Firstly, Simon Peter’s role has been heightened. This fits well with Luke’s overall placing of Simon Peter in the early Christian story, particularly in the key ministries he related in the Acts of the Apostles. It would thus have made sense to Luke to provide Peter with a similarly memorable story of ‘call’ to that of Paul, his other great central figure in the Acts of the Apostles. This helps us see one of the powerful features of the developing polity of the early Christian movement.
Secondly, there is more of what we might term ‘messing about in boats’ in Luke’s account of the calling of the first disciples. Indeed, bits of the story can thus seem a little odd. Critics have for example objected that Simon could hardly have fallen to his knees before Jesus in a sinking boat. Leaving aside the question of literalism, we may again however reflect productively on what Luke is saying to his audience, and to us today, about the nature of the Church. Do we see the Church as a stable entity to be grounded on firm land, or as an adventurous working vehicle in uncertain waters? Above all, when the boat is sinking, or shipping water, where do we put our faith?
For thirdly, and crucially, Luke’s account of the calling of the first disciples has a distinct miraculous element. Some scholars have indeed suggested that Luke may thus have partly incorporated a post-resurrection story, like that in John’s Gospel, moving it to the beginning of the journey of Jesus and his first disciples. Again, this may help those who look to make sense of textual challenges. More vitally however it is included to call us, like Simon, into wonder and response. Jesus indeed addresses Peter with the words ‘do not be afraid’ which are used in other divine epiphanies and which here also combines forgiveness. Jesus then incorporates Peter into his new community, and, through Peter, the lead disciple, ourselves too. The huge catch of fish is then both an anticipation of the mission to come and of eschatological completion.
So, maybe Luke is saying three things for us today. Firstly, as for Simon, each of us is called together to new things in the economy of God. Are we open to this, even with our own mixed wonder, fear and sense of inadequacy? Secondly, however we are traveling - in boats, by foot, bike, or car, or even by circuitous train - where are we placing our trust? And thirdly, do we realise God has miracles in store, even if we are on the way to Birmingham? In the name of Jesus, Amen.
by Jo Inkpin, for St Francis College eucharist, MIlton, 7 September 2017