On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on 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 put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished 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 large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled 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’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that 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; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
In this scene from Luke 5, Simon and his companions, fishermen by trade, had been out all night without catching a single fish. We don’t know how often this happened to Simon, but we can imagine the frustration and annoyance that surely followed the long hours. They had finished empty handed and were cleaning up from the night’s work when Jesus asks to use Simon’s boat as a platform to teach the people gathering around him. Then when Jesus finishes speaking, he tells Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
Notice here that Jesus finishes speaking to the crowds before instructing Simon. He wants Simon to first listen to what he is teaching the crowd. Simon’s reaction to Jesus’s instruction reveals his state of mind. He gives two responses to Jesus’s words: one of honesty and one of obedience.
Simon’s first response is “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” He tells Jesus how he is really feeling: tired, weary, and discouraged. Notice the exclamation mark that the translators included. He is exasperated at Jesus. In effect Simon is saying, “Can’t you see that we have worked hard all night with nothing to show for it?”
How often is this our reaction to God when he instructs us to do something? We are weary, discouraged, and fatigued. We may feel that we know the answer to our problems and don’t need to listen to what God is telling us to do. When Simon responds, he doesn’t know the true nature of the One asking this task of him, but he will soon find out.
Simon’s second response is “But at your word I will let down the nets.” We can almost hear the sarcasm in his words, “If you say so Jesus, I’ll do what you ask.” Simon’s humanity shines through in this story as well as others. He is the disciple that we see the most descriptions of in the Bible. He is reckless (John 18:10), shortsighted (Matt. 16:22-23), fearful (Luke 22:54-62), insecure (Luke 21:21-22), and apparently not a fast runner (John 20:4). At the end of the day, Simon is an ordinary person just like the rest of us.
But still Simon chooses obedience. He takes Jesus at his word and does what Jesus tells him to do. Then when Simon sees the excess of fish about to sink his boat, he falls at Jesus’s feet and declares, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Simon sees himself for who he really is—a sinner. Jesus took something personal to Simon, his need for fish to support his family, and met his need. Simon’s reaction is falling at Jesus’s feet in surrender.
The passage concludes “And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.” They literally dropped everything to follow Jesus. Simon recognized his inability to meet his own needs and followed the one who could provide for his every need.
Our Response to God
Simon’s story demonstrates that we can be honest with God in times of frustration, annoyance, and weariness. This honesty will create a dependence on God that produces an endurance that will grow into godliness. Our response to God should also follow Simon’s example of obedience to what God is calling us to do. This can be especially challenging if the reasons for God’s instructions are not obvious to us, as in Simon’s case. But be assured that we can take God at his word and joyfully obey knowing that he will provide for all our needs.