Fishing: crowds

Fishers-of-men-iconWriting with Intent. Christian tradition and popular biblical opinion is the St. Luke was a physician. I occupy the minority camp on that matter. There have been lots of studies comparing his writing and language to know physicians of his age. There is nothing about this Gospel (or Acts of the Apostles) that points to a physician. But as many have pointed out, there are lots that points to another occupation: rhetorical historian (and yes, he could have been both…). As the rhetorical historian, he writes with a purpose and intent. Green [230] writes: “Within his overall narrative strategy, the initial purpose of this episode is to secure for Luke’s audience the nature of appropriate response to the ministry of Jesus. Simon’s obedience and declaration of his sinfulness, and especially the final note that Simon, James, and John “left everything and followed” contrast both with the earlier “amazement” of the crowds and with the questions and opposition characteristic of the Pharisees and teachers of the law in the later episodes of this chapter. His further statement, “Go away from me, Lord,” contrasts even more sharply with attempts by people at Nazareth and Capernaum, as it were, to keep Jesus to themselves.”

The intent can be seen in the structure Luke carefully assembles. This narrative, which we commonly refer to as “calling disciples” actually has no moment in which Jesus says “follow me.” Rather the narrative takes on the form of an extended pronouncement story centered around Jesus’ challenge to Simon in v.10. The larger unit is a composite constructed from three distinct parts: the setting by the lake (5:1–3), for which Luke echoes Mark 4:1–2; a miracle story—the catch of fish (5:4–7), for which there is a parallel in John 21:3–8; and the call of the fishermen (5:8–11), for which carries the resonance of Mark 1:16–20. The first three verses set the scene and introduce the characters. The catch of fish introduces the first dialogue between Jesus and Simon Peter and prepares for the call to discipleship at the end of the scene. Isolating the dialogue serves to highlight its role in this scene:

Jesus:       “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.

Simon:     “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing. But at your command, I will lower the nets.

Simon:     “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!

Jesus:       “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.

Following the narrative technique of framing scenes or episodes by means of entrances and departures that Luke uses repeatedly, the scene is introduced by a reference to the crowd’s coming to Jesus and closes with the report that the fishermen left everything to follow Jesus. The disciples depart, not from the holy places of the Temple or synagogue, but from the ordinary of everyday life – called by “the word of God” (the first time so described in Luke; v.1). It is important to note that here, as the disciples are being called to their new vocation, that it is also the beginning of the traditio, the handing on, of the ministry of this word that will continue in the church (Acts 4:31; 6:2).

Teaching the crowds. 1 While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus and listening to the word of God, he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret. 2 He saw two boats there alongside the lake; the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”

Twice in this section “the crowd” is mentioned. Who are they? They are people who come to Jesus to hear the word of God (v. 1). They are people who are taught by Jesus (v. 3), but are they people willing to leave everything and follow Jesus (v. 11)? In our text, there is a difference between the crowd (ochlos) and the fishermen (halieus). The crowd listens to Jesus. The fishermen act. The crowd stays on the land. The fishermen will go out into the deep. At first Jesus and Simon go out just “a little way from the shore.” Later Jesus will ask Simon to go out to the deep water. Could these be images of different levels of trust in Jesus — the safety of the land, the slightly more dangers position of being “a short distance from the shore,” and the quite dangerous position of being out in deep waters?

Although I have labeled this section as a teaching moment, we actually are not told the content of Jesus’ teaching, but there is perhaps an acute allegory at play in Luke’s writing. The crowds have been listening to the word of God, yet we are never told of their reaction to Jesus’ preaching, to the clear miracles of the catch, and one assumes that as the scene ends, the disciples left everything and followed Jesus, the crowds were still in place. Perhaps moved, but not moving.

Sources:

  • R. Alan Culpepper, “The Gospel of Luke.” New Interpreter’s Bible. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. 9. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994–2004) 112–18
  • Joel B. Green, “The Gospel of Luke.” The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997) 230-35
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