Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3He 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. 4When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ 5Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ 6When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!’ 9For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.’ 11When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
Translation: And it happened, in the crowd pressing in upon him to hear the word of God, and he was standing alongside the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats standing by the lake, but the fishermen were gone from them, washing the nets. And he entered into one of the boats, which was Simon's. He asked him to launch out a little from the land, and he sat down in the boat (and) he was teaching the people.
And just as he finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch." Simon answered and said, "Master, we have worked hard through the whole night (and) we have caught nothing, but upon your word I will let down the nets."
And when they had done this, they enclosed a multitude of many fish and their nets were breaking. And they signalled to the partners in the other boat, the ones coming to take together with them, and they came, and they filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.
And Simon Peter saw, (and) fell down to Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man." For astonishment seized him and all the ones with him upon the catch of fish which they took together, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners to Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, "Do not fear. From now, you will be taking people alive." And they brought the boats upon the land (and) left all (and) followed him.
This is Luke's version of the calling of Simon primarily, and the first disciples generally. It has no precise parallel in the synoptics. In fact--and this is unusual--it resembles the post-resurrection story in John 21:1-11 in which the Risen Jesus, standing on the shore, instructs the disciples to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. Doing so, they haul in a "net full of fish"--153 of them, in fact, which is said by some to represent all the known nations of the world at that time. (This makes a person wonder about possible connections between Luke and the author of the fourth gospel.)
Our pericope begins with the Greek word egeneto, a word relating to creation, or something coming into being--literally, in this case, "it happened." This is usually a signal that something special is taking place.
Since 4:43, Jesus has been preaching the "good news." The crowd is "pressing in" to hear "the word--logos--of God." Logos, which we translate as "word," is thick with meaning. In this period of history, it meant God's communication with the created world. Much more than simply "words on a page," it combines the concepts of thought, power, and action.
Moreover, thus far in Luke, Jesus has been identified as being in the prophetic tradition of Israel. (For more, see notes on the two previous lections--Luke 4:14-21, and also Luke 4:21-30.) Prophets were said to bring "the word of God." By "pressing in to hear the word of God" from Jesus, the crowd is seeing him as being in the prophetic tradition.
The venue is the "lake of Gennesaret," more familiarly known as the "sea of Galilee." Gennesaret was also a town on the northwest shore of the lake, not far from Capernaum. In using the word "Gennesaret," Luke is using a variation of a word that appears in the Hebrew scriptures (Joshua 19:35). (He is also not using the fourth gospel's term, "the sea of Tiberias." Luke identifies the venue in terms of Hebrew tradition, not terms indicating Caesar's ownership.)
The lake supported a significant fishing industry, and a number of towns, with their harbors, ringed the lake. The fishing economy was not "free market." The lake, and all the fish in it, belonged to Caesar, which means that people had to get a license to fish it. The license would be sold by the local tax collector. (Matthew?)
Nor was fishing a solitary exercise. Usually, people banded together to get a license. Most often, these groups were related. James and John, for example, were in a "kinship group" that fished the lake, as were Peter and Andrew. (In this text, James and John are named as "partners" of Simon. Perhaps they were all in the same group. In any case, the focus in this text is squarely on Simon.)
The crowd is "pressing in" on Jesus, and so Jesus gets into one of two boats, "the one belonging to Simon," and asks Simon to put out a little from the shore. In the setting of the story thus far, the reason for this appears to be so that Jesus can get some distance from the crowd in order to communicate with them better. (That is not the real reason, as we shall see.)
The fishermen who man the boats are said to be away "washing their nets." Most translations give the impression that the fisherman were at some distance, but apobantes may also mean that they were "turned" from them, i.e. facing another direction. In any case, Simon is there, and does as Jesus says, which is to "launch out a little."
Incidentally, Joel Green (citing Bivin) identifies these nets as "trammel nets" which were made of linen. They were used only at night because, during the day, the fish could see them, but, at night, they could not. After a night of fishing with these "trammel nets," they would be washed in the morning.
Jesus sat down in the boat, the traditional posture of that time for the communication of an important message, and "was teaching"--the people. Edidasken is in the imperfect, suggesting action begun and continuing. Jesus' teaching never ends.
Immediately upon finishing his speech to the crowd, Jesus spoke to Simon and instructed him to "launch out into the deep" and let down the nets. ("Trammel nets" for day-time fishing? This will be a miracle on many levels!)
Jesus has been talking only to Simon, though other fishermen are assumed with the use of the word "they". When "they" did as Jesus said, they caught "a multitude of many fish," so many that their linen nets were giving way. Those in Simon's boat "signalled" to the "partners in the other boat." (The word translated "signalled" is kateneusan--literally, a nod of assent.)
Those in the "other boat" now come to assist Simon and his crew. Their boat gets filled as well, to the point that both began to sink. This over-flowing gift of "a multitude of many fish" is greater than their power to haul it in. They are being swamped by God's benificience.
Then, Simon Peter saw. For the first time in Luke's gospel, Simon is also identified as Peter, although he will not get this name from Jesus until 6:14. Note also that Simon Peter saw--idwn de simon petros. The verb is in the primary position, which is a subtle emphasis. This is a critical moment in the on-going process of Simon's conversion.
Let me explain: In Luke's gospel, Simon is mentioned for the first time in 4:38--"After leaving the synagogue he (Jesus) entered Simon’s house." Jesus initiates the action, as you might expect, but note the kind of action. The first mention of Simon in Luke's gospel is that Jesus enters his house.
The house, psychologically speaking, is a symbol of the ego or the self. When we stop and think about it, this makes a certain obvious sense. As it always has, the house represents class, wealth, taste, status, even, in many cases, a person's psychology, and presents it to the world, To say "he entered Simon's house" is to say, at a psychological level, that Jesus entered into the complete reality of the person of Simon.
The next time Simon is mentioned is 5:4: Jesus gets into a boat, "the one belonging to Simon." Again, Jesus initiates the action. This time, he does not enter into Simon's personal space, but rather into his "economic space." He enters Simon's boat, and, in so doing, he enters into Simon's occupation, his means of livelihood, his way of participation in the economic system.
Next, Jesus tells Simon "to launch out a little from the land." Then, Jesus teaches. After that, Jesus tells Peter to "launch out into the deep." In sum thus far, Jesus has entered into Simon's personal, public, private, and economic life. He has told Simon to go out a little bit. He has taught in the presence of Simon. Now, Jesus tells Simon to go "into the deep." Go in completely and utterly. It is, in effect, a call to lose himself in every way--especially as he is defined by his own ego, under the current economic arrangements.
Simon replies, "Master." (Peter will again use this title for Jesus in chapter 9, as will John, for the first time.) Then Simon says, in effect: We have fished and fished and fished in (Caesar's) lake and don't have a thing to show for it. But, if you say so, we will fish. Next, they are swamped in fish, and next after that, "Simon Peter saw." Old Simon as well as New Peter saw. He got it--or better, Jesus got him.
Simon's response is, first, adoration. He falls at Jesus' knees. His second response is to say, "Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man." He now calls Jesus "Lord," but sees, as well, a chasm between himself and his Lord. To buttress the point, this is the first time in Luke's gospel that the word "sin" (hamartolos) is used. As Eduard Schweizer notes, hamartolos means "missing the mark"--not sin as moral failure, but sin as distance from God. This is what Simon sees about himself.
Jesus tells Simon not to fear. Fear is a natural response when one gets a glimpse between one's self and God. Nevertheless, the word from Jesus is: me phobou--Fear not! Your old self is gone. Your new self, which flows out of God's life and abundance, has a mission: "From now, you will be taking people alive."
Yes, the Greek text doesn't say quite what people have been led to believe. The word is zogreo. It is formed from zoos, which means "alive," and agreo, which means "catch." Considering that the related word agra had already been used twice to speak of catching fish, the subtle change in the Greek word to zogreo would argue for putting the emphasis on "alive"--not just catching, but catching alive.
Thus, the call of Simon. It was a detailed and intense process, from entering Simon's house and his boat, to prodding him a little then a lot, and leading him even "into the deep." Losing himself is not loss, however, because there is life and abundance on the other side. Simon Peter saw, through which came a new identity and a true mission.
"And they brought the boats upon the land (and) left all (and) followed him." Their means of livelihood is de-activated. They no longer participate in the established economic system. They "left all"--not only their means of support in the current system, but their old identities, and their traditional connections. Simon is no longer defined by his past, but by his future. Which is why they followed Jesus.
This story is not completely focused on Simon. He has "partners," late in the story identified as James and John. They share in the astonishment, and Luke makes a point of saying that they participate in the manifestation of God's bounty--"the catch of fish which they took together."
The process of Simon's conversion is not complete--he won't get the name of Peter from Jesus until 6:14. Then again, no one's conversion is ever complete. Every day, as Luther said, we must be born anew--shaken away from our old attachments each and every day, which is necessary because these attachments harden each and every day. No one's conversion is ever complete, and Simon's wasn't either. Nevertheless, he is now on the way.