“Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” Luke 5:10
The life of the fisherman grows ever harder and more dangerous. Depleted fish stocks demand further and further travel in deeper and deeper waters. The need to earn an income drives ships to sea in weather that would have kept them in port in former times.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus used the work of the fishermen as a picture of the work of the church. The followers of Jesus were to go out and seek new disciples in the way that the fishermen went out to seek a catch.
Fishing was never an easy task. Even experienced men could find it hard to make a living at times.
The waters of Galilee were heavily overfished and the experience of Simon Peter, in working all night for no catch, would have been common enough. This wouldn’t be the first time that Jesus would tell them to go out and try again. At the end of John’s Gospel, when the disciples had gone back to their former lives, Jesus appears and again tells them to put out their nets a second time.
What Peter, James and John would have made of modern fishing, it is hard to know, but there would have been boats laid up on the shores of Lake Galilee and there would have been plenty of fishermen who struggled to make a living. Their experience of hard work and uncertain future would not have been so far from the experience of men today.
Whether two thousand years ago, or today – the message to the fishermen remains the same, to survive they are forced out into deeper, unknown waters and they must work ever harder.
Look at the instructions Jesus spoke to Simon in Saint Luke Chapter 5 Verse 5, “put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Peter is being told to move out into unpredictable, unknown water and he is being told that despite having worked hard all night, he must work harder still.
If the work of the fishermen is a picture of the work of the church today, then what do Jesus’ words say? “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch,” what is Jesus saying to us about the church?
“Put out into deep water,” says Jesus, and there is a challenge for the church to be bolder in its approach, to be more adventurous in what it does. Peter’s problem was that he was staying in the shallows where there was no catch to be found.
The problem now is that it is much easier to carry on doing the usual familiar things, to stay in the spiritual shallows, but everyone knows that the spiritual catch is getting smaller and smaller while the church stays where it is.
Deeper water can be unknown water with currents and eddies that make the voyage uncomfortable. Trying to move out into unknown waters, seeking a bigger spiritual catch, is going to be a very uncomfortable experience.
It is much more comfortable to stay with the gentle familiarity and peace of a small congregation than to try to do different things with unfamiliar people, but like the fishermen in Galilee, the deep water is the only option if the church is going to survive. Following Jesus’ instructions may mean unsettled waters ahead.
“Let down the nets for a catch,” says Jesus.
Peter could have given him a very short answer, tired and dirty after working all night, he could have felt that he could not have worked any harder, but he summons his last reserves of strength and he goes to work again.
The experience of the church has been that it has not had to work too hard for a catch, it has been there and people have come to it. Such times are gone, to sit and wait for a catch now will leave the nets empty – the church has to work harder.
There is a need look at ways in which the church can change so as to seek a catch. A useful way to start would be to look at the images of the church that people see. Do they see a church that cares about them or do they see strange old men doing strange things?
Jesus doesn’t give the option to do nothing, any more than he gave Peter the option to go back to the shore and relax.”Let down the nets for a catch,” he says, get your heads down and work harder because I’m telling you to do so.
Most church people feel reluctant to respond to Jesus’ words. It is much easier staying in the spiritual shallows, much easier to carry on doing what has always been done. New and different things often don’t work and, more often, people don’t like them. But what does Jesus say? “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.”
How will the church respond to his challenge? What will it do that’s new and different? How will it put more effort into following Jesus?
“Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch,” does anyone hear what he is saying?