5 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and 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 way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. 7 So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
What to do with this educator’s commentary
This commentary invites you as a teacher to engage with and interpret the passage. Allow the text to speak first. The commentary suggests that you ask yourself various questions that will aid your interpretation. They will help you answer for yourself the question in the last words of the text: ‘what does this mean?’
This educator’s commentary is not a ‘finished package’. It is for your engagement with the text. You then go on to plan how you enable your students to work with the text.
Both you and your students are the agents of interpretation. The ‘Worlds of the Text’ offer a structure, a conversation between the worlds of the author and the setting of the text; the world of the text; and the world of reader. In your personal reflection and in your teaching all three worlds should be integrated as they rely on each other.
In your teaching you are encouraged to ask your students to engage with the text in a dialogical way, to explore and interpret it, to share their own interpretation and to listen to that of others before they engage with the way the text might relate to a topic or unit of work being studied.
Structure of the commentary:
Text & textual features
Characters & setting
Ideas / phrases / concepts
Questions for the teacher
Questions for the teacher
Meaning for today / challenges
Church interpretations & usage
The World Behind the Text
See general introduction to Luke.
The world of the text
Text & textual features
The literary form of this passage is primarily a call story, which John McKinnon describes as being somewhat like a parable in action, symbolically demonstrating Christian call. The passage is structured as a narrative: the first section is an account of Jesus preaching, then of what happens when he instructs Simon (Peter) to put out his nets; the problem is Simon’s disbelief and the resolution Simon’s obedience and response.
Characters & Setting
This passage is from relatively early in the Gospel of Luke. The Gospel has previously introduced Jesus through an account of his birth, two episodes from his childhood, his baptism by John the Baptist, a genealogy, and his experience of being tempted in the desert. His ministry of proclamation and healing has begun, which is attracting wide attention and enthusiasm.
The first recorded words of Jesus are when he returned to Nazareth to proclaim his ministry to bring good news to the poor, a claim which led to his rejection by his hometown. This contrasts with what had happened beforehand with him being acclaimed.
The focus of this passage is mainly on Jesus and Simon (Peter), with the sons of Zebedee, James and John, and the crowd playing supporting roles. The description of the three who become disciples suggests they are partners in a fishing enterprise and own several boats. As such, they may be what we would understand as business owners.
These events occur on the shores of the Lake of Gennesaret, which other Gospels call the Sea (or Lake) of Galilee. Luke’s naming is more accurate: the body of water is land bound and filled with fresh water fed from the northern mountains. It was teeming with the fish that supported an active fishing industry.
Jesus has come to Capernaum or somewhere nearby on the northern shores of the freshwater lake. Fishing is backbreaking work of long night-time hours casting and hauling in heavy nets and (hopefully) many fish.
In Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospel, two groups of disciples are called with no explanation as to why they follow. Luke has a much more dramatic edge. Luke combines the calling of three disciples with a miracle story that John McKinnon calls a ‘Parable in action’. This miracle also appears in the Gospel of John but near its end, after the Resurrection. Luke uses it quite differently.
Jesus is building a reputation as a teacher with the people keen to listen. They are pressing around him and so he uses a fishing boat as a platform. In Luke’s story, Simon in in partnership with others and they own at least two boats between them. The fishers have been out working all night and have caught nothing. They are very tired and despondent. It is not just disappointment, as the lack of fish puts them and their families at risk.
Simon, however, agrees rather easily suggesting he may already know Jesus in some way and the result is extraordinary. They catch so many fish they need immediate help, otherwise their nets will break.
Luke portrays Simon’s response as intense and transformative. Simon declares his own unworthiness. He enters the story as Simon and becomes Simon Peter (Rock). He first speaks to Jesus as Master, but then as Lord. He and his relationship with Jesus have changed. This is Peter being called already as leader, with James and John somewhat in the background.
Through this, Luke highlights the significance of Peter for the post-Easter Church but also, right at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, the mission of that Church. He has Jesus extending their occupation into a new, more important endeavour. The commission Jesus will give them after his Resurrection to proclaim his teaching “to all nations” (24:47) is prefigured here, right at the beginning. They are to be “catchers” of people – but to save rather than use! They respond in awe before the divine power they sense, and they give up everything to follow him.
Questions for the teacher:
The world in front of the text
Questions for the teacher:
Please reflect on these questions before reading this section and then use the material below to enrich your responsiveness to the text.
Meaning for today/challenges
This story, presented at the start of Jesus’ mission, brings out a strong message of the power of Jesus’ call and the amazing effect the decision to follow Jesus was to have on the lives of these first disciples. It therefore can be a metaphor for the impact that comes from hearing and heeding Jesus’ call.
This Gospel passage is read during Year C of the Liturgical cycle on the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary time.