Did He Really Say, "I Will Make You Fishers of Men?"

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4 And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. 7 They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” —Luke 5

In Sunday School I learned a song about this passage, “I will make you fishers of men, fishers of men, I will make you fishers of men if you follow me.” What I didn’t realize until I recently read Luke’s version of the calling of Simon and company that the song is rooted in Matthew’s calling story, not Luke’s. Luke doesn’t speak of Jesus saying that they will be “fishers of men” (Matthew 4.18-22), he says, “…from now on you will be catching men.” A small thing perhaps, but significant in Luke’s presentation of the gospel. The word “catching” comes from the Greek word zogreo. The word means to first of all “to catch alive”, as when someone takes a captive in battle. But beyond that the Greek Lexicon Louw & Nida point out that the word means to bring someone under control, “In many languages it may be difficult to speak of ‘bringing a person under control.’ It may therefore be more appropriate to use some such phrase as ‘not allow a person to do just what he wants’ or ‘make a person behave’ or ‘make a person obey.’”

The call to “catch men” turns out to be a call to capture people and have them live under the control of Jesus. This calling contrasts with the only other time that zogreo is used in the scriptures: “23 Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” 2 Timothy 2. Here it is the devil who has captured a person to do his will. The contrast between the two uses makes us think about the importance of not only of seeing a person being brought to faith, but seeing a person who is truly captured by Jesus.

Luke throughout his gospel points out the importance of being captured by Jesus. We see it in Luke 7.31-33 where people are not captured by Jesus. We see it again Luke 9 where Jesus called on people to take up their cross and follow him, and where we discover the cost of following Jesus. Luke 14 presents us with the cost of discipleship and so it goes. For Luke we are to be captured by Jesus.

Two things. First, if you read Luke 5.1-11 you find out that Simon Peter has already been captured by Jesus. We know this because Simon obeys Jesus and casts his nets over the side of the boat, even though the command doesn’t seem to make sense.  Second, the idea that we need to be “caught” (especially as a prisoner of war) isn’t as appealing as we’d like it to be. We’d like to think of ourselves more highly than that.

 In a culture where most people neither want to be caught nor be taught to obey, how have you and your congregation lived out “catching people” so that Jesus’ call is obeyed? 

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Good food for thought. Never saw that in this text. It makes sense and for me puts this kind of fishing in the broader context of the spiritual battle we are in. At Westend CRC in GR where I am just finishing up as an STM, I did a series in the evening worship on the Holy Spirit. During the first message on John 3 re spiritual birth into the kingdom. I asked the congregation to put names of those they knew who they thought needed to be spiritually born again and we got about 130 names just from the Sunday pm group! It seems to me there is a whole lot of catching to be done. Thank God for prayer, the Holy Spirit and the One they focus on, Jesus. Thanks for the article and for your work in the CRC!  

Blessings, Dan Gritter