As I hang out in a bit of a limbo phase in life, post seminary but pre whatever is next, I’m struck by what Jesus’ calling of Peter and buds to follow Him is teaching me about waiting.
The longest account of the calling is in the gospel of Luke. So let’s start there.
1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who 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 from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began 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 full that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
In verses 1-3 Jesus is teaching a crowd of people the word of God, portions of the Old Testament, I presume. After the lesson Jesus focuses on one follower, Simon/Peter. Jesus tells Peter to do once more that which he has been doing for hours to no avail–let down the nets. Jesus, THE CARPENTER, instructs Peter, THE PROFESSIONAL FISHERMAN, to go fishing in the heat of the day, the least likely time for fish to bite.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t super love it when someone tells me how to do my job, especially when they themselves have never done it before. The absolute worst form of this is when someone commands me to do my job in a certain way. When Joe Schmo comes up to me and says, “You should…” or “You need to…” and Joe is not my boss or a fantastic web designer (what I do for a living because writing’s pay off of self-fulfillment and warm feelings is not, as it turns out, acceptable payment for a mortgage and groceries and all the whatnot), my eyes glaze over and mind wanders off in search of a way out of the conversation as soon as possible. Because I’m mature like that.
All that to say, if I’m Peter, my response to Jesus’ command to go fish is, “No, thanks, I’m good. And, also, could you build me a new table?” But Peter doesn’t say that (although, I do like to think he certainly thought it). On the contrary, Peter says, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
Peter respects Rabbi Jesus enough to obey Him even though Peter has his doubts. Peter tells Jesus he is tired and has had a hard day at the office (or night, as it were), but on account of the fact that Jesus, a respectable member of the community, is instructing him, Peter will act.
You know what this exchange tells me?
You don’t? Fine, I’ll spell it out for you.
- Sometimes Jesus comes to us when we’re tired and failing. He doesn’t always wait for us to be on point emotionally, mentally, or when it comes to being “successful.” He’s not scared of our bad days or bad moods or bad sides. He can teach us in bad times as well as good.
- It is okay to express our doubts to God. I’m not sure this next statement is true. In fact, it could be heretical, but I trust you, Internet, to correct me if I’m wrong by leaving all manner of “edifying” comments below. My thought is maybe it isn’t a sin to doubt? If we classify doubt as an emotion, it isn’t “right” or “wrong.” Emotions are morally neutral, and, therefore, not righteous or sinful. It’s what we do with our emotions that is either good or bad. If this line of thinking is right (play on words totally intended), doubting becomes a sin when we act on our doubts in a distrustful manner. Peter did not. He felt his doubt, he verbalized his doubt, and, then, he chose to act in accordance with the faith he did not have instead of in accordance with his feelings. Whoa.
And you know what happens after he obeys Jesus?
Peter reaps an inconceivable blessing–more than he could ever ask or imagine (shout out to Paul for the verbiage). Yes, the catch that filled two boats would earn Peter and company a vast sum of money. But, the even bigger blessing is their witnessing Jesus perform what they could only describe as a miracle.
The catch is so ridiculously voluminous, the boats begin to sink under the weight of the fish! (Side note: Blessings can turn to curses.) As the boat is going under, Peter kneels before Jesus and implores Him to leave. Peter recognizes there is something special–holy–about this rabbi. And Peter immediately feels unworthy to even be in Jesus’ presence on account of Peter being a “sinful man.”
On one hand we are right to feel unworthy in Christ’s presence: Jesus is holy, we are not. On the other hand, Jesus does not see our sinfulness as a reason to not have relationship with us. He pursues us despite our sinfulness.
We are the ones who bring feelings of unworthiness to the relationship, and we allow those feelings to put emotional distance between us and Jesus. We must stop this!
If Jesus does not see our sinfulness as a reason to not have relationship with us, WE SHOULDN’T EITHER. (I know double negatives are bad grammar, but how does the Internet feel about triple negatives? Never mind, I don’t actually care how the Internet feels about it.)
Peter’s sinfulness is probably not the only reason he wants Jesus to leave, however. Back in verse 7 we see that–oh, crap–He is sinking their boat! They are out in deep water–the Sea of Galilee: 11 miles long, 6 miles wide, 150 feet deep–and there is a very real possibility that if their boat goes under they will drown.
But Jesus reassures them, “Don’t be afraid.” And then He gives them a new, cryptic, job description: “…from now on you will fish for people.” I imagine the guys cutting their eyes at one another, furrowing their brows and mouthing, “What?”
Even though probably none of them had any idea what Jesus was talking about, what gets me is NONE OF THEM ASKED ANY QUESTIONS!
I do believe I would’ve been raising my hand, “Um, Jesus? What even does that mean?” I’d have been racking my brain trying to come up with possible things “men” might have been symbolic for. Or perhaps the symbolism was at the other end of the phrase: what exactly could “fishers” be representative of?
But not Peter and friends.
They got their sinking boats to shore, left all their gear and fish (read: income), and followed Jesus, having no idea where He was going or what was coming next for them. Unbelievable!
They clearly believed, to some degree or another, that Jesus’ new job description for them was worth pursuing. And they had to have believed Jesus would show them what He meant by “fishers of men.” They trusted Jesus to lead them in how to fulfill their new call.
Matthew and Mark say in their accounts of this story that Peter and friends immediately followed Jesus. They didn’t go home and pack a bag. They didn’t kiss grandma goodbye. They didn’t have a going away party. They got off their boats and immediately followed Jesus.
The group of men knew Jesus was the key to their new marching orders. They could not afford to let Him out of their sight. They had no idea where He was going next or when, and they were unwilling to risk losing sight of Him for even a moment. For without Jesus they could not fulfill their calling.
And so it is with those of us who are waiting.
We may not even know what our call is (perhaps the proverbial phone hasn’t rung yet). Or maybe we have a vague sense of our call, but we have no idea which way to go to step into it more fully. Or we might know very well what our call is, but we don’t know how to live it out.
So we’re waiting. Waiting for the One who will call or is calling or has called to lead us in the way we should go. And while we are waiting, we all need to do what Peter did: don’t let Jesus out of our sight. He is the key to our new direction. We cannot afford to not follow Him immediately…closely… and at all times.
As we follow Him, sticking close by His side, He will walk us straight into the heart of our calling.