Simon Peter, in obedience to the Master's instruction, cast his net into the deep. One might think he'd won the lottery with so much fish that it broke the fishermen's nets and began to sink their boats! Instead, Simon Peter acknowledges his own sinfulness and falls at the knees of Jesus.
Fr. Timothy Lowe reminds us that only the mercy of the Lord, in light of our own sinfulness, lays the foundation for a good beginning. Whatever education and expertise we think we bring to our life's calling, we are challenged by Simon Peter who was willing to leave everything - his boat, nets, and fish - to follow his Lord. But it's only a beginning. And a good beginning doesn't make a hero. After baptism, there's more to the story.
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director for the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. And with me today is co host Father Timothy Lowe, former Rector at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem. Good morning, Father Timothy, I hope you're well.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 0:29
I am, Hollie. Thank you.
Hollie Benton 0:30
So Father Timothy, whenever someone is serving or leading, there's always a context. Sure, we can talk about servant leadership in theoretical terms, but at the end of the day, the doulos, the slave or servant, is always functioning with respect to the master and carrying out the master's will. The context for serving and leading today might be running a parish board meeting, onboarding a new hire, teaching a class, giving advice to another, or performing a very specific job like surgery, car repair, cooking, graphic design. The context of serving and leading are vast, and many of those contexts require a lot of experience and education, perhaps a degree or certification. So I'm not saying that experience and education are insignificant, but I am saying that scripture challenges everything we consider valuable when it comes from the work of our own hands, and reminds us that we always stand in need of God's mercy. And on the last day, we're accountable to Him, to His instruction. Today, we're going to be discussing the calling of the first disciples in Luke's gospel. The context here was fishing. And these fishermen knew their business. They knew their trade, their craft,their industry. They had expertise in caring for their boats, caring for their nets, reading the weather to gauge the best conditions for fishing. Yet Jesus, who wasn't a fisherman, repurposed their boats as an amvon for teaching, teaching what really mattered. These disciples who were experts in fishing, relinquished control when Jesus, who wasn't a fisherman, told them to cast their nets into the deep after they had toiled all night long. They were amazed at the fish they hauled in after doing what Jesus told them to do. They obeyed his voice. And then they left it all and follow Jesus. They left their boats, their nets, even the fish. They left everything they knew and valued through years of work and training and expertise, and left it all to follow Jesus. So I'm not sure the message here is necessarily to stop being what you're called to do. Being a priest, a doctor, a teacher, an architect, whatever it is, but I do think the challenge through this gospel is to consider first things first. It's so tempting to get caught up in our experience, our processes, our knowledge, our degrees, our credentials, that we forget our first and primary duty in loving God and loving neighbor. So Father Timothy, can you also help us understand this context in Luke, for which the first disciples are called?
Fr. Timothy Lowe 3:17
Okay, now, Luke's Gospel has many elements that are unique to him, including this pericope we're about ready to read, about Peter's call. You will not find it in any other place. Now, what is interesting in Luke's Gospel is after the birth stories, and then the temptation scenes in the wilderness with the devil, Jesus then begins. But in Luke, he's already preaching and teaching, almost a bit like an itinerant without any reference to a group following him as opposed to let's say, Matthew, where he calls them immediately, they follow, and then he begins his preaching and healing. So it's a little bit odd, if you will, he already visits Nazareth, where he is rejected by his people, which comes much later in the Gospel of Matthew, for example. And so all of a sudden he appears, after being rejected in Nazareth, he appears in Capernaum, still preaching in the synagogues. Teaching, he's already teaching, already healing, but on his own without reference to anybody else following. People are already amazed at what he's saying, and what he's doing, the healing part as well. Then he appears in Capernaum, Peter Simon, he's called Simon first. Simon is introduced not as with any character reference, but as he's healing Simon's mother in law. And then he continues to teach. And then we have today's story. All of a sudden, he's teaching, he's teaching, the crowds are pushing and pushing and pushing him. And so he asks to remove himself and to preach from the sea. The sea as the wide open space, the door to the vast world, as opposed to sow to the small world of Judea and Galilee. And so I think these are important ultimately for the largest reference to the disciples and their future mission. So I'm going to stop there, let you read the text for today, and then we'll continue.
Hollie Benton 5:02
All right, so let's hear that passage now. "While the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. And he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them, and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon's he asked him to pull out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch. And Simon answered, Master, we toiled all night and took nothing. But at your word, I will let down the nets. And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish. And as their nets were breaking, they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus's knees, saying, Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, oh, Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish, which they had taken. And so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, Do not be afraid. Henceforth, you will be catching men. And when they brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him." So Father Timothy, I find it remarkable here that Simon Peter in seeing the great shoal of fish breaking the nets, he didn't jump up and down and rejoice like he'd won the lottery. Rather, he knelt down at Jesus's knees and recognized his own sin. I find Peter's reaction contrasting quite a lot with Christians today, including myself, who talk about trusting Lord with things like a job application, or a hard decision that has to be made. When the Lord comes through for us and provides that job, or otherwise pours out blessings, with fish so numerous that they're busting the nets, we feel as though we've won the Lord's favor. When we get the job promotion, or the medical test results come back clear, or we sell the house at $10,000 over the asking price, we give credit to the Lord for His blessing. But I don't think we're falling on our knees repenting of sin. So I don't think we've really figured something out better than Simon Peter in this story. What do you make father of Simon Peters reaction here in this text?
Fr. Timothy Lowe 7:33
Well, it's bewildering. Let's just say that. It's bewildering. He participates, first of all, let's go back and follow the progression. They worked all night. They're exhausted, blah, blah, blah, okay. Christ needs them temporarily, so he can preach the gospel. That is the emphasis, the preaching of the gospel. First, Simon says, Master, we have toiled all night and took nothing but at your word, I will let down the nets. This first word I want to point out is master. It's a specific Greek word. It's not kyrios, which means the Lord, which happens next. This word master, it's a reference to someone who speaks with power and authority, not just a boss, because it's referencing teaching. And that's why in the intro, I wanted to emphasize the fact that Christ had already been teaching and preaching and people were amazed at His authority. So that is already given in the text beforehand, and it comes again, at your word. My point is, he calls him master, Peter does, so he's recognizing Jesus's teaching authority. And that is the basis for him then to respond positively, At your command, I will let down the nets. Despite his reluctance, he is listening to the command and the word and decides to do it. That progression leads up and then of course, to the miracle of the catch, which as you pointed out, most of us wpuld be thinking we'd won the lottery and jumping up and down. But in fact, though, the catch reveals something to Peter about himself, that he has no functional relationship with him because what? He is a sinful man. In other words, there's a disconnect between the two. Let's think positively for a moment of Peter. That he's not acting egocentrically, with grandiosity, Oh, I'm a sinful man, poor me, blah, blah, blah. He simply says, depart, humbles himself, prostrates and says, Depart for I am a sinful man. At this point, Peter knows that unless he is shown mercy, there can be no relationship. Okay? There can be no relationship because Peter is nothing. He's a sinful man, and asked him to part. It is a seminal experience and Luke's Gospel of Peter, absolutely vulnerable, just like we remember, we had Isaiah a few weeks ago, right, where he has his vision of the Holy of Holies. And immediately he's aware of his sinfulness and that unless God chooses to act towards him mercifully, he's a dead person. Now he goes on and says, depart from me I'm a simple man, Oh Lord. So I wanted to get the progression from master, teacher, authority to now Lord, which is a different relational aspect completely. He's the one who's not merely has a teaching authority, but is the one whom you serve. You referenced slave, servant, therefore he is not a free man, if the Lord accepts him. My point is, is that the call of Peter happens at his weakest moment, at His weakest moment, aware of his sinfulness, aware that there can be no self righteousness here. Because we know in the rest of the story as the character or personality of Peter unfolds, he's going to become very self righteous. He's going to assume the teaching authority and rebuke Jesus for his teaching on the cross, one of my favorite ones, where Peter really thinks he's arrived. And then of course, his denial after he's very sure that he will be the only one who stays faithful. Then, of course, the Garden of Gethsemane. Anyway, we don't want to go there, because that's the Peter who is struggling. So my point is, is the foundation of the call to follow the foundation is not your education, not your job skills, all that you need you referenced above, okay. I mean, I have seminary education, theological education, linguistic education, blah, blah, blah, to be able to do my job better. That's not the foundation utimately. It is awareness of my intrinsic smallness, intrinsic sinfulness about which I can do nothing, unless the Lord chooses to forgive. And I use the word Lord, not master, teacher. And therefore, then I belong to Him, I am in service to Him. And it's no longer about me. Now you and I both know, we're human beings, right? We're always gonna twist it around and make it about us some of the time if not all the time, secretly. Some of us are actually really clever, I would put myself in the clever, I can mask humility. And know I'm doing it. I'm not humble at all. I'm just good at faking it. And then, of course, the secrets will be revealed on the last day, will they not?
Hollie Benton 12:16
That's right, how clever we are.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 12:18
So my point is, and this would require listeners to read Luke and Acts together, is to follow the trajectory of the disciple, specifically Peter. Peter's life, Peter's struggles, Peter's rejection of the command. Father Paul Tarazi, in his commentary on Luke Acts, wants to impress upon us that at the very beginning, the idea was mission to the totality. Okay, the idea of the sea, going out into the deep as going out into all the world. And I think his exegetical point is clear. And it makes sense only if you read Luke Acts, that it's planted at the very beginning. Peter, this is your job. Because we know later on in Luke Acts, Peter is going to struggle with the issue of the Gentiles, the issue of certain aspects of the Mosaic Law and table fellowship, all of which gets him rebuked by Paul at some point. And this is a problem. I have a priest friend who recently had difficulty in a parish that was essentially xenophobic. In other words, they only wanted people like themselves in the parish. And we see that all the time in our ethnocentrism, people like ourselves. And then of course, forget about the racism and other kinds of phobias that are dominating everybody's thinking. No, it's to the nations. It is to the world. And that is the command, and that is where Peter has to go. As an obedient person to the word of the Lord. At your command, I will go. It's not something we want to do. Maybe it's not even something we even think we should. No, we are commanded and therefore must do. If he is to be Lord, the one who lifts us up and says, Okay, Peter, now you will be catching men. Of course his response is to get up and follow. And it's a good beginning. That's all. It's just the beginning, is it not, Hollie? Because there's a whole life to be lived in the Gospel accounts, and Luke punches us twice, because we have to read two books instead of one. Because it continues the story, unlike Matthew, and John, and Mark, so it's just the beginning. But it should be a formative beginning. So when we read it, and we look at it, and we say, Okay, do we have a beginning? I mean, we can be grandiose, okay. You know, some of us grew up as Protestants, accepting Jesus as our Savior. There was a moment that we identified as the beginning. And that's okay. I don't mind that at all. I don't even reject it, per se. But it's just the beginning. Baptism is just the beginning. There's a life to be lived, you are not saved through baptism, you're saved through living your baptism. So here we have Peter, he's beginning. You and I are not spring chickens anymore, Hollie, so we can smile and shake our heads and say, you know, we love the zeal of youth. Still, when it comes to things of the gospel and obedience, they're just beginning. And so we will smile and read on, okay, and read on.
Hollie Benton 15:14
You know, it's just a reminder too that there are no heroes in the biblical story. There are just wicked and sinful people who happen to make the right decision at some points along the way. And this is one of them.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 15:27
No, the biblical writers chose not to develop heroes, it would have led to a different proclamation, a different content. Ultimately, I think it's dangerous, according to the scripture, but they make our leaders look small, as warnings If nothing else. We want the Iliad and Odyssey. We really do. We want our Greek heroes.
Hollie Benton 15:50
We want to imagine ourselves as righteous and heroic at the end. Thank you, Father Tim.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 15:57
Transcribed by https://otter.ai