Jesus impresses a fisherman called Simon
The Lake of Gennesaret was one of three names given to that expanse of water; the Sea of Galilee was another and the third was the Sea of Tiberias. It was 13 miles long and 8 miles wide, that is, from here to the Edinburgh bypass and from Bathgate to West Calder in width. It was 680 feet below sea level, making it almost a tropical local climate. There were 9 towns around its shores each with at least 15,000 people, more than 150,000 people – from here to the boundary of Edinburgh. Gennesaret probably meant something like 'rich garden' or 'garden of the kings'. The area on the west side of the lake was fertile and highly productive of food.
After Jesus' rejection at Nazareth he returned to Capernaum and taught in the synagogue there. He was better received and there was an explosion of faith and healing of sick and disabled people. A fisherman called Simon was present and invited Jesus to come to his home to help his mother-in-law. After that Jesus spent the day ministering to those afflicted with physical and mental issues well into night time. John Wesley the founding minister and inspiration of the Methodist Church preached in churches, houses and halls but he also preached in the open air to miners and workers; he preached in fields and on farms, in town centres and gathering places. He said, 'I love a commodious room, a soft cushion and a handsome pulpit, but field preaching saves souls'. Jesus was out there making a public noise, being heard, creating publicity, healing, saving souls.
It must have been a few days later – the text just says - 'One day' – that he was standing on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, preaching and teaching to a large crowd. It seems that they were pushing closer and closer to Him and so he decided to ask one of the fishermen who were working there washing their nets to let Him use his boat as a pulpit. Simon agreed and Jesus moved a few feet off the edge and sat down to continue his teaching and preaching safely. We don't know how long Jesus preached and taught for – the text doesn't say – longer than 20 minutes I am very sure. People didn't have watches in those days and they didn't rush home to see the football either. When He had finished He decided to reward this fisherman for the use of his boat. That is interesting. Jesus recognised that He had taken some of the working day away from this working man. I wonder if Simon was slightly resenting this benign requisition of his boat. Maybe Jesus sensed Simon's inner thoughts that he was losing half a day's wages. We know that Simon – Peter as he became – complained later to Jesus that he had left everything to follow him and that even after Jesus' resurrection, Peter returned to start up his fishing business again. It is not unfair to suggest that Simon Peter, a self employed businessman – liked earning money.
Here Jesus speaks to Him with authority, 'Put out to deep water, and let down the nets for a catch'. Simon replied by saying that they'd been out on the water all night and had not caught a thing and added 'But because you say so, I will let down the nets'. Why would a skilled and experienced fisherman accept the orders of a joiner turned preacher? Maybe he was thinking – What does He know about fishing? Jesus must have had an authority about Him that enabled Him to lead others. That may seem the most obvious of points but it is worth taking it into consideration. Jesus also appeared to others as an ordinary man after all. He didn't drift along a foot above the earth. People didn't cast flowers and petals on the roads for Him to walk on - unlike Hare Krishna gurus – Jesus did not look different from other men of His time and He did not dress differently either. He wasn't 6'6” tall, nor was He built like a rugby forward. You might not have picked him out in a crowd until He spoke – or looked at you – through you – or touched you if you were ill and suddenly – you became well. His was a gentle but unassailable power of spiritual presence and authority and Simon was deeply affected by it.
In those days for all the fishing that took place the Sea of Galilee was rich in shoals of fish – some as large as an acre. They hadn't fished the place out with industrial scale trawling and factory ships like we do today. But Peter and his fishing business partners had caught nothing the previous night. That is not surprising. They didn't have sonar in those days. They relied on sight. Maybe there hadn’t been a good or full moon to catch the ripples on the surface denoting the presence of fish. So Simon and his crew let out the nets and gathered them in again this time, full of fish. So many, in fact, that the nets were breaking with the weight and strain. Simon called for the men in the other boat to help and they filled both boats to overflowing with an exceptional harvest of fish. What happened? Jesus saw where the fish were. He perhaps did not summon a large shoal of fish to swim by the boat and be caught. He did not have a Des O' Conner LP played below to frighten the fish out of the water.
In John's Gospel Jesus is recorded as telling the disciples that the harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few. Some people think that is true today. Why do people not go to Church as much as they used to? 'It is old fashioned and boring' is a frequent answer. But some say that there is a deep spiritual hunger in people who don't go to Church - who are not Christians – who don't believe in God and who do not know Jesus as their personal Saviour, Friend and Lord. Is that true of you? Do you recognise an inner soul emptiness which you strive to fill in all sorts of ways without ever finding peace? To be sure the name of Jesus Christ is heard everywhere everyday. In shopping centres, in factories, on building sites, at football matches, on golf courses, in pubs and bookies' shops, in countless homes and in primary school playgrounds. An alien arriving might consider Jesus Christ to be the most influential person throughout our land just by the numbers and volume of the repetition of His name. An alien's first question might well be 'Who is this Jesus Christ everyone keeps mentioning?' Is there a plentiful harvest out there? Are you waiting to become a Christian – for something to happen that convinces you that God loves you and that Jesus is alive for you? Or perhaps – could you not care less? Is the Church an irrelevance in your life? Is God non-existent to you? Is Christianity very far from the horizons of your mind? Frankly – do you not have the slightest clue what I'm talking about right now? It takes a spiritual earthquake to turn a human life to God.
Simon's reaction to Jesus over provision is fascinating. He drops on his knees and says 'Go away from me Lord, I am a sinful man'. Simon is an emotional person who feels things and wears his heart on his sleeves. He is confused and embarrassed and convicted of sin. His inner life is laid bare. He had been resentful of Jesus using his boat when he needed to get back fishing; he had lost time and money, he had not thought Jesus knew anything about fishing, and now he had seen in effect a miracle of provision – a week's catch at one go. He was not elated like Mr Trotter was elated at winning the Euro Lottery. Simon felt spiritually unclean in Jesus' presence. He sensed a greater presence than he had ever seen or met. He had come close to God unexpectedly. It hurt him. He felt ashamed of his self-seeking, money-making existence. Jesus reassured him with words of great import which Simon did not understand at the time. 'Don't be afraid; from now on you will catch men'. With that demonstration of divine power and good will, Jesus got through to Simon and Jesus followed it up with the call to Simon to become a disciple – which – we know he did. Peter as he became known had a very uneven relationship with Jesus. It took a long time for this strong character to be reconciled to what Jesus was asking of him in his life. He struggled spiritually in spite of living as one of Jesus' companions. But – it began there – Simon and his partners James and John, stopped fishing and followed Jesus on his itinerant preaching, teaching and healing missions. What will it take for you to say Yes to Jesus? What will have to happen for you to decide to follow Jesus? What will it take to make a Christian of you?