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Luke 5:1-11

This week’s gospel text is both a miracle story and a calling story– titled both “The Miraculous Catch” and “The Calling of the First Disciples.” And as it’s included in the extended season of Epiphany, it reveals something unique about the character and nature of Jesus Christ.

The gospel text this week opens with a crowd of people desperate to see Jesus– “pressing in on him to hear the word of God.” This is a significant contrast from the gospel text last week, where the crowd is pressing in on Jesus because they want to kill him, and it’s worthwhile to highlight a few details between last week’s text and this week’s text. In between Luke 4:21-30 and Luke 5:1-11, Jesus has been teaching and preaching, healing and casting out demons, and attracting significant attention in the area. “All the people were amazed and said to each other, “What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!” And the news about him spread throughout the surrounding area” (Luke 4:36-37). Luke is consistently drawing attention to Jesus’s power and authority, and to people’s amazement at his words and work. People are so amazed at his teaching and desperate for his healing, that they keep begging him to stay (Luke 4:42). Everyone wants to see Jesus, to hear from Jesus, to touch Jesus. They’ve heard about him and they’re coming to see what Jesus can do for them. Jesus insists that he has a mission to fulfill, and he must keep traveling, so the crowds follow him instead– and this is where we pick up the story at the beginning of Luke chapter 5.

Jesus sees their desire for God’s word, and he finds a way to speak to them so that everyone who wants to learn from him can actually hear him by getting into a boat to create a kind of natural amphitheater. I might even call those natural acoustics and the gumption to utilize them a bit miraculous. Not all miracles are flashy and dramatic; finding a way to use available tools and resources to create an equitable environment where everyone can hear is a kind of miracle we should take more time to appreciate. Perhaps we might learn from Jesus to work for miracles of equity and access in our churches, schools, neighborhoods, and cities.

After Jesus has finished speaking to the crowd, he turns to speak to Simon, the owner of the borrowed boat, and offers unsolicited advice: let down your nets in the deep water for a catch. Simon says: “We’ve been fishing all night and have caught nothing, but… if you say so, we’ll give it a try.” How do we read the tone of this line from Simon? Is this said with deep weariness and exhaustion? Or a kind of begrudging compliance? Or maybe even with fresh energy after hearing an exhilarating sermon? In any case, Simon listens to Jesus– leaves the shallow water by the shore, puts out into deeper water, and lets down the nets.

And then the really flashy miracle comes– an enormous catch of fish, so overwhelming it takes the crew of two boats to haul it in. It’s another miracle of abundance and extravagance– like turning water into wine at the wedding in Cana. But this time from Jesus himself, not asked for or pushed for by anyone else– unsolicited, unmerited abundance at just the right time.

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’s knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Again, I’m wondering what’s going on with Peter here. He comes to kneel at Jesus’s feet just to ask Jesus to leave him alone. Rather counter-productive, no? If Peter really wanted to be left alone, shouldn’t he just go the opposite direction instead of going to Jesus? But, in the midst of whatever shame or guilt Peter is feeling, he doesn’t run away or avoid Jesus– Peter goes straight to Jesus with his honest reactions. Where else would he go? And I think this posture from Peter is exactly the picture of faith that Jesus is looking for. I think this is exactly what qualifies him to follow Jesus.

We have said this is a calling story, and it’s most frequently titled “The Calling of the First Disciples,” but upon close reading, it’s different from the calling of the fisherman in other gospel narratives. The discipleship mission and the metaphor of fishing for people shows up in other gospels, but the wording here in Luke 5 is different from the others. Unlike the versions of this scene in Matthew and Mark, there isn’t actually an explicit invitation here. It’s more like they all just got volun-told. Luke records Jesus saying “”Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” He doesn’t actually say “Follow me!” or even “Come!” Just “This is what we’re doing now. Don’t be afraid– let’s get to work.” They accept his pronouncement of their new mission, and they drop everything and follow him. Where else would they go?