Summary: 1. It is important to listen to Jesus and obey him. 2. We meet God when we come to the end of our resources. 3. You have to put your net in where the fish are.
The setting of today’s scripture takes place on the Sea of Tiberias (the Roman name for the Sea of Galilee). The disciples are in a depressed mood because of the horrific events leading to, and culminating in, the death of Jesus. They have gone to Galilee and returned to what they knew best: fishing. They have to make a living and so they spend the entire night out on the lake. Early the next morning they are headed to land, but a voice calls to them from the shore, asking if they have any fish. Moisture hangs in the air and thick fog makes it difficult to see who is calling to them. They are ashamed to say that they have not caught a single fish all night, but they finally admit the truth. The voice calls back: “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” It seems dumb. They have been fishing all night and the fish are just not biting for whatever reason. They still have the nets in the water on the left side of the boat and nothing is happening. What possible difference could it make to put the net in on the right side? They are professional fishermen, and they have no idea who this stranger is. But for some unknown reason they unquestioningly take out the nets and throw them into the water on the other side of their boat. And the Bible says, “When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.” They are stunned at what has happened and it suddenly dawns on them who it is who has been calling to them. It could be no one else. The Bible says, “Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’”
They recognized Jesus not only because no one else could do this kind of miracle, but because it had happened before. Luke tells the story which happens as Jesus’ ministry is just beginning, before these men actually knew him. Luke says: “One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink” (Luke 5:1-7).
Jesus’ relationship with the disciples begins and ends with a miraculous catch of fish. They meet him in the miracle. There are several lessons to be learned from this story, and the first is this: It is important to obey Jesus. I have a friend whose life motto is: “Listen to Jesus, and do what he says.” Good advice. But in both stories it must have been difficult for fishermen to listen to the suggestions of a carpenter. After all, this was their profession, not his. They knew about fishing, and were perhaps some of the best fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Besides, what Jesus was suggesting did not make any sense. What possible difference could it make to put the net on the other side of the boat?
Sometimes God puts us in situations where it seems like there is no answer. We have tried everything. We thought we knew what needed to be done. It worked before, so we think we already know how to do it, and now someone telling us a simplistic answer that drives us up the wall. Perhaps God is asking us to do something beyond what is simplistic, it may even seem like something foolish. It is counterintuitive. We’ve been fishing on the left side and now you think fishing on the right side of the boat will make a difference! We have been working all night and you think one more cast is going to change anything?
Besides, this raises other questions. Couldn’t Jesus have made the fish swim into the net while it was on the left side of the boat? Why go to the bother of having them take the nets out and put them in on the other side? For that matter, couldn’t Jesus have made the fish jump into the boat? (I actually had a fish jump into my boat once when I was canoeing.) That would have been pretty spectacular! But it wouldn’t have involved the aspect of obedience. Jesus did not do it all for them. He tested their obedience so that they could learn that blessings follow obedience. In your relationship with God, success follows obedience, even when what he is asking you to do seems ridiculous to you. You are not smarter than God. You can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results. You can’t rebel against God, go against what he is telling you, and expect success. You can’t do all the wrong things and expect good things to happen. It doesn’t happen that way. Success comes as you are willing to listen to Jesus and do what he says.