On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:1-11)
If you were to take just about any number of different translations of the Bible and open them up to Luke 5, you would find that nearly all of them begin with a heading along the lines of “Jesus Calls the First Disciples” (ESV, NIV), “The First Disciples” (NASB) or “Four Fishermen Called as Disciples” (NKJV).
This, of course, is reasonable because it is what, in fact, happens in this story. Jesus does call the first four disciples and they are fishermen. But if we approach the story thinking that, in understanding this we have pretty much grasped the “gist” of it, we will have missed the vast majority of what it has to say to us. There is far more at play here than just the call of the first four disciples, evident in the fact that Luke has not simply given us a bare-bones account of event, as if that were all we needed to know. He has given us a rich narrative, full of fascinating and provocative details, suggesting it is important for us to not only know that they were called, but also how. As I often like to say, when it comes to Scripture, it is not the Devil who is to be found in the details, but the Lord, himself,—who he is, what he has done, and how he acts both towards and for his children.
One of the details that I find most fascinating about this story is the boldness, even audacity, of Jesus’ actions towards Peter and his companions. The text tells us that they had just returned from a long and ultimately unsuccessful night out on the waters. They were exhausted and most likely feeling somewhat defeated at the fact that they hadn’t caught anything. They were cleaning their nets, ready to go home and rest.
Nevertheless Jesus, whom we’ve already seen perceive people’s thoughts (and let’s be honest it was probably evident on their faces), doesn’t seem to acknowledge their exhaustion. To the contrary, we are told he simply gets into Peter’s boat and has him put off a little from the shore for him to teach. From any other person and in any other context, Jesus’ actions would seem to be the height of insensitivity. Could he not see they were weary and ready to go home?
And as if that were not enough, after teaching he tells Peter to go even deeper into the water and put out the nets—the ones they had just been cleaning—for a catch. Peter’s response to Jesus reveals the depth of his exhaustion (and perhaps even frustration): “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” The word translated as “toiled” means “to work with wearisome effort”. Nevertheless he adds, “But at your word I will let down the nets.”
And the rest, as they say, is history. Peter let down the nets and they brought in so many fish that it nearly broke the nets and they were forced to bring out the other boat to haul it all in. Peter’s immediate response was understandably one of fear and humility, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” But it is the long-term response that concerns us most. We are told that he and his partners, James and John, left everything they had and followed Jesus.
This, of course, is the so-called “point” of the story, but as you can see, it is in all the details leading up to this that we find our richest source of meditation about Jesus’ interaction with his disciples in calling them. Here is no tame or domesticated Jesus who might be pigeon-holed by our representations of only his gentleness and meekness. This same man who would later say to the crowds, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” seems to be completely inconsiderate of Peter and his companions’ exhaustion; indeed he seems to be intentionally prodding at precisely this area of weariness and frustration. And yet he did not do so out of insensitivity, but rather out of love, a love that longed to draw them into reliance on and trust in him, a love that longed to share with them his abundant life.
This is what he wants for all of his disciples, to draw us into complete reliance on and trust in him. He wants for us to put out into the deep, to leave everything behind and surrender our whole lives to him—our hopes, our dreams, our wounds and weariness, all of it—in order that give all of himself to us. And in order to do that, he very often has to poke and prod at precisely those areas where we are most wounded, most weary. But he does not do so out of callousness; he does so out of love, so that he might pour his unfailing love into those areas of our lives and we might experience his abundant life.
Where do you find yourself struggling to trust in God? Where have you been most wounded, disappointed or frustrated? Put out into the deep—give it all to him so that he might transform that area with his unfailing love. You will not be disappointed, for as a priest I knew long ago used to say, “the Lord will not be outdone in faithfulness.”
When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again. (Annie J. Flint, He Giveth More Grace)
Kathleen Durham is a Vice President of Alighieri Press and serves as an author and speaker.