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Grown-Up Bible Stories                                                                                                                                              Jesus and Peter by the Lake

The Fisherman and the Carpenter

People often describe Peter as a big, rough-hewn working man. They see him as outspoken, impulsive, and ignorant, a man who needed help. Actually, what history records of the man whose first name was Simon suggests a bit more gracious interpretation.

Outspoken he was. We really don't know if he was tall, short, fat, thin, dignified, or rough. We do know that he was a religious man who had never fudged on his kosher diet. We know that he was the kind of family man whose mother-in-law found welcome in his home. He was also a professional and a businessman. Simon had learned the fishing trade, likely from his father. He knew all about handling small boats in all kinds of weather on the big lake called the Sea of Galilee. Simon knew the habits of fish. He was familiar with nature and capable of wresting a living from it. He was a professional fisherman. He also seems to have been a partner in his fishing venture. As such, it isn't really stretching things to call this technical expert a businessman as well.

While Simon was a devout man, his brother Andrew had gone a step further. Andrew was a disciple of the greatest religious teacher his country had known in many years. John the Baptizer was creating a stir among the people of Judea and Galilee. John claimed the long-awaited kingdom of God was approaching. The time for waiting was over. God would soon take charge of His people in a way that surpassed the best of their once-glorious history. People who wanted significance in this new kingdom needed to make things right with God. Sin wouldn't be tolerated during the reign of God's special representative, the Messiah. It was time to get serious about the God they all claimed to worship. John challenged people to keep God's law now. He challenged them to treat each other right whether it was convenient or not. John dipped people in water, that is baptized them, to symbolize their willingness to change their ways. Huge crowds came to hear John speak and to submit to baptism. Andrew seems to have spent enough time listening to John's teaching to have earned a close friendship with him.

One day, Andrew approached his hard-working brother. He had exciting, almost unbelievable news. “We have found the Messiah!” he said. “He is Jesus from over in Nazareth!” [Quotations are not necessarily exact unless accompanied by a reference.] John had identified Jesus to some of his followers, Andrew in particular. Andrew had hurried to meet with Jesus. We aren't told everything he heard or thought, but he was impressed. Now he brought Simon to meet the new teacher also.

This meeting happened on the far side of the Jordan river in an area where John had been speaking. Simon, Andrew, and some others of John's followers accompanied Jesus back into the region of Galilee where they all lived. Simon and Andrew lived by the lake in Bethsaida. Jesus came from Nazareth, a town about 30 miles to the south west. Galilee was a beautiful rural region. True, it was despised by the elitists in Jerusalem, but the people there were religious, civilized, and seem to have enjoyed basic comforts.

Like Simon and Andrew, Jesus came from a working class background. They were fishermen. He was a carpenter. But Jesus' life was changing. He was transitioning from the trade he'd learned from his mother's husband to that of an itinerant religious teacher.

Simon seems to have instantly become a “disciple” of Jesus. That isn't to say he spent all his hours listening to and learning from Jesus. At this point, it is more likely that he would be in the audience whenever Jesus spoke near his home. He was still Simon the working professional and businessman the rest of the time. He fed his family and bettered his life by pushing his boat out into the lake in the evening and netting fish. His skill at knowing where to drop the nets and his marketing savvy kept him solvent, even while he spent what time he could listening to Galilee's newest religious teacher.

Further experience supported Simon's favorable first impression of Jesus. Jesus was beginning to do miracles. Sick people were getting well at His word. His prayers brought supernatural solutions to other needs. Beyond the miracles, Jesus also proved a powerful teacher. He talked about God and Heaven like no one else. John was an influential prophet, but John only repeated things God spoke to his inner being. Jesus spoke like He'd actually been in God's presence and knew the spiritual realm first hand. He spoke with grace. He spoke like a man with more educational opportunities than He'd actually had. Besides, there was an innate goodness about Him that couldn't be ignored. Simon and his friends were religious men who tried to do right. They were also religious men who had to admit frequent failure. The sacrifices they offered in Jerusalem each year reminded them of their ongoing need for forgiveness. Letting John baptize them had marked a promise to try their hardest to do better. On the other hand, nobody ever saw Jesus even come close to sinning. He was always in the right, but He was quiet about it. Jesus didn't brag about how righteous He was. He simply acted like a man who had been innately God-like since infanthood. His life and His miracles combined with His genuine love for people to make His teachings irresistible. The more Simon saw, the more he found reason to believe his brother had gotten it right when he said, “We've found the Messiah!”

Simon didn't fish with thin, nylon-fiber nets. His were made in the technology of the ancient world with natural fibers. A fish could spot those nets in the water. It could see the boat moving above it. Natural instinct tended to protect fish from such visible dangers. Simon and the other fishermen solved this problem by fishing at night. Under cover of darkness they entrapped countless fish and hauled them into their wooden boats. Come morning, the fishermen either rowed or sailed their catch to market.

They managed to get their sleep, of course, but the long workdays hardly ended with cleaning and delivering the fish. Nets must be maintained. Torn areas must be mended. Seaweed, dead fish, and other debris must be removed. Presumably, they cleaned their nets as fishermen still do, by dipping an empty net into the water and then shaking it in the air, one section at a time. It wasn't as exciting as fishing, but it was necessary for a businessman who needed to conserve his investment.

One morning, Simon, Andrew, and their coworkers stood at the shoreline tending to the nets. It wasn't a particularly good day. They hadn't been able to find any fish the night before. Whether weather patterns, migration habits, or some other natural factor had drawn the fish to the other side of the lake, they hadn't caught a thing. They'd repeatedly thrown out and pulled in their nets, fingers clutching the twines and water dripping into the boat. Again and again, they'd applied the familiar tricks of their trade and hadn't received a thing in return. Catch or no catch, the nets still must be maintained, so they worked away the morning.

Then, Jesus showed up. As usual, He'd drawn a crowd. People pushed in, eager to hear about the God He called “Father.” They pushed in, eager to see His miracles and eager to receive His healing touch. The crowd pushed and bumped into the subject of their admiration. Those closest could hear Him teach until someone else shoved in closer. The tumult didn't allow anyone the full benefit of Jesus' words, nor did it allow Jesus His most effective teaching.

Spying His friend Simon alongside his boat, Jesus asked for help. Simon gladly allowed Jesus to clamber into the boat. Then, he pushed out from shore, giving Jesus enough breathing room to address the whole audience. The people spread out along the shore and listened as those golden lips brought Heaven close.

At last Jesus finished. The crowd thinned out. Turning to Simon, Jesus said, “Let down your net for a catch.”

Simon hesitated. Jesus was a carpenter—a landsman from a city several miles from the lake. His intentions were obviously good, but He just couldn't know it wouldn't work. Simon, as a professional, knew all about fishing. He knew where fish hung out. He knew when they could be caught, and when conditions made fishing essentially impossible. He'd spent the night verifying that knowledge. The fish weren't in this part of the lake today. It was useless. He protested, “Sir, we spent the whole night out here. They aren't coming in. It won't work.”

Simon knew what he knew. He was a professional, but he was also a man with a growing respect for this Jesus of Nazareth. He'd been beginning to recognize that here indeed was someone marvelous. He was in the early stages of believing that this man was the Messiah, the Son of God. Now, his own considerable knowledge must be dealt with. Would he do things according to the wisdom of his coworkers, his father, his grandfather, his ancestors, and all the fishermen on Galilee? Would he trust his own significant professional judgment, or was Jesus really the ruler of the kingdom of God? Such questions had faced Simon's people for all of history. Did the chance to become like God warrant disobeying God's command? Did the fact that offering sacrifices to idols seemed to help business outweigh God's law that said, “You shall have no other gods”? Often people went with their own collective judgment and did the obvious. John had, however, called Simon to leave His own judgment in search of a deeper relationship with God. Now God was speaking through Jesus, and Simon had to risk playing the idiot if he were to actually do what his respect for this unusual man demanded.

It won't work,” he'd said. Unsatisfied, he finished with, “But at your suggestion, I will cast my net.

The net was piled in the bottom of the boat. Peter tossed it over the side, spreading it out just right to trap the fish he knew weren't there.

Then it happened. His net filled. Muscles straining, he and Andrew struggled to pull it back aboard. The catch exceeded the net's capacity. It tore. Simon called to his partners with their other boat, “You guys better get out here and help us!” Large fish flopped into the boats. The rattle of tails and scales flapping against each other filled the air. The boats reached capacity and began to ride perilously low in the water as they pulled the last fish aboard.

Simon had disregarded his professional judgment out of respect for Jesus. He had ignored what he knew of nature--the science of his day--out of respect for Jesus. Now even nature had yielded it's unchanging ways in respect for Jesus. Simon had believed Jesus was a man of God. Now he recognized something more. God had stepped into his boat in Jesus Christ. God had come, and, John's baptism or not, Simon wasn't ready for this moment.

He fell to his knees before Jesus. “Get away from me!” he said. “I'm too sinful to be near you!”

Jesus responded with words Simon would hear Him say more than once: “Don't be afraid.” Then He added, “From now on, you won't be catching fish. You'll be catching men.”

Simon and his partners brought their boats to shore. Then they left it all--their knowledge, their livelihood, their business, their fathers--and set out to travel with Jesus. It was a huge step for a man with a business to run and a family to support. It was a huge step for a man with limited education. It was a huge step, but Simon left life as he knew it and followed Jesus. He had seen God in that humble man from Nazareth. He'd seen God even though he himself was not worthy. He'd seen God and found love and forgiveness mingled with His dreaded power. He'd seen God in Jesus Christ, and life would never be the same.

That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (Of Jesus Christ in John 1:9-14)

Notes: We usually remember Simon Peter by the special name Jesus gave him—Peter, the Rock. In this story, I deliberately use the name he used before meeting Jesus.

The Bible does not describe fishing with nets with as many details as you will find in this story. I have added this information based on my experience over the several years in which I worked in fisheries.

This story represents an interpretative combination of the various accounts of Jesus' early dealings with His disciples in the four Gospels. The account of the miraculous catch of fish is found in Luke 5. John chapter 1 is the basis for the description of the way Andrew brought his brother to Jesus. The other two Gospels serve as a background in my efforts to bring all the varied details together.

This story is the first of a four-story series: "Jesus and Peter by the Lake." For the next story click here: Faith Beyond Nature

This work is in the pubic domain and may be copied and distributed freely.


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