sort of order so that his readers could appreciate how well their present catechesis represented the attitudes and mind of Christ. As a normal citizen of the world of his time, he was not interested in giving an historically accurate documentary detailing of Jesus’ life.)

Whilst it is possible that the Word of God, become human in Jesus, could have directly exercised divine power, there is no need to interpret events mentioned in the Gospel as actual exercises of his divine power. (Even John’s Gospel, in the account of Jesus’ bringing the dead Lazarus back to life, sees Lazarus’s return as the answer to Jesus’ prayer to God, his Father.)

One like Us. The overall conclusion would seem to be that the Gospels give no reason to believe that Jesus was more human or less human than the rest of humanity. In other words, he was : “like us in every respect, except sin”. It was the community’s experience of the risen Christ that, under the influence of the Spirit of God, provided the basis for deeper theological insight. That insight led eventually to the conviction that somehow Jesus was indeed the personal revelation of God, the Word of God made flesh, fully human and fully divine.

Next >> Luke 5:12-26