Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who are partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people."
I remember going to the fish market in Hamburg, Germany, with my parents. The tourism website for Hamburg states, “Since 1703, pretty much everything that is not bolted down has been traded here at Hamburg's most traditional market. From dusty porcelain jugs to a chirpy family of ducks, you can find just about anything in the shadow of the 100-year old fish auction hall. Half the jungle is sold here directly in the pot and from the lorry, bananas fly through the air, plastic bags full of sausage go to the owner for a ridiculously low price”. Eel and other fish are sold more quickly than you can imagine as curious crowds press towards the loud, shouting traders offering up their wares. Meanwhile, fishers unload their cargo and ready their boats for their next departure. Again, and again, persistently and maybe even stubbornly, these fisherman and women step onto their boats with hopes for a great catch.
One night – in another place and time – the great catch remained elusive and Simon’s words cry out to us, saying “Master, we have worked all night long, but caught nothing” (Simon, btw. Is also called Simon Peter or just Peter or Cephas). Simon Peter cried out after long hours of laboring, much energy spent, and a hope and chance that did not pan out. That had to be frustrating. And I think each of us – although we are not fishers – have been in a situation like that. We give it our best and are all in – and things don’t turn out as we hoped, the great reward is nowhere to be found. That’s how Simon and his crew must have felt. Yes, they knew things don’t always work out, but still – other people depend on them.
Disappointed and tired they return to the shore to clean up. And there is Jesus – the crowds pressing in one him and what he has to offer, like the curious buyers at the fish market. And he sees the boats and the crew and stops what he is doing, steps onto Simon’s boat and asks him to “put out a little way from the shore”. Maybe he was hoping for words of hope after a long night and coming back empty-handed, and so Simon puts the boat out and listens as Jesus teaches the crowd from the boat. We don’t know what Jesus said, but when he is finished, he instructs Simon Peter to “put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch”.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Simon Peter thought Jesus was a little crazy. After all, Simon knew what he was doing. Simon knew the best places to fish in that lake, knew that the best time is at night, when fish would come to warmer, shallower parts of the lake of Gennesaret (also knows to us as the Sea of Galilee). He knew a lot more than this preacher and son of a carpenter. “Master, we have worked all night long, but caught nothing,” Simon tries…not only for himself but for all his workers, too, and we might wait for Simon Peter to say no to Jesus, but instead he says, “Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets”.
The words Jesus spoke to the crowd from them boat must have been incredibly powerful, that these men, who have not caught a single fish all night, would try once again. And so, they let down their nets and the unbelievable happens, a catch so big that their nets were splitting. They signaled for their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They fill both boats so full that they were about to sink”. And Peter (or Simon or Simon Peter) is so overwhelmed by what he is seeing, he falls on his knees before Jesus and says, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man”.
Peter does not feel deserving of the gift he has received. He knew Jesus was powerful and helped the afflicted, after all, Jesus had healed Simon Peter’s own mother – but this? And Jesus looks at the man kneeling before him and responds, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” He doesn’t tell Simon that he is forgiven, instead he tells him not to fear. Jesus doesn’t want Simon’s fear. He wants him to “use what he has experienced to bring others into the same experience. As Jesus has caught him, he is to catch others…And so, when [Simon and the others] brought this fullness (their boats) to shore, when they moved out of the deep waters…they left everything they used to do and dedicated themselves to catching men and women.” The big catch no longer holds them – they leave it all behind to follow Jesus. All because they went into the deep water.
“Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
The theme of deep water connects the past and present and future. “’Deep water’ (bathos) occurs several times in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Torah, Prophets and Writings) in connection with the primordial sea, a powerful Jewish symbol of chaos (see also Psalm 68:2; Ezekiel 26:20; 32:18-24; Sirach 24:5; 51:5).”. Deep Waters are chaos and shallow waters are safety. Deep waters can take us places that shallow water can’t. Shallow water allows us to dip our toes into them, to feel the ground beneath our feet, they are the places of creature comforts and stuff offered by sellers at the marketplace, but deep waters is where God asks us to go; deep waters are where our faith carries us beyond the screams of all that this world offers.
It is so easy to want to remain in the shallow and predictable waters, to remain with our feet safely on the ground rather than follow Jesus into the depth of the unknown or to go there again after having failed a time or two. It is so easy to choose safety and security rather than rely on having Jesus in the boat with us.
Deep Waters are scary.
As a kid I loved swimming in the deep end of the pool and dive to the bottom to pick up rings but standing on a diving platform – 10 to 15 feet above the water – and looking down was scary. I had to jump from one of those platforms to earn a certificate; I stood there afraid and unable to move, even though the waters beneath were the same waters that I swam in before; but things looked so much deeper, so much less predictable from up there. It took me two hours before I mustered the courage to jump.
It is so easy to splash at the shallow end, the surface, rather than to dive into the depth of the murky water. It is so easy to give and do the bare minimum rather than going beyond, giving our entire heart and soul to God. It is so easy to hear the Word and know what we ought to do but even easier to name a thousand reasons on why we can’t.
What is the deep water that God wants us to step out into or the fish that may get caught in our nets?
I believe the invitation in today’s reading is twofold.
First, I believe the murky waters God is calling us into are the waters of our own faith. God’s invitation is for us to go into the boat with Jesus and to listen to his words and to be strengthened by them. To once again be overwhelmed by the abundance that we are offered through our faith – not an abundance in stuff but an abundance of grace – grace that fills our frustrations and tiredness and our empty nets with hope and with passion – so much hope and passion that it overflows until we feel as if we are bursting at the seams.
Secondly, our reading invites us , as Professor Allen writes, “to drop [our] nets into the chaos of life today, that is, to witness to the Realm of God and to invite people into the movement towards the Realm. The threat of chaos is self-evident in in national politics, relationships among races and ethnic communities, international relationships, and many other places. According to Luke, the church continues the apostolic tradition when it offers individuals, households, and communities the values and practices [the love and welcome] of the Realm of God as an alternative way of life."
Let us find this new, this different, this better way of life for ourselves once again through an even deeper walk with God. And then -- may our hope and our passion, our testimony and our witness be an invitation for others to walk alongside us in discipleship and faith.
 “The Relentless Woman: The Spiritual Wisdom of the Gospels for Christian Preachers and Teachers” (2006) by John Shea, p. 39