Hearing and Doing the Word
The scene opens with the crowd pressing in on Jesus so much that he had to get into a boat and teach from a little way off the shore. Why were they pressing in on him so much? They were doing so “to hear the word of God” (v. 1). “To hear the word of God”—what an interesting motivation! Jesus embodied the word of God and he spoke the word of God. What is the word of God? In this context I believe we can think of it in the terms of the old hymn: “wonderful words of life.” The word of God is the word about who God is and what God does. Therefore the word of God is the word about grace and love and hope and faith. In hearing the word of God we are connected with God. To hear the word of God is to experience communication that signifies the existence of a relationship. And to know God is the key to everything. It is to find that life—all of life—matters and that life can be so abundant that to be lived it must be lived on into eternity. That’s why they were crowding in on Jesus. That’s what they were listening for.
We don’t know how most of them responded to what they heard. Probably some were moved and some were stuck; that’s the way it usually is. We know about Simon, though. For whatever reason, he was in obedience mode. In Luke’s narrative the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law precedes this episode, so perhaps we can conclude that Simon had already witnessed the power of God operating in Jesus. Regardless, when Jesus spoke Simon obeyed. “Put out your boat from the shore a little bit so I can teach from there.” Simon did. “Put into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” He did, but not without a mild protest: “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” Judging by Simon I’d say that it looks like we have to grow in our obedience. Simon first goes out into shallow water in obedience to Jesus; all he is doing is providing his boat. Then he goes out into deep water in obedience to Jesus; now he has to do something. And he has to muster some faith to try: “I’ve already done all I know to do and it hasn’t worked, but if you say so I’ll try again.” Peter heard the word of God in Jesus and then he responded to the word. Greater and greater faith and greater and greater obedience were required.
The result was abundance and risk, all at the same time. Simon and his partners threw in the net and they brought in so many fish that their nets started to break and so they called the men in the other boat and both boats got filled up and both boats started to sink! I’m not sure how they got out of that predicament, but you can just imagine the chaos that was occurring. I believe that this experience functioned as a metaphor for Simon. When you listen to and follow Jesus the abundant life is the result. But you must be aware that a truly abundant life is a truly risky life. The blessings that come from following Jesus can also put you in grave danger. It may even be the case that a discipleship that does not take risks and that will not accept danger is no discipleship at all. We need to be aware of this truth in our churches. God has abundant blessings that he is getting ready to pour out on us. But living the abundant life puts us in danger; it is risky business to be doing the will of God. So we need to be on the lookout for the blessings and the dangers and we must be willing to accept the dangers as a matter of course. If a lot of fish are caught we’ll just have to live with the precariousness of the boat.
Then Simon heard the word of God that was addressed directly to him: “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” And he had to know that once he started catching people it would be like it had been that day in the boat on the lake when this Jesus had told him to fish for fish. He had to know that once he started he just might catch boatloads of people, but he also had to know that the whole business just might sink him. The main thing he had to know, though, was that this powerful word was something he couldn’t resist. How powerful was it? Jesus called only Simon, but the others who were working with him came, too. They just couldn’t help themselves.
The job of those followers would be to speak the word, too—the word of God. And that’s our job. It’s wonderful and risky business, but it’s the only business we have—to think it and to breathe it and to live it and to speak it. Because they still need to know. As Frederick Buechner said, “We’re all so hungry, so hungry for each other and for lots of things, but it does seem to me that the basic hunger really is for the Word of God. And a lot of people don’t know that. So the job is to try to make it understandable, make it real” [In W. Dale Brown, Of Fiction and Faith: Twelve American Writers Talk About Their Vision and Work (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), p. 54].