Jesus was a practical preacher. One day, when the crowds had swelled beyond their ability to hear Him, He climbed into a fishing boat and told the captain, Simon Peter, to put out a little way from shore. As He sat in the boat, He preached and the people listened.
When He finished, He turned to Simon and said, “Put out into deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”
Simon likely glared at Jesus. He had been letting his nets down all night long and caught nothing, and now it was late morning; he was tired, frustrated and there’s a Rabbi in his boat telling him how to do his job.
“You’re kidding, right?” he thought. So Simon told Jesus, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.” Deep or shallow, there was nothing to show for his long, dark labor, and he was clearly perturbed.
“This is ridiculous,” Simon thought. “And deep water? There’re no fish in deep water. You’re a preacher—go preach. I’m a fisherman—let me finish cleaning my empty nets.”
But then tired, grouchy Simon added, “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
Put yourself in his sandals: he may have said this out of proper respect for a popular Rabbi, but he also covered his professional pride, putting the burden of success of such a foolish request on Jesus. And he said it loud enough for all to hear. “I won’t be made a fool in front of all these people and my business partners, even by a good man with good (albeit silly) ideas. ‘Look where he’s fishing!” they’ll say—‘He’s crazy!’ ‘Not me,’ I’ll say—‘It was the Rabbi!’”
And then he moved the boat into deeper waters and let down the nets…
Matthew tells us what happened next.
‘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.’
Peter was tired, grouchy and embarrassed when he obeyed Jesus. As they hauled up this miraculous catch of fish, he must have been so overwhelmed by the success of it that he all but forgot about the Rabbi sitting in the back of his boat. Then he woke up.
‘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.’
We live in such a rational world today that many Christians believe Jesus will only ask rational things of us—things that are safe and make sense—things that make us cheer from the waterfront when we see Him use others for His mighty deeds. But Jesus doesn’t have spectators for followers—He just has followers—followers who do what He says and go where He points, even if they’re not quite sure they know what He’s asking.
The spectators aren’t the ones who fall at Jesus’ knees, overwhelmed by their own inadequacies when they experienced His unlimited ability and shocking success. Followers are those who follow Him onto the field, run the play and hand Him the ball. Spectators paint themselves for a war they never fight and cheer when the home team scores; followers follow Jesus into an arena where battles are fought and where there will be causalities. Jesus is not safe. Aslan is not a tame lion.
The stands are safe and full of festivities; following Jesus is not, because we don’t know where He might take us or what will happen along the way. What we do know is that the catch will be astonishing. And we will also know, like Peter, it was not us—we just moved the boat and let down the nets. But we were in the game. Others may think us irrational, even fanatical, but we’re on the field, and we will experience His success up close. And it will be His followers, not His fans that fall at His feet and worship Him in reverent astonishment that He asked the likes of us to catch people for Him.
“Don’t be afraid,” Jesus told Simon Peter, because he was genuinely afraid. And He says it to you, too. If you are cheering from the stands—letting ministers do all the ministry, guarding your spiritual gift as if it’s for you and not your neighbor, worried what may become of your reputation or where you might end up, don’t be afraid. Leave your nets and your reputation—they are too tangled to mend anyway—and follow Jesus. Fish for men. Love your enemy. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who are hurting you. Go into the all the world and make disciples. Baptize people. Sell what you have and give the money to the poor. Lay hands on the sick. Hold the hand of a dying man. Feed a starving child. Stand when the devil says sit. Don’t wait for your pastor to do this—you do it. Drop your nets into deep water and fall down at His knees in wonder at the catch.
And for heaven’s sake, get in the boat.