Have you ever had your idea about reality recalibrated? You might say, “Yeah, I used to be an Atlanta Braves fan, until they traded everyone away and started losing.” Good point, but this is not what I am talking about. I do not mean to be persuaded as to another point of view because circumstances change or because new evidence is provided. What I mean instead is, that which was once was reality ceases to be. It gives way to a new (real) reality that causes an unstoppable and utterly complete paradigm shift.
I have often heard about people who have been trapped in blizzards and were forced into using a pocket knife to sever a trapped leg out from under a boulder so that they could get to shelter. The reality of life becomes suddenly more important than the need for a leg. Their idea of pain is recalibrated. I have heard about POW’s who begin to view torture as normal (because they know that pain is an indicator that they are alive), or prisoners in Auschwitz engaging in activities that would seem gross and inhumane in order to survive. See the story of Roman Frister or Victor Frankl for more on that.
What if I were to tell you that our idea about what is the “good” can be recalibrated by a fresh glimpse of reality? It is even more than that. It isn’t only that our idea about what the “good” changes (that places too much importance on our ability to think); in reality, that which is the good itself completely changes around us.
Have you ever learned a new word, or come across a fact that you previously didn’t know? Have you noticed that when this happened, all of a sudden you started hearing that word used in conversations, you started seeing it in books, or that fact that you just learned suddenly shows up in every article you read? It isn’t that those things have just come to light. It isn’t that because you learned them, all of a sudden they exist. In truth, it is because they exist—and because they have been imparted in you that now you notice things around you that you didn’t notice before. You are different.
Do you know the story about the calling of Simon Peter? If you don’t, there is no better time to brush up on it than now! The story is located in Luke 5:1-11 and it is captivating.
Done reading it? Short and potent, huh?
To begin, this story doesn’t take place in a synagogue, nor does it involve a hushed crowed listening to an intellectually learned and eloquent disquisition on a Psalm. Instead, a crowd has gathered to hear Jesus (a traveling teacher) teach on a smelly boat landing—with fisherman nearby (no doubt smelly)—who are disgruntled (probably using the language or sailors) and cleaning their nets after a night without a catch.
The first glimpse of reality: Jesus walks into a world of people rather than summoning them to step out of their world and come to him. We often think that God is calling us to leave the pull of earth’s gravity and meet him somewhere in the sky. This couldn’t be further from the truth. If we all lived in California and Heaven was located in Hawaii; and all we had to do to get there was swim the whole way, how many of us would make it? There would be some who would drown nearly as soon as they started. Some would drown a hundred feet in. Some would make it a mile. The triathalets might make it several miles. But the point is, we would all drown. Unless Hawaii was moved closer or we were carried to Hawaii, none woud make it. God did this for us.
God became a man. He came to us. There is no way we can go to Him. The last folks who tried by way of a huge tower were stopped dead in their tracks. They got pretty high, but God still “came down” and stifled them. We don’t have the ability to climb that high.
So—the boys (professional fisherman—serious anglers) have just returned from a night of fishing—they caught nothing. While they are maintaining their gear, and probably complaining, Jesus hops onto the boat belonging to one of the fishermen, Peter. He tells Peter to take the boat out to the deep water and to lower the nets. So, let us set the scene: Peter is an expert fisherman and Jesus is a traveling preacher (who has probably never fished in his life) who has jumped on a fishing boat (without so much as an “excuse me but I’m going to be joining you”), and is now giving a trained angler instruction on how to fish. Imagine for a moment a professor of postmodern Spanish History at some Ivy League school walking into an auto garage and telling the mechanics to let him look over the engine.
Now—Jesus doesn’t get right to it—telling Peter how much his life is lacking because Christ isn’t in it—No. Instead, he plays up to Peter’s greatest strength—fishing. Jesus basically jumps in the boat and says, “Bro, I need your help! Please help me!” Now this is realistic. I am sure Peter’s nautical abilities have been relied upon before. People know he is an expert on the water, and an expert at catching fish. In this case, Jesus needs a platform from which to teach and he needs a source of amplification. He needs Peter, because he cannot simply preach from a drifting boat. He needs Peter to steady the vessel so he can effectively teach from a stationary position. He also intends to use the natural sound carrying properties of the water as a natural amplification device. This is all very realistic. It shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus relies on humans for help. If you remember simple pleas for help from Jesus like, “Give me a drink,” then you will see this request as the same. Often times, Jesus puts people through tests.
What I find interesting is that Jesus isn’t really “teaching.” He is fishing. He is fishing from a fisherman’s boat, with a fisherman, but he isn’t after fish. He is after the fisherman, himself! He is fishing in a fishing boat to catch a fisherman. In Peter’s world, when he catches fish, the fish die in the process. In Jesus’ world, when he catches fish, they begin to live. This story converges two different realities of fishing.
Reality is about to be changed.
Peter was no doubt very adept in the water. For this reason, he was probably able to put his boat steering skills on autopilot and listen to the teaching of Jesus. He had no choice—and he was helping!
I am reminded of a guy who was a skeptic who started attending this youth group. They decided to take a retreat, but because they lived in a country in which Christianity was illegal, they had to figure out a way to get to the camp which was a few kilometers away and would have police all along the route. The skeptic, however, had powerful parents. The mom actually once dated the chief of police. She phoned this man and said, “Do you remember me?” He replied in the affirmative and asked what he could do for her. He granted them the request to go. They also needed the permission from the Minister of Interior. It just so happened that his mother knew the minister of interior. With a second phone call the trip was set. The young man actually went with the camp organizers three days in advance to set the camp up. He helped set up the living quarters, the teaching areas, and the recreation activities. He was saved on the second day of the camp. You could say he played a role in planning, organizing, and executing his own conversion. Peter is pretty close here!
Now, when the sermon is over, we expect Jesus to thank Peter for his services and to be taken back to shore and to go on his way. This would be reality. Instead, this land-loving carpenter gives orders to the professional fisherman concerning how and where to catch fish. This is a new reality. It is also a test.
Jesus commands him to “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Now, let us be honest: this may be the most absurd suggestion ever given to a fisherman. There is only one right response to such a situation: “Get off of my boat you moron!” After all, Peter knows that the fish they are after in Sea of Galilee do not live in the deep water, but rather, in the shallower, more oxygenated areas near the mouths of streams. This is how they stay alive (eating the bait fish entering from the streams). Secondly, it is daytime. The fish they are after congregate under the rocks during the day. They are night feeders. If you go to the Sea of Galilee today, you will see the fishermen fishing at night. Not the day. William M. Christie notes,
“We have seen shoals at ‘Ain barideh and ‘Ain et-Tabigha so great as to cover an acre of the surface, and so compact together that one could scarcely throw a stone without striking several. In such cases the hand-net is thrown out with a whirl. It sinks down in a circle, enclosing a multitude, and these are then gathered in by the hand, while the net lies at the bottom.”
This may sound foreign but it isn’t. Go to YouTube and type in, “cast net for mullet” and see that it happens TODAY in the South. In fact, I learned to fish using a cast net. I once heard a man say, give a young man a cast net and he will never starve. That is great wisdom.
Now—The Sea of Galilee drops off into deep water very close the shoreline, and is dangerous in many areas for swimming. Casting for fish is either done by boat or—for more experienced fishermen, standing in the water. The fisherman in this lake know that successful fishing takes place at night. The very idea that a preacher would suggest dropping the nets in the day is bordering on the absurd. Now, Peter isn’t a teacher. He knows very well that he cannot enter into the debates about the law or the finer points of the Sabbath—but he does know a thing or two about fishing. He replies to this request with sarcasm:
“Teacher! We toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word, I will let down the nets.”
Let me do my best to paraphrase this exchange: “Listen teacher, me and my boys are pros. We know were the fish feed—it’s along the shore and at night. In fact, we were out there all night and didn’t catch a darn thing. We are tired, and I have stayed awake much longer than I would have liked—helping YOU—serving YOU—ever since you hijacked my boat. You rabbis think you know everything and now you think you can hop on my boat, preach to a bunch of peasants, and then tell me where to tell me to fish? Very well! We will go do it. Let’s just see who knows about fishing!” It reminds of the scene in Jaws where the salty sea captain Quint, tells the college trained rich boy, Matt Hooper, “It proves one thing Mr. Hooper: That you college boys don’t have the education enough to admit when you’re wrong!”
In fact, when Peter calls Jesus, “Teacher,” the word used is “epistates” which not only can mean teacher but more accurately, “boss,” or “chief.” It is a term of sarcasm. So, tired and weary—and annoyed—Peter and his team set out to fish the deep water in the daytime.
But something happens. Reality strikes. They catch a great wealth of fish.
He hauls in a large catch. The nets break the catch is so heavy. He signals over for help and both his boat, and the boat of the helpers become so full, they both begin to sink. This is worth commenting on. He signals rather than calling for help. Just as we saw Jesus use the sound carrying characteristics of water, Peter doesn’t want to inform EVERYBODY about the fish. Financial secrets must be kept! This is his livelihood. If you were a beggar and lived among other beggars and you found a supply of food, would you tell everyone where it was at? This is a question worth pondering.
He waves them over discretely. Jesus is watching this behavior as well.
This next part is the gem of the story: You see, Jesus has approached Peter at the point of his greatest strength: fishing. But Peter isn’t shocked at the catch—at least not for long. What shocks him is that this person, Jesus, has obviously made a choice between money and something else. Here is a man who could be the best fisherman in the world. He has caused Peter to catch an abundance of fish—when the fish weren’t supposed to be there. The thing is, Jesus doesn’t want it. He doesn’t care about the fish—instead he is wandering around the Sea of Galilee teaching the crowds for free. He is interested in something else.
For the first time in his life, Peter has met someone who is driven by something greater than mammon. Could you imagine meeting someone who could shoot 10 under par—every round they played—at any golf course in the world—giving that up so that they could wander around rural driving ranges and giving free talks on a second birth? All night, Peter and crew work tirelessly to catch fish—but this man—says, “drop the nets,” they catch the motherload—and he isn’t cashing in? He is more interested in people.
Peter knew that anyone with this knowledge of fishing could be rich instantly. So, why was Jesus, a poor traveling teacher—traveling around teaching people for nothing? What could possibly be worth more than 2 boats full of fish? Like Isaiah, Peter knows instantly that he is in the presence of someone great and that he is unclean. Reality strikes. His vocabulary changes. Where once he called Jesus, “epistates” or “boss,” he now calls him “kyrios” or Lord. “Teacher” opens the first speech, and this one closes with “Lord.”
Oh, what a little reality will do.
He begins his repentance by asking Jesus to get away from him because he is unclean. Jesus dismisses this. Jesus wants to recalibrate Peter’s understanding of reality. You see, when Peter uses his sarcasm, rather than getting upset, Jesus reprocesses his anger into grace. Peter is not blind to this. He has insulted someone holy. Peter is now acting as if he were a leper in the presence of a healthy man. He thinks that his uncleanness can defile Jesus. But unfortunatley for Peter, he has never met the giver of life. He is about to have his world rocked. In reality, it isn’t that Peter’s sin can defile Jesus; but rather, that Jesus (the Good) can offer Peter the gift of righteousness. Peter’s sin cannot infect Jesus, but Jesus can infect Peter with the Holy Spirit—and as a result, cure Peter’s illness. Reality.
The Son of God did not come to make men good. The Son of God came to give men life.
Jesus dismisses Peter’s concerns. He assures him that he will still use his fishing skills, but for a different type of catch. He was now to enter the business of catching people. No longer will he catch things that die. He will catch things and Jesus will give them life.
From this very boat, Jesus caught people from the shore and gave them life—including Peter!
Now, he is offering this to Peter. Reality has changed.