When my brother doesn’t even grunt in reply, I look up. Andrew’s hands have stilled on the net. He is looking down the shoreline, towards Capernaum. There seems to be some commotion there, for I hear distant voices and, shielding my eyes from the glare reflecting from the sea, I can make out a throng of people.
“They’re out surprisingly early, aren’t they?” I say.
Andrew also raises a shielding hand to his forehead and squints into the brightness. “They’re heading this way.”
I shrug and turn my attention back to the nets. My stomach churns with hunger. The sooner we get these nets cleaned, the sooner I can get home to a meal.
“Simon, it’s the rabbi.” Andrew’s hushed voice breaks into my daydreams of bread and olives.
My breath catches at his words and anticipation courses through me as I see the rabbi in the middle of the approaching throng. Jesus ben Joseph – the rabbi from Nazareth who has been teaching in the synagogue. That explains the crowd. Ever since he drove the demon from Mad-Yuri two Shabbats ago, the people have been flocking to our town. I might not have believed it, except old Yuri is saner than all of us since then. What’s more, didn’t my mother-in-law go from raging hot to cool, the instant the rabbi touched her? And she was just the first of many he healed that day.
There’s something very, very different about this man.
My fingers carry on tugging at the seaweed, but my eyes are now on Jesus. People are pushing against him, trying to grab his cloak. They’re calling his name, pleading for his touch. How he keeps smiling at them through it all, I don’t know. It almost makes me glad to be a mere fisherman…even one with a dismal catch of seaweed.
Jesus stops walking as he draws alongside us, his eyes finding my own. Warmth floods through me at that moment, exactly like the first time I saw him. Andrew had been with the Baptiser at the Jordan river, when he came and called me to meet the rabbi. The first time Jesus laid eyes on me, he told me my name was to be Peter.
I think of Andrew’s words that day: We have found the Messiah.
Could it be? When I look into those knowing eyes, I can almost believe it.
The rabbi’s gaze shifts to our boat, bobbing lazily on the waves behind us. He takes off his sandals, lifts his robe to his knees, and begins to wade out towards it. Instantly, I understand what he wants and I scramble to my feet. “Come, Andrew!”
Jesus has climbed in and is sitting on the seat near the bow. I grab an oar and Andrew does the same, and we pull our boat a little away from shore, just far enough so the crowd won’t try and swamp us, but not so far that the rabbi’s voice won’t carry over the water. Then the rabbi begins to speak.
Our soiled nets are forgotten. Our fruitless night is forgotten. My hunger and tiredness are forgotten. Only the words of rabbi Jesus matter. Words so different and full of authority. So full of life.
When he finally stops speaking the crowd slowly drifts away, and the three of us sit gazing at the surrounding hills in companionable silence.
“Put out into deep water”—Jesus’ voice suddenly breaks the quiet— “and let down the nets for a catch.”
He meets my skeptical look with what my mother-in-law would call, a ‘mischievous turn of gaze’. But honestly, what does a rabbi from Nazareth know about fishing?
“Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything,” I say as tactfully as I can.
But even as I object, I doubt I can deny him his request. Even his most impractical prompting carries a measure of authority.
He’s still watching me as I finally relent. “But because you say so I will let down the nets.”
I nod reluctantly at Andrew and we head for deeper water. When Jesus tells us we’re far enough, we throw a net from the boat and I watch the weights pull it down. Only then do I notice the churning waters and the occasional glint of silver breaking the surface. A shoal of fish! Right here and now, just as Jesus had said.
The next hour is chaotic. Fish…more fish than I’ve ever seen in one place. So many fish that our net strains against the weight of them. We’re knee deep in fish eventually, the boat so low in the water that I fear it will sink. John and James come and help and, remarkably, their boat is as full as ours as we finally limp our way back to shore, rejoicing at our miracle catch.
Miracle catch. The thought jars me back to reality. I look up into Jesus’s eyes and I suddenly see the truth of it. He did this. The same way he chased away the fever and the demons. Jesus chased those fish into our nets. Fish! What man can control a shoal of fish? Only God himself can do that. At that realisation, terror grips me.
I sink to my knees in the slippery fish, and my voice is low and gruff with fear. “Go away from me, Lord. I am a sinful man.”
But his calloused hand lifts my chin, until I am forced to look into his eyes again, and his voice is gentle. “Don’t be afraid, Simon Peter. From now on you will catch men.”
At that moment joy leaps inside me and I know just what I will do. I will leave this boat and these nets, even all these fish, and I will follow this man—the Messiah—wherever he calls me to go. I don’t know where he will take me, or just what it means to catch men, or why he calls me Peter the Rock, when so often I feel like nothing more than dust and clay.
I know only that I need to be with him, to walk where he walks, to hear his every word, to obey his perfect, impractical promptings.
Today I will become a disciple of Jesus.
Based on Luke 5:1-11