May the words of my mouth and meditations of my heart be always acceptable,
Oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Fishing is big business.
Not just the $100 billion annual that commercial fishing brings.
Recreational fishing is huge.
I know this.
The daughter of a boat mechanic who grew up on the Missouri River in South
We fished ALL the time growing up.
And here in Wisconsin there are almost 1.3 million fishing licenses every year.
That’s about one in every five Wisconsinites having a fishing license.
There’s 54.7 million recreational fishermen in the United states,
10.6 billion dollars a year generated by recreational fishing.
And: 165 million results for the phrase, “rather be fishing” on google.
And you don’t need to take my word for it:
Go into fleet farm or hobby lobby:
(Or my dad’s house) and I’ll bet you’ll see a cute rustic sign that tells you a positive
outlook on fishin’ especially over and against “workin”
And for good reason.
Fishing carries with it opportunities to build community:
Or to get away from the business of life:
The chance for both peace and patience,
Or even the thrill of the fight in reeling in a big one.
And it is, of course,
Emblematic of leisure, of not having to work,
Of being set free to do what you want.
In light of today’s Gospel reading:
You see where I’m going here.
Fishing was big business in Jesus’ time as well.
In many places around the Roman Empire,
Fishing was not great work: because it was largely tenant or hired labor work.
But around the sea of Galilee, or as the locals called it: the Sea of Gennesaret:
Fishermen carved out a pretty nice living.
It was strenuous labor, physically demanding, and requiring maintenance of boats and nets.
(And most fishing was either drag or cast net fishing)
But fishing around the sea of Galilee was also very lucrative:
Especially for the individuals or partnerships that owned their own boats.
And it seems that the apostles that we meet in today’s reading, probably did own their own boats together.
Fish was such big business because it, rather than land meat:
Was the primary source of protein in the diet in that part of the world at that time.
Fishermen at the sea of Galilee would catch a kind of tilapia, carp and catfish.
And any fish that weren’t big enough to be sold would be mixed with the entrails to
create a fermented fish sauce that was used everywhere in the roman empire.
Kind of like a Roman ketchup--
And it amounted to the equivalent of millions of dollars in sales every year.
What was more:
Again, especially those who owned their own boats,
Had significant freedom in how they set their schedule.
Unlike tenant farmers or other agricultural workers,
Fishermen went fishing when they wanted to and stopped when they wanted to.
We even have instances of people complaining that Jewish fishermen would go to
synagogue for prayers rather than go fishing on the Sabbath.
So, a job that NETTED a pretty tidy income:
Let you stay physical fit,
AND gave you freedom to set your own schedule?
I’m sure some of us would take someone up on that offer.
And you can guess that this was that much more envied in the ancient world when
the other option for most people was back breaking,
And generally extremely impoverished farm work.
Which makes what happens in this story pretty incredible.
Here we have Jesus preaching out in the open:
Probably because of the size of the crowds that were gathering,
But also showing that he was not conforming to the standard pattern of preaching
and teaching just in synagogues.
He wants to make use of the good acoustics of the sea of galilee,
And sees some fisherman on the shore mending their nets after a frustrating night of not catching anything.
Jesus was clearly not an unknown quantity at this point,
And he seems to have built up some relationship with Simon, having healed his mother in law.
He had a reputation as a teacher, healer, and exorcist in the area,
And so he was probably embraced with respect by these fishermen.
It probably didn’t take much for them to be willing to take him out--
Maybe being associated with him brought some pretty big social capital.
But Jesus finishes teaching and then tells Simon Peter to put out the nets again.
You can almost hear the frustration in Peter’s voice.
Here you have this guy who doesn’t know anything about fishing,
Telling experienced professionals how to do their job.
But, maybe because of Jesus healing his mother in law,
Simon Peter maybe senses that he owes Jesus something.
So he humors him.
You can almost hear Simon Peter saying, “Oooooo…. K…. We’ll do it.”
And then under his breath, “but we’re not going to catch anything.”
But then something astounding happens!
The nets are so full,
They are bursting.
They are at risk of capsizing.
They even need to get help from the other boat.
And then something changes in Simon Peter.
You can almost see a dawning coming over him that this Jesus isn’t just some
wandering wonder worker.
He may actually have power over nature itself:
Something that is in only God’s perview.
There’s something extra special about this Jesus.
And so we get a little sense of fear from Simon Peter:
As he begins to understand who Jesus is.
Get away from me Jesus! I’m a sinner!
Now: This doesn’t mean that Simon Peter thought of himself as a terrible person.
Instead it’s likely that he just lived his life in a state of perpetual uncleanness:
Like most of the people in Galilee.
To be ritually clean:
Or “not a sinner” in this ancient Jewish world was something that was reserved for
the extremely rich.
So Peter is probably afraid,
Knowing stories about what happens when uncleanness gets in the presence of
But here’s the even more astounding thing.
Jesus calls these fishermen to engage in his ministry.
To go about catching people FOR life with and under him.
And the fishermen leave their boats and nets behind.
But not just that:
They leave them behind after they had what could have been the catch of a lifetime:
One of the most astounding and lucrative single hauls they ever had.
They walk away at the top of their careers before they even get the payout.
And this is the degree of command that Jesus exerts on US.
Our call to follow him is not one that sits among many other considerations in our lives.
It is all encompassing and takes precedence over all things.
When Jesus calls us,
He is Lord.
He has absolute command.
And that means you stop doing what you’re doing,
And do what he tells you to do.
If he calls you to do something else,
To leave your career or life behind:
You do it.
It’s possible that the disciples followed Jesus precisely because they thought they
were in store for some more lucrative opportunities.
Perhaps it wasn’t as simple as “Jesus told us to do it, so we did it, regardless of the
But regardless of what the initial point of them leaving everything behind,
They quickly learned that Jesus had called them from a quite pleasant,
independent, and well paying profession:
To a much much more difficult life.
As we follow these disciples through the rest of the story:
We see them face ridicule, prison, persecution, and great uncertainty.
And all the autonomy that they had as fishermen is given over to Jesus.
They’re not setting their schedules or lives—Jesus is.
And what’s more, by tradition,
Three of the four apostles Jesus calls here die martyrs deaths.
The astounding thing is not really that they leave everything behind:
But that they continue to: as they stick with Jesus to their own deaths.
When Jesus calls us to leave everything behind:
(And all of us have this call whether literally or figuratively)
To be engaged in his ministry:
To snatching people up to new life in him:
We may have various reasons for doing this.
But the thing that keeps people growing deeper in relationship,
Suffering loss, deprivation, and giving up their own autonomy:
Is that there is something about this Jesus that points to the better.
Jesus is worth it.
More worth it than any of the material comfort or gain that gets left behind.
This is, I think,
The real take away from this story.
Not that we have to have pure and perfect motives for picking up and following
But rather that we give it a try.
Many and varied are the reasons people chose to submit themselves to the call of
Which can involve giving up quite a lot.
But what matters is sticking around.
Sticking it out.
Being in it for the long haul.
Because if we’re in it:
If we stick with it:
Then we find that all the deprivation and loss was worth it.
We give up the easy life for a REAL life.
We give up freedom to choose what and when we want to do things,
For the freedom that comes with BEING chosen:
Of being what we are supposed to be.
And what’s more:
Jesus doesn’t call us to understand.
Or to have all the right answers in order to start down this path.
All that Jesus asks of us is a willingness to leave behind everything.
And follow him into whatever he is calling us to do.
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