This is the first account of Jesus actually teaching the people as recorded in the Gospel of Luke. He has already been baptised, he has been tempted in the wilderness, he was rejected in the synagogue of Nazareth, he has exorcised a demon from a man possessed and he healed many sick people including Simon Peter’s mother-in-law. The last line of the previous chapter does tell us that Jesus was preaching in the synagogues of Judea, but here by Lake Galilee is the first occasion when we are told that he is directly teaching the people, although it will be a while yet before we are told the actual content of his teaching.
The crowds press around him, so eager are they to hear the Word of God, and this causes Jesus quite pragmatically to get into one of the boats so that he can teach the people without being smothered by the crush of so many bodies. But this is not just any boat, this is Simon Peter’s boat and, after he draws his teaching session to a conclusion, he tells the fishermen to put out into deep water and lower the nets for a catch.
The Lake of Galilee, or Gennesaret as Luke calls it here, is a rather clear lake. It does not have much in the way of sediment and since the water is clear the fish can easily see the nets, which is why most of the fishing was done at night. Peter and his companions are exhausted, they have been up all night fishing without success, then their work of washing the nets was interrupted while Jesus used the boat for teaching. So, we can imagine that they were a bit exasperated when Jesus told them launch out and start fishing again.
It is clear that these fishermen already knew Jesus since Luke has told us that Jesus had healed Peter’s mother-in-law some days beforehand. In the light of this it is obvious that they want to be helpful and do what their honoured guest asks of them, even if he apparently knows absolutely nothing about fishing. At this point Simon Peter even gives Jesus the title ‘master’ which is something equivalent to ‘rabbi.’ Since Jesus has been teaching the people it is evident to these new friends of his that he has real authority and is someone who knows what he is talking about. Here is a man who explains the mysteries of God to the people in a way that they can understand.
Once they start to draw in their nets the fishermen are astounded to discover that they have caught so many fish that the two boats are in danger of sinking. This astonishing miracle causes Peter to recognise that Jesus is indeed a very holy man and he admits his own unworthiness by saying, ‘Leave me Lord, I am a sinful man.’ He had addressed Jesus previously as ‘master’ but now he calls him ‘Lord’ which indicates that he regards Jesus as being someone truly powerful in a spiritual way.
However, Jesus ignores his words and informs them that from now on they will be catching men and not fish and, in this way, he recruits them as his first disciples. Specifically mentioned here as Peter’s companions are James and John, but we don’t get the full list of all the Apostles until the following Chapter.
The very first action of these new Apostles is that they ‘they left everything and followed him.’ This indicates their wholehearted acceptance of their new role. These are to be no half-hearted followers, these are no fair-weather friends. No from the outset their commitment is total. We know that later on, when things get sticky, they might waver a little but that is due to incomprehension rather than a lack of dedication.
Catching fish, difficult though it may be, is a lot easier than catching men. The fish are swimming in the water and all you have to do is get the net in the right place and then draw in the fish. It is hard physical work and involves knowing where the fish are likely to be and most likely also involves quite a lot of luck.
However, men and women are different; each one needs separate treatment. What persuades one man or woman will not persuade another. Bringing other people to faith is a real skill; it involves convincing them of the truths of the Gospel, it means helping them to realise that they need salvation and that it is only to be found in Jesus Christ. Sometimes a lot of talking is involved but then with other people talking is not required at all, they prefer to learn from good example.
An important truth is that the work of Evangelisation is always accompanied by prayer. It is impossible to convince anyone about the truths of the Gospel unless prayer is involved. The person doing the Evangelising needs to accompany his teaching with a large measure of prayer. And indeed, even if you do not do any Evangelising yourself you can still support the Evangelical work of others by your own prayers. Prayer is an absolutely vital component in this important work of spreading the Gospel.
Jesus called the twelve Apostles, but he has also called us to a similar work. We are not called to lead communities but we are called to play our part, we are called to hand on the faith to others as best we can. We are called to worship God as part of the parish community and we are invited to experience God’s grace as mediated to us through the sacraments.
So, we should rightly regard ourselves as Apostles, men and women with a mission; men and women tasked with bringing the Good News to others in whatever way we can. We might not think that we are eloquent enough to physically preach the Gospel to others but there are other things that we can do to support the work of the entire community. In our parishes each one of us ought to exercise some sort of ministry. It may be something as simple as helping to keep the Church clean. It could be singing in the choir or arranging the flowers, it could be serving on the altar or doing the readings or handing out hymn books.
It may be that we find ourselves called to do some voluntary work in the wider community such as helping the homeless or collecting for charity. It could be looking out for our elderly neighbours and doing a bit of shopping for them. It could be something as simple as helping a child to read.
There are millions of ways to be an Apostle in the world of today. The important thing is to do something and to do it gladly and with joy in our hearts. The Lord has called us, he has given us a particular set of talents and he wants us to use them in his service. By means of these talents that we use to build up the body of Christ we become each day stronger and better Apostles of Jesus Christ in the world of today.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket