The Bible is clear. Peter was a master fisherman.
So it’s noteworthy that Luke made an enduring record of the Simon Peter Fishing Company getting skunked — the time they “worked hard all night and caught nothing.” (See Luke 5:1-11.)
For all the champions the theology of glory wants to make out of people, you would think the Bible would be a bit more cooperative. Instead we are left with a long list of losers the likes of Adam sinning, Abraham deceiving, Moses disobeying, David murdering and fornicating, John the Baptist doubting, and Peter denying — three times — sinking, taking sides with Satan, and failing to catch fish.
It gets worse. Luke records that the very next morning Jesus told Peter, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Poor Peter. He had just exhausted all the tools and tricks of his trade and his nets came up utterly empty. Then he had to listen to the preacher tell him how to fish.
Peter’s response is the cosmic clash — the tangling of human will and divine word. Just how proud was Peter? Just how powerful is Jesus’ word? “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing ..." Peter’s natural instinct was to turn down Jesus and use his own expertise as justification. This is human nature at work — automatic misgivings at what God speaks. From the first sin in Eden to every sin outside Eden, that’s how proud we all are.
But God had done something in Peter to win the cosmic clash and make him responsive. For there is no other Scriptural explanation for a human going against experience, science, wisdom, reason, or emotion, than divine intervention. And this comes through in Peter’s reply. “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing ... but I will do as you say and let down the nets.” In other words, Peter said to Jesus, “The fact that you have spoken compels my unwilling will to do what you say.” God’s power overcame Peter’s pride. As God made darkness responsive to “Let there be light” and so light shined out of darkness, so God had made Peter’s unbelief responsive to “Let there be faith” and so Peter relied on God’s Word rather than on himself.
So, by the grace of God, the master fisherman listened to his Master. And the result was a miraculous catch of fish.
So let’s do the math. A master fisherman who worked his craft equaled zero fish. The Master who spoke his word to a fisherman equaled so many fish the nets began to break and both company boats began to sink.
Peter did the math. And where earlier he grieved as his eyes fixed on nets empty of fish, at the sight of that miracle Peter grieved as his eyes fixed on his heart full of iniquity. He may have been able to mend his own nets but he knew then he was unable to mend his own heart. For his faith showed him he was in the presence of holy God. And Peter collapsed of himself, fell at Jesus’ feet, and confessed his sin saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Peter was convicted and realized were he to rely on his own ability for his life and death well-being it would be suicide. He would die. Forever.
Except Jesus said to Simon, “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.”
I found an article a guy wrote about his buddy who is a professional bass fisherman. The article listed the six tips that explain how his buddy catches so many fish. This got me to thinking how it wouldn’t be difficult to take this miraculous catch of fish text from the Gospel of Luke and make it into six tips on how to ... have a happy marriage, raise successful kids, achieve a better life, overcome obesity, break away from depression, become more generous, grow the church. You name it. Peter’s miraculous catch of fish could be the key to any problem we want to solve or any improvement we want to make.
The problem with that is Jesus didn’t give Peter any tips. Instead, Jesus gave Peter forgiveness. “Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.”
What precisely did Jesus mean by that? First, he meant that as Peter’s fishing techniques resulted in no catch of fish so our life techniques result in no catch of men. We cannot change hearts. We cannot repair brokenness. We cannot stop sin.
Second, Jesus also meant that as he had orchestrated the miraculous catching of fish by speaking his word so Jesus would orchestrate the miraculous catching of men by speaking his word. God’s word changes hearts. God’s word repairs brokenness. God’s word forgives sin.
And God’s word is clear. Jesus Christ is the Master. Not only did he obey his Father’s will, suffer and die for our sin, and rise from the dead. He now intervenes in lives by his word to move people through his gift of faith to confess and repent of their sin. The good news is Jesus Christ does completely for us because we utterly cannot do for ourselves — all for our life and death well-being now in this world and forever in the world to come.
Kevin Wendt is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Destin.