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Jesus’ miraculous catch of fish didn’t just challenge what Simon knew about fishing, it changed everything he believed possible. Let down your nets.

Fishing Ron Swanson
Ron Swanson, philosopher

The great philosopher Ron Swanson once said, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Don’t teach a man to fish and feed yourself. He’s a grown man; fishing’s not that hard.”

While I agree that fishing is not difficult, I would counter that it’s not a matter of “don’t teach a man to fish,” but rather, “you can’t teach a man to fish.” I’ve been around a lot of fishermen and one trait they all seem to have is that they are all thoroughly convinced that their method of fishing is the best. They don’t need you telling them how to fish.

And so, the most amazing thing for me in the story of the miraculous catch of fish from Luke 5 is that when Jesus told Peter let the nets down for a catch, he actually did it.

“Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.”

Luke 5:5

Know Your Nets

nets peter's miraculous catch

There are a couple of key details that we need to pick up in this story; at first, they may seem like nothing, but they’re important. In verse 2, the fishermen are not in their boats. Rather, they are on the shore washing their nets. Simon himself gives us the reason in verse 5. He tells Jesus they had been out fishing all night and had caught nothing. Now they’re washing the nets so they can go out again that night and give it another shot.

Night fishing was done with trammel nets. These nets could be stretched up to 500 feet between two boats and pulled through the water. Made from linen, trammel nets would be visible to the fish in the daytime. Try dragging a trammel net through the water when the sun was up and the fish would just dart around them. Trammel nets only worked at night.

Except last night they didn’t.

I hear the frustration in Peter’s words. “This didn’t work last night and it’s probably not going to work tonight.” And yet he’s locked into this mindset that this is how you catch fish—regardless of the results.

Let’s give him props, though. It obviously worked sometimes. In fact, it worked well enough in the past that Peter invested in the equipment. He bought the nets; he learned how to throw them; he may have even upgraded when his former nets were no longer Y0K compatible. He totally bought into the trammel net method.

We might hear something of ourselves in Peter’s predicament. Sometimes we are so married to the method that we stick with it regardless of results. In the 1970s it was bus ministry, in the 1980s it was youth ministry. Are any of those still the answer? Or is it discipleship, contemporary worship, or online ministry? What are we still doing today because we invested so much in it yesterday that we can’t let it go?

Carey Nieuwhof says, “The greatest enemy of your future success is your current success.” It’s proven itself in the past, we’ve invested in it, but what if there’s something else? What if Jesus is calling us to fish in ways we never dreamed possible?

Let Down Your Nets for a Catch

Trammel nets don’t work in the daytime. Simon knows this; it’s his job to know. But how does he respond to Jesus? Not with arguments, statistics, or a mission statement. Rather, he simply says, “But at your word I will let down the nets.”

There comes the point when we realize there’s something bigger than us at work here. Bigger than what we know, and how we’ve always done it. Bigger than our capabilities and our comfort zones. And the bigger thing that’s at work is faith.

Just like Simon, we have a choice to make. Do we stay where we’re comfortable and never step out? Never let God show us what we’re truly capable of when we trust him beyond our own ability? Or do we say, “but at your word . . . “ and try something we never imagined would be possible?

You know the end of the story. The catch of fish is so large, the nets nearly break, two boats nearly sink, and a fisherman has to do the impossible—admit he was wrong. The fisherman becomes the disciple, Simon becomes Peter, and the world has never been the same since.

What could happen to our world if we stopped fixating on what used to work or even on what still works and asked, “what’s next?” Am I doing anything that demands more of my faith than of my experience? Is my trust in where Jesus is leading us greater than my trust in where I’ve been in the past?

The Master is giving the word, let down the nets.