Fishermen live on long shots and hope.
But I cannot help but wonder, Why did Jesus do it this way? Why give them the catch of their lives—and then call them away from it? Why not call them right then, after they fished all night and caught nothing, when they most realize the emptiness of it, the gamble they take every time they drop a net into the water? How little control they have over what comes, or doesn’t. Why not then? Isn’t that enough—to say, “Look, that’s what fishing is about; can you see it for what it is now? You can work all night long and come up with nothing. Now, come with me, and things will be different. No more gambling, no more uncertainty. You’ll haul in a big catch for sure!”
He gave them what they always wanted, what they talked about, hoped for, longed for, dreamed about—nets splitting with fish, crowds gaping, stacks of coins clinking in their hands. He made their wildest, fishiest dreams come true. And then asked them to leave it. Is this unreasonable, cruel?
I see this as grace. Huge, billowing grace, as full as those nets. They knew what they were leaving, then. They had seen it, the most and best that could happen. They felt it, the thrill, the excitement, the money. There’s nothing more after that. It never gets better. That’s all there is. Enjoy it. Count the fish. Now, come. I have something far greater for you.
I have been there in those fish a hundred times over. There’s death that comes in surfeit, affliction that comes in abundance. The money wasn’t enough. How much is enough.? And the fish, vacant and innocent, keep coming. And then you know: What you thought you wanted more than anything—can kill you.
Something died that day, I believe, that day of the miracle on the sea. Some dreams were fulfilled, then finished, freeing them to leave. Freeing them to pursue a deeper desire that maybe even they could not name themselves. They left the nets. But I am not entirely done protesting. I have one complaint left. Did they really leave “everything”? Did those first disciples really leave everything?
They did, then, leave it all. “Everything” is not hyperbole. But it’s likely that they did not leave everything all at once. The leaving came in stages, from shorter times with Jesus to trips and then longer journeys by his side until they had indeed given up everything: parents, siblings, wives—even, I think, children. Yes, I think children. And they themselves were children leaving their parents.
I don’t believe it was easy for these men to leave their nets and lives. Nor has it been easy for anyone who has left “everything” because somehow God showed up, in body or in voice. It has not been easy for me, either. I am still paying the price of that leaving.
We have no idea what will happen when we answer Yes, I do, I will. We do not dream that such a price will be asked. Is this what we all must do if we want to follow Jesus? Who can do this, pack up her life, leave her family, hit the Gospel Trail, wherever it takes her? I’m not sure this is required for all of us. Here is what I think is required: Jesus will show up in your life in some way: a man on the beach calling to you, a dream, words from the Scriptures, a friend who won’t stop caring about you, a last-minute provision, the disappearance of the cancer cells, the fall down the cliff that didn’t kill you, the forgiveness you didn’t deserve from your son—all of them some form of miraculous catch. All of them some sort of glimpse of the crazy, inexplicable abundance and love of Jesus. Because it comes to you when you least expect it. It comes to you when you least deserve it. We can revel in the fish, in the dream, in our new health, in the love of a friend, a son, but none of that will be enough for long. None of that will sustain for long. We have to know—who did this? Who has this kind of mastery over disease? What is the source of this wisdom? Where does this love come from? We have to know, because somehow we know that here, here, is life itself, the life we have longed for but could not even name.
A call comes to every man and woman and child. We have all been called. We must follow to find out who it is that calls us, and what we have been called to. James, Andrew, Simon Peter, and John, and all the others did not yet know either one: what they would be doing or even who it was who had called them. They had no idea what “fishing for men” meant. They didn’t even know who Jesus was for sure. But John the Baptizer seemed to know. And it appeared that maybe the fish in their sea knew him too. That was enough to start. Only one thing mattered now. This man, who could be “the lamb of God,” has chosen them: Come, follow me. Do not be afraid. And he has chosen us as well: Come, follow me. Do not be afraid.
“Crossing the waters: Following Jesus through the storms, the fish, the doubts, and the sea”