Luke 5:1-11


We should also remember that this is the last time that Simon, James, and John will fish in the old way. Jesus is about to ask them to re-imagine what it means for them to be fishers - and to re-imagine who "fish" might be. So the moral of this story is NOT, "Let's keep doing what we have always done before and trust that one day God will fill our nets." But rather, we must constantly re-learn who are the fish now, and what are the nets?

Year C
Epiphany 5

Sunday between February 4 and February 10 inclusive

Not used if assigned date follows Ash Wednesday.
May be replaced by Transfiguration Sunday if the assigned date is the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday. 

Read the passage at the bottom of this post: Luke 5:1-11, The Message   or   Luke 5:1-11, The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV).

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We sometimes think that one of the first things Jesus did was call the disciples. But as we read in Luke 4:14 Jesus begins to teach in the synagogues of Galilee before returning to Nazareth and the confrontation that happens which we have read about the previous two weeks: Luke 4:14-21 and Luke 4:21-30.

Following this event, the Lectionary skips over the rest of Chapter 4 in which Jesus travels to Capernaum where once again he teaches on the Sabbath, amazes everyone, and drives out a demon. (Luke 4:31-37) He then goes to Simon's house and heals his mother. (Luke 4:32-39) Crowds then come for healing. (Luke 4:40-41) And when they try to make him stay, Jesus says, "I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also." And then Luke concludes, "So he continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea." (Luke 4:42-44)

So unless Luke has once again demonstrated his unfamiliarity with the geography of Israel, Jesus has left Galilee in the north and gone to Judea in the south.

So the opening of Chapter 5 is a bit of leap in both space and time: "Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret ..." (Luke 5:1) In the previous verse, Luke 4:44, Jesus was in Judea, and now we come upon him happening to stand beside a lake back in Galilee. (And the lake here called Gennesaret is more commonly called Lake Galilee.)

Verse 1. For the third time in a few short paragraphs, Luke reports that crowds are pressing Jesus - in this case to hear the word of God.

Verse 2. Since there were no means to keep fish fresh, fishing was done at night; sold in the morning; and eaten that day. So Jesus sees two boats that have been emptied of the night's catch and gear, and the fishers are off cleaning up. And as Malina and Rohrbaugh comment (page 245, see footnote below):

Being away from home and family at night contributed to the low honor status of fishermen.

Malina and Rohrbaugh also comment (page 363) that the reference in Luke 5:7 and 5:10 to James and John as "partners" of Simon, suggests that they operated under a lease from a tax collector. The tax could be as much as 40% of the catch. Remaining fish were sold through agents who "siphoned off the majority of the profits" and increased the price so that only elites could afford to eat fish.

Verse 3. Recall that Jesus has already been at Simon's house. (Luke 4:38-39)

Verses 4 to 7. As near as I can recall, this is the one and only time that Jesus initiates a miracle - all other times, miracles happen in response to others' requests. In this case, the miracle is not simply that fish are caught, the miracle is the abundance - enough to almost sink two boats.

The abundance of fish is sign that not only can Jesus teach the word of God, he is a Holy Man who also has authority over the spirit of the water and the fish within the water. (This will be demonstrated again when Jesus rebukes a storm. (Luke 8:22-25))

We should also remember that this is the last time that Simon, James, and John will fish in the old way. Jesus is about to ask them to re-imagine what it means for them to be fishers - and to re-imagine who "fish" might be. So the moral of this story is NOT, "Let's keep doing what we have always done before and trust that one day God will fill our nets." If anything, the moral is, "Let's stop fishing the way we have always done it. Let's re-imagine who we are and how we are and what we are called to do now. Let's be fish out of water!"

Verses 8 to the first part of 10. Jesus' demonstration of his holiness provokes the appropriate response from Simon Peter: (1) he falls on his knees - which was the customary gesture of honour shown to a superior; and (2) he asks Jesus to leave Simon's unholy personal space and unholy work space (the boat).

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However, as always, Jesus is not interested in doing things simply for the purpose of amazing people. Jesus is not in the entertainment industry. He is in the proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God industry. And the time has come to shift from teaching to crowds who go home, to teaching to disciples who follow.

Verse 11. Malina and Rohrbaugh comment (pages 245-246):

Note that Luke emphasizes how those following Jesus left "everything." (See also 5:28 and 14:33) More is involved here than leaving material goods behind. Geographic mobility and the consequent break with one's social network (biological family, patrons, friends, neighbors) were considered seriously deviant behavior and would have been much more traumatic in (Jesus' time) than simply leaving behind material wealth.

The challenge for those of us hearing this text today is that most of us will in fact not become mobile; will not give up everything. We will, like the crowds in Jesus' own time, go home.

And so perhaps it is helpful to return to the start of the passage, to the crowd who were pressing Jesus to hear the word of God, and lift these folks up as our model.

Yes, we tend to lift up Simon, James and John as the REAL models of what REAL commitment to Jesus means. But maybe that isn't the only response that Jesus seeks. After all, Jesus does spend considerable time and effort to be with, and teach to, and heal the crowds.

And maybe for those of us with kids and debts and jobs and aging parents simply being amazed and pressing forward to hear the word of God and telling others about Jesus is sufficient. That's what I'm banking on.

David Ewart,,
Short, easy to use, faith inspiring explanations of the meaning of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John for your sermon, homily, bible study, or reflection.

Note: Historical background information in this post is drawn primarily from Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels, pages 245-246; and the writings of Amy-Jill Levine, et. al. 

Luke 5:1-11 (NRSV)

   1 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." 5 Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.  

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Luke 5:1-11 (The Message)

   1 Once when he was standing on the shore of Lake Gennesaret, the crowd was pushing in on him to better hear the Word of God. 2 He noticed two boats tied up. The fishermen had just left them and were out scrubbing their nets. 3 He climbed into the boat that was Simon's and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Sitting there, using the boat for a pulpit, he taught the crowd.

   4 When he finished teaching, he said to Simon, "Push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch."

   5 Simon said, "Master, we've been fishing hard all night and haven't caught even a minnow. But if you say so, I'll let out the nets." 6 It was no sooner said than done—a huge haul of fish, straining the nets past capacity. 7 They waved to their partners in the other boat to come help them. They filled both boats, nearly swamping them with the catch.

   8 Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell to his knees before Jesus. "Master, leave. I'm a sinner and can't handle this holiness. Leave me to myself." 9 When they pulled in that catch of fish, awe overwhelmed Simon and everyone with him. 10 It was the same with James and John, Zebedee's sons, coworkers with Simon.

      Jesus said to Simon, "There is nothing to fear. From now on you'll be fishing for men and women." 11 They pulled their boats up on the beach, left them, nets and all, and followed him.  

Scripture quotations from THE MESSAGE. Copyright © by Eugene H. Peterson 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

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