Fishing as a recreational sport is fun. It is a welcomed distraction from the everyday grind of life. When I think of fishing, I think of standing on the shore of some alpine lake in the Sierra’s soaking in the solitude and undisturbed peace of such moments. Perhaps you think of going out towards the islands on a chartered fishing boat and doing some deep-sea fishing. That sort of fishing is much more exciting, and drama filled, or at least it can be. But still, it is a sport which takes us away from the regular ebb and flow of life. But I must imagine that when fishing is your vocation, when it is your primary source of income, then it takes on a whole new perspective. Those who make their living fishing are not people who have chosen a life of ease and comfort. It is a tough life, a dangerous trade. It involves skill and mastery that is felt in every cast of the net, every trip from the shore into the unknown, and every haul-in of the rewards.
So, think for a moment of Simon and his partners, James and John, the sons of old Zebedee, as they have worked hard to eek out a living on the Sea of Galilee. These were rugged and hardened individuals. No doubt they knew all the best spots and the best times to go fishing. Some days, no doubt, they were extremely blessed, where every cast of the net seemed to bring in a decent haul. Other days they got skunked. For reasons beyond their ability to control or predict the fish simply were not there. Every net was evaded, every tried-and-true method proved to be unsuccessful. In fact, it turns out they were having just such a day when they meet our Lord. They are done for the day and have pulled their boats up on the shore to wash the nets and reset everything hoping for better luck the next day. This day, though, proves to be particularly unusual for there is a large crowd right there on the beach. The crowd is not there for them but to hear the words being proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth who has been hemmed in by the people.
Suddenly, Jesus gets into Simon’s boat and asks him to push out a little from land. Now, I do not know all that was said leading up to this moment, but no doubt our Lord must have been a pretty charismatic guy, because this hardened fisherman simply gets up and pushes his boat away from the land. There Simon is given a front-row view of our Lord’s teaching as Jesus sits down in this fishing boat, now converted into a pulpit, and teaches all the people crowded along the shoreline. If that was not enough, when Jesus is done, He turns to this fisherman who has just spent the day fishing with no luck, who is probably more than a little frustrated and upset with the whole situation, and says, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon knows this is a dumb idea. He knows nothing will come of it. But what does he say? He says, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at Your Word I will let down the nets” (Luke 5:5).
At your Word, I will do it. When he casts the nets, he does not just catch a few fish, he does not even catch a lot of fish. He catches more fish than he has ever caught in his life. He catches so many fish that as he tries to pull in the nets they begin to tear. He calls out to James and John to the bring the other boat to help. When they work together, they find the catch is so massive, so abundant that the sheer weight of it begins to sink both boats. They are taking on water from the number of fish they are trying to pile on board. The whole scene is a little insane. It cannot just be dumb luck. There has never been a catch like this before. It is something these experienced and grizzled fishermen have never witnessed prior to this day. And in that moment, as the boats are being overwhelmed, Simon Peter does the only thing which makes any sense, the only thing he can do in such a moment. He falls to his knees before our Lord and confesses his sins.
See, in that instant it dawns on him just who this is sitting in the boat with him the whole time. He had heard Him preach to the crowd. It is a crowd who longed to hear Him speak, as the text says, the Word of God. At His Word, Peter put out his boat into deep water. At his Word, he let down his net though he had no luck all night. It is at the Word of this Jesus that Simon Peter is a witness to a life altering miracle. This is no mere man in his boat, not just another famous rabbi with a following. No, this is much more. This is the Holy One. This is the Lord. He speaks the Word of God for He is the Word of God. And Simon Peter realizes who this is, perhaps not all the details, but he knows that somehow, someway God is sitting in the boat with him, and he does the only reasonable thing. He confesses his sin. He says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” To be a sinner in the presence of God is to be undone, to be ruined, and Simon gets it.
This same truth is practiced by you. You may not witness a miraculous catch of fish, but you do find yourself in the presence of God. Every Sunday as we gather for worship we hear again those familiar words, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” That word proclaims into your ears how you are gathered in the presence of your God. Now of course, God is everywhere. He is omnipresent, but He has promised to be here in His Word and Sacraments for you. He locates Himself here for your forgiveness and salvation. So, as you hear the proclamation of His name, your response is that of Peter, that of Isaiah as well when he finds himself in the presence of God. You say, “Most merciful God, we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone.”
To be in the presence of the Holy One of God, to be before the gifts of the Lamb that was slain, is to see the totality of your corruption. The gifts of God work as a foil reflecting just how far you have fallen from the glory and holiness of God. But like Peter before you, this is not about your judgment and destruction. This is not your undoing. No, this is about salvation, about restoration, about hope, and life, and the assurances of God. From the confession of sins comes the welcome and inclusion of God. The Lord will not depart from Peter. Instead, He embraces Peter and calls him to join in His own work, in His holy and righteous work. “Do not be afraid,” He says. “From now on you will be catching men.” These fishermen, the tough and hardened workers on the sea are called to join in the work of the Word of God. And what do they do? They leave everything and follow Him. What else could they do?
It is the powerful Word which runs throughout this whole episode. The Word gathered the crowd. The Word directed them to let down the nets. The Word produces the super abundant catch. The Word then calls these disciples to become fishers of men, which they will accomplish not by their strength, not by their own work and power, but by the Word of God. To receive the Word is to receive the gifts of God, to be caught up in His great work of salvation. For the same Word which reveals to you your sin, the Word that calls you to repentance, is also the Word that forgives. The Word declares how all your sins are covered in the righteous garments of Christ. All that is broken within you finds healing and welcome in His Word. The Word of God declares things which seem too good to be true, too wonderful to be real. For the Word says, “Do not be afraid. I have come to save you. I love you and I forgive you all of your sins.”
At His Word, our world is changed. Yet, there is still fishing to be done. For the Word you have received you are now called to speak to others. It is a Word of truth and love. A Word of compassion and welcome. It is the Good News of God’s free gift of salvation. What a joy that you and I get to join in Jesus’ task. So, cast the nets and witness just what the Word will do.