Posted by: mikebackup | February 5, 2010

Casting the Net

Luke 5.1-11
The Calling of the First Disciples
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret,with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

(The opening exegesis is taken from

This story, like many in Luke, provides a glimpse of Jesus’ way of relating to those around him. As the crowd jostle to hear, he asks a fisherman for his boat to speak from (vv. 1-3). Already he enlists help with his mission, showing he had no wish to operate alone.

But he is not content just to ‘use’ Simon’s help: he wants to befriend him and transform his world. In what follows, Jesus is not so much performing a ‘miracle’ as displaying the wisdom of the
creator who inspired him. In the contrast between Simon’s ‘Master, we have worked … yet if you say so …’ (v. 5) and ‘Go away for me, Lord, for I am a sinful man’ (v. 8) Luke surely means us to see the moment when Simon turned from sceptical respect to the overwhelming sense of being in the presence of holiness.

Such holiness evokes deep awe and calls forth from Jesus the classic biblical response: ‘Do not be afraid’ (v. 10). Jesus calls them to stay in the presence of that holiness and share its power. ‘Catching people’ is not something Jesus commands; he promises it will happen. In this account (unlike Mark 1.17 and Matthew 4.19), there is no order to ‘follow’. It is the natural outworking of the fishermen’s encounter with Jesus (v. 11).

Jesus’ relationship with Simon was just the beginning but Jesus believed in Peter’s future ministry (against all the odds!). And when Simon recognises that Jesus is holy he experiences Jesus’ divinity and, by contrast, his own sinfulness. However, Jesus does not speak of Simon’s sin but of his future potential; he is not interested in the sinfulness of the past once it has been admitted but in Simon’s future mission. At that moment Simon had no idea of what lay in store but Jesus knew the pearl that was within him.

From this we can see actions speak louder than words. We need to reflect on how we show the message of the good news. It’s not about straight forward proclamation, it has to be a step back from that and a step into the lives of the people we are trying to touch. What is good news to our community? Simon had seen Jesus heal his mother the previous day, and that was good news. Jesus hadn’t started by teaching the good news, he instead stepped into Simon’s life and made a real practical difference. As a result he recognised the goodness of Jesus and so when Jesus asked him to do something that in normal circumstances he would either have laughed at or got rather annoyed at the suggestion, he felt compelled to not react in that way. Yet this was still something that went against every ounce of logic in his body. The previous night has been a failure and he would never fish in deep water during the day. For many people in this country today, putting their faith in Christ is as illogical as the way Simon would have felt. putting his net into the water. Yet he was compelled by what he had experienced, good news he could grasp and so he stepped into unknown territory. He was rewarded by the extreme generosity of God’s grace.

How can we help people take that first step? There were three steps to Simon’s recognition. First, Jesus built on a growing relationship. Second, Jesus issued a challenge to look at life differently and third, Jesus showered Simon with undeserved and overwhelming generosity. In what ways do we engage in these three steps with people in our community? It takes time and effort to invest in people’s future: are they worth it? With God, we too need to believe in that future.

In our our mission journey here at Boulton Lane, time and again we have mentioned that we need to be genuine, we need to plant seeds and nurture growth, we need to feed people before we can expect them to listen. Jesus had been around Simon some time and shown him what sort of person he was before he asked him to trust him in the face of something Simon thought ridiculous. Yet that already building relationship meant Simon made the choice to follow Jesus and was then rewarded.

As Christians we are asked to get people to that point where Jesus is asking them to trust him, often in the face of great obstacles, doubt and disbelief. Yet something about what has gone before needs to make people genuinely think about trusting God. It is very important to realise that we must not force anyone to take that step of trust and belief in Jesus as Christ. It has to be a genuine choice or everything we stand for is worthless and hollow. God is not about forcing, he is about genuine love and relationships. God could have made a creation where everything constantly worshipped him because that was the only way to think. What would be the point of that? I used to write computer programs as part of my job. I could if I wanted create a computer simulation containing a world that worships me. I could create little characters in this program that live in a digital world solely to say how great I am. It could be made to look impressive, as if the characters are really life like, but what would be the point? The characters would simply be robots running programming that I have given them, there would be nothing genuine about it. I could never have a relationship with any of those characters and none could express real love, the creation would mean nothing. God didn’t take that route because he wanted a genuine response. We really need to understand this and a brilliantly funny way of getting it is to look at this scene from Mr Bean. As you laugh your way through it, ask the question how different to real life would this be if God didn’t genuinely give us the ability to make our own decisions.

God didn’t make a creation where he moves the characters around to occupy his imagination, God made something magnificent that points to his love and greatness but doesn’t command it.

In our mission to show the love of God, we must not force belief but nurture it. This is very difficult and far easier said than done, but we have the Gospels to constantly show us how Jesus did it. It means we have to be very flexible, not being rigid to church structures or expectations, something Jesus also made very clear. That thinking is at the heart of my ministry and is what I’ve said when reflecting on my future.

I want to work out on the ground how ministry, gospel and ‘the church’ needs to adapt and change in 21st century Britain, especially for small churches. Regionally and nationally this is critical because clearly so many churches have closed or are now in terminal decline.

There’s lots of difficulties to work through. I’m only able to do what I’m doing at Boulton Lane due to the structure of the church and membership. Yet we are trying to reach people who are so far from becoming members at the church that it begs the question of how the local covenant relationship needs to adapt. That sense of belonging and believing does not now move people to become part of an institution. Having a community of people fluidly working together for the love of each other and for God for me is far closer to what Jesus originally had in mind for the whole body of the church than what it became.

I want to see if we are being asked to radically re-assess the church? Our Baptist roots certainly did that with their covenant relationship and was very Gospel in the face of prejudice and persecution. For many small churches I think that’s where we are, but that is only going to be confirmed by small churches, like Simon all over again, stepping into the unknown. This may well be hard for future ministry as there may not be the money for stipend. It will mean unpicking the institution yet keeping the community. Being radical involves a great deal of effort, challenge and cost, and unknowns, but history has shown that is when the Gospel has shone brightest.

I would much prefer trying to painfully pioneer a new understanding of the Gospel than sitting nicely in a large church and do ‘normal’ Baptist life because size is protecting it for a short while. We are at an exciting time and Jesus is asking Christians and the churches to which they belong to again step out in faith, to trust, to go against all that logic and that sense of feeling safe where we are. I have no idea what that will bring and we all have to be very flexible. For me having trained as a minister it may actually mean one day me having to go back to normal work to enable a new form of ministry to emerge.

What we do know though, is that if we cast our net into the water our own faith journeys and the community we serve will be abundantly rewarded and showered by God’s love and grace.

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