I don’t know what your own experience has been, but I have certainly learned that following God's call is not a single event. Rather it is a life - long process filled with much failure punctuated with occasional bright points of something that felt like ‘success’, but not success as most people would measure it...
It is easy to see how a surface reading of a story such as today’s, about the great catch of fish, would lend itself to such false assumptions. When Peter does what Jesus tells him, even against his own rational, experienced judgment, he is richly, even extravagantly rewarded. That Jesus provides well for those who follow him and for their families would be an easy, though false, conclusion to draw. It is also easy to misinterpret the promise that ‘from now on your will be catching people’, in terms of the expansion of the church. ‘Fishing for people’ to join our congregations and make our church life richer was not I believe Jesus’s intention at all.
If we look at what Jesus actually did in his life, it was all about helping those least able to help themselves; about getting down into the mess and hardship of everyday life and challenging the distribution of power and wealth. He was not killed either for doing nice things, or for encouraging people to join his movement. Jesus was killed because what he did and said was subversive and dangerous to those who had wealth and power.
Jesus' behaviour and actions provide the model for us. He went out among the people, into the street, where people lived, worked, experienced joy and sorrow, and into all of the messiness of their lives. And he dared to suggest that there could be a different way; a more just way; a way in which the ‘big fish’ could no longer have it all their own way.
Now in English we still have use the phrase ‘a big fish’ to denote an important or influential person – we might say for example ‘he became a big fish in the world of politics’. Our knowledge of this phrase helps us to understand this passage. For we all know what big fish do – they eat the little fish.
In Jesus’s day there were some very big fish. The Roman leaders had a hierarchy and a pecking order designed to keep everyone in their place and ensure that the maximum profit came to those at the top. For the fisher folk of Galilee this meant gross and corrupt taxation of their fishing catches, such that they probably never got to feed themselves on the very fish they caught. The profits went to others. So, when Jesus persuaded Peter, James and John to follow him and to ‘fish for people’, he was not talking about how many people come to worship on a Sunday or about saving souls – leave that to God. He was talking about how they were going to go after those ‘big fish’ that were harming the livelihoods of poor ordinary people like them. And it wouldn’t be popular. And it probably wouldn’t make them rich. It would involve risk – the risk of their lives. But it would bring the gospel, the good news of God’s love to the poor and those in need. No wonder Peter, just like Paul and Isaiah and every great saint before or since, is overwhelmed and says they are not up to it. No wonder in the end they have to rely on God getting down to it with them.
So what about us? No doubt we don’t feel up to it either. That really doesn’t matter. Jesus does not ask Peter to do anything he doesn’t already know how to do – just put out the boat, let down the net. God uses what we can do – no matter how simple; make a cup of tea; smile at someone – it does not have to be difficult – God uses our willingness, and our existing knowledge – to do things beyond our wildest dreams; that all may be transformed. The willingness is all – may we be ready and willing to do what we can, to catch the ‘big fish’ and feed the hungry. Amen
by Penny Jones