When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, "Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch."
Allegory, metaphor, parables--these are all great ways to get a point across. Taking a moral or spiritual truth and casting it in terms of something familiar often helps simplify the idea or make it more striking. The Bible is FULL of metaphorical language. We read about water and fire, about battle and armor and shield and sword, about trees and fields and fruit and harvest, and about shepherds and sheep and wolves and lions. And we read about fishing. Not fishing as a sport, but fishing as a way of life, fishing as a living, fishing as a job that puts food on the table, fishing as a way to catch things.
Jesus loved to talk in parables and allegories. "The kingdom of God is like..." He would often say. Or else He would tell a story about seeds or planting or a wedding or rich men and poor men. But my favorite stories were those that Christ illustrated by real-life events. For example, there is the time when Jesus caused a fig tree to wither, as told in Matthew 21:18-22 and Mark 11:12-14, 20-27. Jesus is hungry and He finds a fig tree without fruit, and so he orders it to wither. His disciples are amazed that Jesus could cause a tree to die like that, but Jesus tells them it is a lesson of faith--you know, the kind of faith that will move mountains. But more than that, the withered fig tree is an allegory of unfruitful religion, a symbol of Jesus' power over life and death, and a prophecy of the fall of the Temple. And it all started with Jesus being hungry and not finding any fruit on a real tree.
Today's verse comes from a similar story in the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus is preaching by the Sea of Galilee and calls Simon, Andrew, James and John to become fishers of men. It's a familiar story, and, of course, it is prime territory for Jesus to take a real-life event--a huge catch of fish--and turn it into a metaphor for the work these men would do for God's kingdom. But let's go back to the event itself, and let's look at just one thing that Jesus said to these fishermen.
Jesus has been sitting in Simon Peter's boat, preaching to a multitude on the shore. After His sermon, Jesus then says to Simon, "Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch." It seems a simple enough command, and although Peter balks at it, he complies and the results are extraordinary. But we're not concerned today with the results so much as with the command itself as a metaphor for something else.
"Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch."
We know today that, at its deepest, the Sea of Galilee--called here the "Lake of Gennesaret"--is only about 141 feet deep. Of course, back in Jesus' time, the fishermen probably never bothered to sound the depths, they only cast their nets and knew they didn't touch the bottom. They probably knew of boats that had been broken by storms and sank in those depths. Any water that is over one's head is plenty deep enough! These were men who were used to fishing on that lake, used to being out over the deep waters day or night, and even used to some of the storms that suddenly swept down the valley across the lake. They could catch fish just about anywhere away from the shore, but Jesus says to head for the deeper, open water. It's not the catch that matters at this point, it is the place that matters--and Simon's obedience in going there.
Letting down our nets is always a risky thing. Any fisherman--especially a sport fisherman--will tell you he knows good places to fish, and yet even the best angler comes up empty-handed some days. There is something here that is important to remember: Jesus is talking about nets and not fishhooks, about a wide-cast net to bring in many fish, not a single line to bring in one fish at a time. In our modern American society, especially away from fishing seaports, most people's idea of fishing is a pole, some line, and the right hook and lure. But up on the coast of Maine and Massachusetts, down in Florida and Mississippi, they'll tell you that fishing is about currents and weather, about deep water and strong nets. You are not enticing the fish to come to your disguised hook, you are catching the fish where they are: in deep water. You can't do that standing in a creek or sitting quietly in a johnboat. You need to hit the deep water and cast a wide net.
What will you bring up then? "A catch" is all that Jesus tells the disciples. It could be a big catch or it could be a small catch. It could be so many fish you cannot haul them into your boat. Or it could be just a few fish to feed you and your family. But there WILL be a catch, because Jesus says there will be. However, as we said before, you can't catch anything by staying close to the shore, and you MUST let down your nets.
Where is that deep water for you? I have a pretty good idea where that deep water is for me, and, to be honest, it frightens me a bit to know that I must go there. I know it will be a dangerous place, a place that seems like it may yield nothing, a place far from my familiar surroundings. But Jesus has commanded that I go there, and so I must go.
What nets will I let down? The only net I have is the gospel of Christ. I will let it down with honesty and truth. I will cast it wide upon the waters, allowing it to sink into the depths, and I will rely on the Spirit to tell me when to pull it in. God has told us that His Word will go forth and NOT return void. (Isaiah 55:11) That's good enough for me.
What will I catch? I don't know. I only know there WILL be a catch. I will trust in the gospel and I will cast the net of the Word of the living God as far and as deep as I can, knowing that it will indeed accomplish what God pleases. That is the command I have been given. God will do the rest.
I love the Lord, and I do praise and worship Him much, but when that net comes back filled to overflowing, I know I will fall across that catch, prostrate myself wherever I happen to be, and worship the Lord my God even more.
But first, I must launch out into the deep and let down my nets. Will you join me there?
Holy Father God, what depths and heights will Your Word achieve? Only You know, and yet You have entrusted me with Your Word, told me to preach the gospel to all creatures, to cast my nets over deep water. Teach me to be that kind of fisherman, Lord Jesus. Show me where to go, when to let down my nets, when to pull them in. And always, please, strengthen me, give me courage to sail on those deep waters, always in Your holy name. Amen.