Luke XIX: Lk. 5:1-11
Today Luke introduces us to another important aspect of the ministry of Jesus: the friendship and hospitality of God. But Jesus does not merely come to meet us and welcome us, He comes to interrupt us, to catch us, to commandeer us.
The Hospitality & Friendship of God
The incarnation itself (God becoming a man) is God coming to meet us. Every other religion in the world either humanizes God (e.g. Hinduism, pantheism) or else sets an impossible distance to God (e.g. Islam). Both of these tendencies contradict any real knowledge of God and therefore any notion of friendship or communion with God. When God is entirely immanent there isn’t anything to aim for or change (God is just as trapped and lost as we are), and when God is entirely transcendent, we don’t know if we’ll ever find Him, much less know Him or please Him. This is why the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation is the foundation of Christian friendship and hospitality. Luke is clear that the birth of Jesus is the arrival of God in this world as one of us (Lk. 1:17, 32, 35, 43-44, 2:49, 3:22, 4:18-22). Because the Christian God is both transcendent and immanent, He is able to understand where we are and call us to become something unimaginably better. But this requires interruption. This is why God has been interrupting people throughout Luke’s gospel: God interrupted Zacharias in the temple, the virgin Mary’s life, the shepherds in the fields, the travel plans of Mary and Joseph in Jerusalem, the lives of many at the Jordan, and now many in the synagogues of Galilee. Jesus comes, and He comes interrupting. This is what true friendship and hospitality always do. Real friendship understands where someone is presently and loves them enough to imagine where they could be some day. God is not only interested in meeting people where they are but also taking them somewhere far better (Lk. 4:18-19ff).
Jesus & the Boats
This is why Jesus is literally on the move with a message from God (Lk. 4:44-5:1). The setting has changed from a synagogue to a beach (Lk. 5:1), but Jesus is still interrupting lives, and now it’s fishermen cleaning their nets (Lk. 5:2). Jesus asks one of them to shove off a little ways from the land so that He can keep teaching the people (Lk. 5:3). Notice that Luke doesn’t initially tell us who the fishermen are that Jesus imposes upon (Lk. 5:2). If you’ve been a Christian long, you just sort of expect to run into Simon, but if we’re following Luke’s gospel carefully, we’ve actually already met him (Lk. 4:38). The Gospel of John suggests that Jesus met Simon the day after His baptism (Jn. 1:40), and it seems likely that they have developed some friendship by the time Jesus is staying at his house (Lk. 4:38). Nevertheless, it could still seem a bit impertinent for Jesus to interrupt his work and to invite Himself to teach from his boat. But the real kicker is then to tell experienced fishermen to give it another go after a long night of catching nothing (Lk. 5:4). Despite Simon’s reluctance, notice that Simon calls Jesus “Master” and submits to His “word” (Lk. 5:5). It’s pretty striking how much emphasis Luke places on all the nautical terms and the fishing action. He’s at the “lake” (Lk. 5:1), He sees two “boats” (Lk. 5:2), gets into one of the “boats” (Lk. 5:3), asks Simon to go out and let down his “nets” (Lk. 5:4), the “nets” nearly break with the large catch of fish (Lk. 5:6), another “boat” is called and both “boats” are quickly on the verge of sinking (Lk. 5:7), everyone is astonished at the catch of fish (Lk. 5:9), and finally they bring the boats back to land and leave them behind (Lk. 5:11).
Reassured & Reassigned
The initial interruption of Simon culminates in a radical change of direction, and what looks almost incidental at first, turns out to be highly intentional. And we know that because despite all the fishing action, right at the climax of the scene, Luke leaves us hanging with the boats sinking, and zooms his camera in on Simon who responds to the huge catch of fish by falling down at the knees of Jesus and confessing that he is a sinner (Lk. 5:8). Simon is astonished just like the people of Capernaum were astonished (Lk. 4:32, 36), and like the demons, Simon is suddenly conscious that he is in the presence of the Holy One of God and becomes painfully self-aware of the kind of person he really is (Lk. 5:8, cf. Lk. 4:34, 41). But what Luke wants us to see and what Simon suddenly realized in that moment is that Jesus is the expert fisherman. But when Jesus said He needed Simon’s boat, He was actually going fishing for Simon. Jesus interrupted and imposed on Simon because He was pursuing Simon, and Jesus got His fish. Simon’s response is no ordinary response to another human being. It echoes the way people respond to God’s presence (e.g. Isaiah and Ezekiel: Is. 6:5, Ez. 1:28). Simon’s response also matches how we frequently feel when our sin is exposed: we want people to leave us alone (Lk. 5:8). It’s easy to miss the fact that right at the moment that Simon falls at the knees of Jesus, Luke gives him the name “Peter” (Lk. 5:8). The other gospels give us scenes where Jesus deliberately changes Simon’s name, but Luke shows us a scene where Simon’s entire identity changed. Notice that Jesus reassures Simon (forgiveness), but He also reassigns him (now you’ll catch men, just like I caught you) (Lk. 5:10). Literally, Jesus uses a play-on words, and says Simon will “catch men alive.” Jesus caught Simon and gave him a new name and calling, and now Simon will do the same.
Conclusions & Applications
In this wonderfully subtle scene, Luke reminds us that Jesus has come to interrupt us, to impose upon us. It is so easy to go along thinking that God is mostly there to give you kudos and cheer you on with your plans. But He has come to commandeer our lives, to impose His plan on us. And this really is good news because He is God and He loves us and has laid His life down for us. We are free to leave everything behind for Him because He left everything behind for us.
Finally, the friendship of God is the basis and model for all Christian friendship. Christian friendship is not hanging out with people who are just like you, who constantly affirm you, and leave you pretty much the same. Christian friendship is love that imposes upon others for their good. Christian friendship risks misunderstanding and offense for the sake of the potential of others in Christ.