When it comes to the story of Jesus calling his first disciples, I prefer Luke’s version over Matthew and Mark because Luke keeps it real. Matthew and Mark say Jesus was walking along the shore of Lake Galilee. He saw Simon and Andrew casting a net into the sea. He approached them and said “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately, they left their nets and followed Jesus. Don’t you find that a little bit weird? A little bit odd?
Then he saw James and John mending their nets. It’s implied that he offered them the same invitation. Immediately, they left their nets and followed Jesus. Seriously? Didn’t their mommas tell them about “stranger danger.” Matthew and Mark say NOTHING about Jesus knowing these disciples beforehand. He calls. They follow.
I know some people find this inspiring but it doesn’t work for me, because my life is NOT like that! I struggle with Jesus’ call to follow ALL THE TIME. Some days I’m just too tired to do it. I’d rather stay in bed and binge watch Netflix, if you know what I mean! The challenges life can throw at us often leave us feeling exhausted and defeated. On days like these, we think we’re doing great if we have enough energy to shower and feed ourselves. Amen?
Other days, I am too filled with doubt to answer the call to fish for people. Surely, Jesus can get someone more qualified than me to be his disciple; an expert in the filed who is more creative, more charismatic, and more scholarly than me.
Perhaps you can relate to what I’m saying. Perhaps Matthew and Mark’s version of the story leaves you scratching your head as well. It’s hard to believe that Jesus simply said “Follow me,” and these four fishermen dropped everything and followed him. There has to be more to the story than this!
Thankfully, Luke comes to the rescue. The first thing that is helpful to know is that this is NOT the first time Jesus met Simon. When Jesus began his ministry, he announced in the synagogue of his hometown that he had come to bring Good News to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. He then began to spread this message throughout Galilee.
The next stop was Capernaum, where he showed he meant business by healing a man with an unclean spirit. Then he went to Simon’s house where he healed Simon’s mother-in-law, along with everyone else who came to the house in search of healing. [Lk 4:38-41]
This is not an insignificant detail. First of all, it establishes that Simon knew Jesus before the call story in our gospel lesson takes place. Secondly, I don’t think Jesus stopping at Simon’s house is a random occurrence. They must have had a friendship before this ever happened.
This makes me breathe a sigh of relief. It tells me that Jesus begins our call to follow by befriending us. He meets us where we live and where we work. He breaks bread with us and abides with us, to use a Biblical word. If this is true, then Matthew and Mark’s story makes a lot more sense to me. This is not a call to follow from a complete and total stranger. This is a call to follow from a man who has a relationship with the people he is calling.
In the case of Simon, he saw Jesus preach the good news, and then embody that good news by healing people, including Simon’s mother-in-law. Therefore, when Jesus asked Simon to follow him, it’s a lot more believable that Simon did not hesitate to say “Yes.”
But there’s even more to the story than this! After Jesus healed Simon’s mother in law, he continued to preach the good news in synagogues all over Galilee. Then, one day, while standing on the shore of Lake Gennesaret, (which is an old Hebrew name for Lake Galilee), Jesus saw two boats on the shore. Chances are he is close to Capernaum because one of the boats belonged to his friend Simon.
Jesus got into the boat and asked Simon to put out a little way from the shore and he began teaching the crowd from the boat. When he finished speaking, Jesus asked Simon to head out into deep waters and let down their nets for a catch.
Simon was polite. He called his friend “Master” which is a term of respect for a teacher. Yet Simon also gently let him know that he might be a great teacher, but he didn’t know squat about fishing!
“Uh, Master, I hate to point this out to you, but we worked all night long and didn’t catch a single fish. Yet, because you are my friend, because you healed my mother-in-law, because I’ve seen you heal others, I will let down the nets.”
Can you see what a difference these details make in this story? Simon is as real as it gets. He saw Jesus work wonders, and yet he still has his doubts. In fact, I’d say he was downright skeptical and politely told Jesus that his request to go fishing was a waste of time. This is why I love Simon. He’s the real deal. He’s full of faults and failures just like you and me.
In other gospel stories we see that Simon was a little bit impulsive and even put his foot in his mouth a time or two. I’m fairly certain that there was an eye roll, when Simon let down the nets into the waters of Lake Galilee. But that eye roll gave way to eyes filled with wonder as the nets began to fill with fish. The nets became so heavy that he had to call the other boat to come and help him haul in the miraculous catch. When the fishermen reached the shore, Simon Peter fell to his knees and said “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
There are three things we need to know about this. The first is that this is the first time in Luke’s gospel where Simon is referred to as Peter. This is the name Jesus would give him later. It means “rock.” I believe Luke is telling us that this experience was a transformative moment for Simon. He would never be the same.
The second thing we need to notice is that Simon called Jesus “Lord” instead of “Master,” which means “supreme authority.” I believe Luke is telling us that Simon’s perception of who Jesus is was radically changed on that day.
The third thing we need to notice is what Jesus said to Simon. “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”
“Do not be afraid.” Now where have we heard that before? It was spoken by an angel to Zechariah after he received the news that his wife Elizabeth,who was past child-bearing years, was going to have a son whose name would be John.
It was spoken by an angel to Mary who was told the news that she would also give birth to a Son, even though she was a virgin, and his name would be Jesus.
It was spoken by an angel to a group of terrified shepherds, who were watching their flocks by night. These shepherds would be the first people to go to the stable and worship the Christ Child.
This is not accidental language. The phrase “Do not be afraid” happens in Luke’s gospel during very significant events. Therefore, we should view Simon’s decision to follow Jesus as a pivotal moment in the story of Jesus. We, who have heard this story from start to finish, know that Simon Peter came though in the end. He stumbled along the way, but he did become the “petros,”the Rock upon which the church was founded.
One of the highlights of my trip to Israel was visiting the ruins of Peter’s house in the city of Capernaum. You can clearly see that his house was added on to several times and was converted into a church. There is now a modern church that is built cleverly on top of the remains of the old one. This preserves the old ruins from further damage. It also makes this site a place of worship for approximately 2,000 years.
It spoke to me so deeply because Peter was literally and spiritually the rock upon which the church was built. This is an amazing testimony to the life and ministry of this very flawed disciple.
I know that’s a lot of information to share this morning. But I hope it helps you to understand Simon’s call to follow Jesus a little bit better. This was not some random event. Jesus had established a relationship with Simon for an unknown period fo time before Jesus asked Simon to follow him. Simon didn’t “immediately” follow Jesus, like the gospels of Matthew and Mark imply. He had struggle a bit. In spite of everything he had seen and experienced, he had his doubts and fears and skepticism.
This makes me feel a thousand times better about my call to follow Jesus. I hope it serves as an encouragement to you as well. Friends in Christ, we do not need to be perfect in order to be followers of Jesus. Simon’s story reminds us that even the most flawed among us can be used by Jesus to accomplish great things. So when you hear Christ’s call to follow, don’t be afraid to answer it. And even if you’re afraid, answer it anyway!
Jesus is not looking for flawless disciples. Instead, he is looking for people who are willing to join him on the adventure of a lifetime. Even though there are days when we will be filled with doubts and excuses regarding Jesus’ call to follow, the good news is that Jesus is amazingly patient. He keeps coming back to us again and again until we’re ready to say “yes.”
After 30 years as an ordained minister, I cannot imagine doing anything different wit my life than I am doing now. So, do not fear! Trust the one who asks each of us to follow him, and he will teach us how to fish for people. Amen.
Copyright ©2019 by David Eck