My wife tells a story about her then two-year-old son. He had learned to count to sixteen. They were walking down a flight of stairs, he holding her hand, and like kids everywhere, he was using his newfound knowledge by counting the steps. There were more stairs, however, than numbers in his counting system. My wife saw he was going to run out of numbers about three steps short of the end of the stairway. Michael, counting away, said “fifteen, sixteen,”…and then, “Jump!” He’d found the solution to his problem. My wife was able to move fast enough to keep up with his short legs so no damage was done.
His solution was elegant, bold, and daring. He knew what he had to do. He had to complete the staircase, and without a way to continue labeling, he ignored the stairs he couldn’t count and passed them by in one fell swoop. Problem solved.
The Peter we meet in this passage seems less bold, less daring than the man we’ve come to know. Jesus is teaching by the seaside, and the crowds are pressing in around him. Seeking space, he steps into Peter’s boat and asks him to push off a little from shore—just enough to give him breathing room. Peter obliges.
When Jesus is finished, he tells Peter to launch the boat out into deeper water and let down his nets. Peter, wiser in the ways of fish (he thinks) than Jesus, says, in effect, “If they didn’t bite last night, they’re not going to bite today.” Still, he realizes Jesus might just know something he doesn’t, and bows to the teacher’s authority. When he does, the nets are so full that he has to call his partners to come and help. Jesus then invites Peter—all of the fishermen, actually—to change occupations and follow him.
This is when the real launching into deep water occurs, where we see the boldness and daring we’ve come to expect from Peter. Luke tells us that as soon as the boats touch land, the men leave everything, and follow Jesus. Can’t you just hear them saying, like my stepson, their version of “fifteen, sixteen—jump?”
What’s important here, I believe, is that they realized Jesus had a greater claim on them than their lifelong occupation, their family responsibilities, or their own well-being. Jesus called, and they answered. There was no hesitation, no counting the cost, no, “can we afford to do this?”—no stopping to consider anything but Jesus’ call.
How do we respond when Jesus calls us? Are we willing and eager to leave everything that’s comfortable and familiar to follow him? Do we, instead, sit down and carefully add up the pluses and minuses of a new life in Christ, making sure that we’ll come out ahead in this new venture?
Certainly, Peter, Andrew, James and John had it easier than we do. Jesus was standing right there in front of them. They could see him, feel his power, respond to the force of his personality. I don’t believe for a minute that the catch of fish was the determining factor. They would, of course, have been impressed by this miracle on their behalf; but they didn’t even stop long enough to sell their catch, provide for their families and keep a little cash themselves for emergencies. Jesus offered them a new life, a life more exciting than any they could have ever imagined. They saw the possibilities…and jumped.
When we hear Jesus’ call to launch out into deeper waters, to try something we’ve never tried before, to attempt a mission that will stretch our boundaries, how will we respond? I suggest a good answer would be, “fifteen, sixteen—jump!”