“And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon Peter, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch. And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets . . . But when Simon Peter saw [the large number of fish caught], he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord . . .” Luke 5:1-11
This is the transcript of an actual radio conversation between a US Naval ship and Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland in 1995:
Americans: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.
Canadians: Recommend your divert your course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.
Americans: This is the Captain of a US Navy Ship. I say again, divert your course.
Canadians: No. I say again, you divert your course.
Americans: This is the Aircraft carrier USS Lincoln, the second largest ship in the United States Atlantic fleet. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers, and numerous support vessels. I demand that you change your course 15 degrees North, that’s one-five degrees North, or counter measures will be undertaken to ensure the safety of this ship.
Canadians: We are a lighthouse. It is your call!
We all assume authority and control over our lives. We know what is best for us: what it takes for our happiness, survival, flourishing, and success. And like the US Naval Captain, we often are not afraid to pull rank, assert our will, and demand our way that we think is the best for us.
In today’s passage from Luke 5, Peter, a lifelong fisherman - expert, time-tested, proud, and not open to advice from a traveling rabbi - resents that Jesus gets into his fishing boat and starts bossing him around, as if he knows anything about fishing.
Peter is exhausted from a long night of fishing and having nothing to show for all the time and energy invested. When Jesus bids him let down the nets for a catch, Peter reluctantly agrees to humor Jesus - perhaps even to show Jesus up a little bit. As soon as the nets are unfurled into the water, they begin to enclose such a great catch of fish that the nets begin to break under the massive weight of this huge bounty of fish.
When Peter comes face-to-face with Jesus and his authority over everything, Peter at once feels deeply his own lack of authority and the presence of his sinful self-reliance and presumed control over his own life. From now on, Peter has to re-orient his life around the fixed point of Jesus’ authority and power, just like the Lighthouse demanding the ship at sea reorient its course.
As Peter has a new view of himself and a new awareness of his debt of sin and righteousness, he asks that Jesus leave him. His sin and offense is too much to bear.
The most encouraging part of the passage is that Jesus does not leave Peter alone in his sin and arrogance. He rescues him! He moves towards him with patience and perfecting love. His object lesson of the great haul of fish is to show Peter the abundance of life and flourishing he wishes to restore to humanity, and he is calling Peter (and you and me) to join in the extravagant gathering in of God’s people.
When Jesus gets in your boat, your own authority will be shown for what it is - thin and fleeting. When Jesus gets in your boat, your sin will be shown for what it is - offensive and damaging.
But, most encouragingly, when Jesus gets in your boat, he is there to win you back to himself and release you from your own authority so that you can thrive under his!