Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, "Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch." Simon answered, "Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets." When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!" For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, "Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people." When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
I have a love / hate relationship with catchy church signs. I love them because they’re catchy. But I also hate them because they’re catchy. Here’s a sample of real signs that churches have used to draw new people in. “Free coffee and everlasting life – membership has its privileges.” “Don’t let worries kill you – let the church help.” And perhaps my favorite of all time, a sign put up the week before Palm Sunday: “And Jesus said to his disciples – bring me that ass.” Now obviously, the purpose of these signs is to grab people’s attention, hook them, and get them to come inside. People attend church for a million different reasons – the music, the inner-peace that they feel, the coffee, the community – and the purpose of signs like these is to grab you and say, “hey, we’ve got something you’re looking for!” These signs are marketing tools. They’re designed to catch people.
Catching people – that’s what marketing is all about. In fact, I just read a great article on marketing called “How to catch them if you can.” Here’s an excerpt. “Like a highly contagious virus, good [marketing] affects people so strongly they transmit it to others, who then transmit it to their contacts and so on, continuously passing the ad along until it has reached millions.” I was intrigued by this article’s claim. “If your message is captivating enough, you’ll wind up catching more people than you ever imagined – a catch beyond your wildest dreams.”
Now with that in mind we turn to Jesus’ words to Simon Peter – “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” We can all stand to be reminded that evangelism is our mission as a church – that our mission is to bring Christ to the world. And so, here’s my question: how should we, as a church, be “catching” people?
Well, what we can’t do is catch people through a typical marketing scheme. Donald Miller writes, “I was a salesman for a while, … and I felt like people were trying to sell me Jesus [when I went to church], … always pointing out the benefits of the Christian faith. That rubbed me wrong. It’s not that there aren’t benefits, there are, but they didn’t have to talk about spirituality like it’s a vacuum cleaner. I didn’t want Jesus to be a product. I wanted him to be a person.”
In other words, membership may have its privileges– free coffee and everlasting life – but we’re not called to do the work of a salesman. We’re called to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5). And so we can’t rely on offering great products – whether it’s great preaching or great music or a great community – because a) it’s not our mission and b) it doesn’t work. But if we can’t use good ‘ole fashion church products to catch people, what are we going to use as bait?
Today’s Gospel comes from Luke and is also known as the “call of the first disciples.” But that’s a misnomer. Unlike Matthew and Mark’s version, today’s Gospel is not a call story – it’s a pronouncement story. Look at the reading carefully. Jesus doesn’t call Simon. He announces to Simon what he will now be doing. And it isn’t fishing. It’s catching. Remember what Jesus says in Matthew and Mark? “Follow me and I’ll make you fishers of men.” But in Luke the emphasis is different. “Now Simon don’t freak out, but from now on, you’re not going to be fishing for people. You’re going to be catching them.”
Now, what on earth is Jesus talking about? Well, the Greek word translated catch, which is only found in Luke, is a compound word that is more accurately translated to “catch alive” or to “capture alive.” But for Luke’s audience, this word had an even greater meaning. It meant “to revive” or “to restore life” to something – to capture it in order to make it come alive, to catch something with the purpose of infusing it with life. And so perhaps the best modern translation isn’t catch but captivate, a verb meaning to attract by beauty or by excellence. And so perhaps today’s Gospel is more accurately read like this. “Don’t be afraid Simon, from now on you’ll be captivating people.”
Now maybe you think that’s a weird thing for Jesus to tell Peter – that Peter wouldn’t understand what Jesus meant. But Peter knew exactly what Jesus meant because Peter himself had been captivated by Jesus. You see, unlike in the gospels of Matthew and Mark, this isn’t the first time in Luke that Jesus and Peter have met. In fact, Jesus has just left Simon’s house, where Peter’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever. But then Jesus healed her, revived her, he infused her with life. And of course Simon’s mother-in-law wasn’t the only one that Jesus caught and restored. According to Luke all kinds of people were brought to Jesus – the sick, the unclean, the demon-possessed, people on the fringes – and without fail, Jesus infused life into every single one of them. And Simon Peter has witnessed the whole thing. He’s seen first hand the beauty and the excellence of this Man that brings life to everyone that he meets. Peter is among those who have been brought to life, and because of that, today’s Gospel isn’t a call story. Peter has already been caught. Sure he tries to wiggle away – “Go away from me Lord for I am a sinful man!” – but Jesus won’t let him. “Sorry Peter, you’re caught. And from here on out, like it or not, you’re going to be catching people, too.”
And so the question I leave us with is this. Have we been caught by the love of Christ? Are we among those who have been captivated by Jesus? Do we know, firsthand, the beauty and excellence of this Man that brings life to everyone he touches? Do we understand that even if we tell Jesus to leave like Peter did, his answer will always be no?
There’s a reason I ask. To the extent that Jesus has restored our life, we will work to restore the lives of others, and to the extent that we have been caught, we will be catching other people, because when your life is caught up in the Kingdom of God, catching others for the kingdom is just what happens. Like a highly contagious virus, being caught in the Kingdom affects people so strongly they transmit it to others, who then transmit it to other, continuously passing Christ’s love until it has reached millions.
Like the fishermen in today’s gospel, I know it’s tempting to pull in our nets and to call it a day – to think to ourselves, “what’s the use, we’re not going to catch anything.” But that’s a lie. Luke goes out of his way to tell us that the crowd was pressing in on Jesus. That crowd was hungry. And believe me when I tell you, so is our world. People out there are starving for life.
But if today’s Gospel tells us anything, we’re not going to catch people until we ourselves have been caught – until our lives have been so transformed by Jesus’ love that we as a people become contagious – until we love with the same reckless abandon that Christ did – until our character becomes that of Jesus himself.
And make no mistake, this is our work as a church: to captivate people with the love of Christ; to capture them in a way that’s “life-giving” and not “life-taking;” to be as a community so enamored, so caught up in Christ, so committed to the work of the Kingdom that without saying a word we become living and breathing signs – signs that scream “we have Jesus in our midst, and he’s the most captivating thing this world has ever seen.”
You see whether people realize it or not, they’re not looking for a product. They’re looking for a Person – for the Person that created them, that loves them and that has the power to give them life. Whether they realize it or not, people are looking for Jesus. And so if being captured by Jesus’ love becomes the goal of our lives, if we look to Him daily to be infused with fresh life, our lives will become bait that catch people for the kingdom. We’ll still be sinners. The difference is that we’ll know that we’ve been caught – that Jesus refuses to let us go – and the freedom and confidence that come with that will be captivating enough that we’ll wind catching more people than we ever imagined – a catch beyond our wildest dreams.