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Luke 5: 1-11

Luke had delayed the story of the disciples' call until he sketched the beginning of Jesus' own ministry in 4:14-44. Now, as with the Nazareth pericope, Luke expands the account available to him in Mark, making it reveal something of Jesus' prophetic power, as well as of Peter's faith and future role.

Determining exactly what Luke took from previous sources and what he constructed himself is not easy. Mark 1:16-20 is a highly compressed account of Jesus' passing by the sea, calling first Peter and Andrew, then later James and John. Matt 4:18-22 follows Mark's version closely. But Luke weaves the call of the disciples into the account of a miraculous catch of fish. This part of the story bears a strong resemblance to the resurrection story found in John 21:1-11 which also involves a great catch of fish. And both stories have some points of resemblance to the fish story told about Pythagoras in lamblichus' Life of Pythagoras 36. Each account also has its distinctive elements. There is no more reason to think that Luke made use of a resurrection tradition than to think that John used a Pythagorean tradition. Each explanation is possible, but neither leads us anywhere in understanding Luke's distinctive version of the prophet's call of his first followers.

Jesus is once more portrayed as a teacher whose power is demonstrated by his deeds. But whereas earlier he had performed exorcisms and healings, in this case he effects a dramatic but quite personally directed display of the dynamis at work in him: following his instruction, an unexpected and almost disastrous abundance of fish is caught. Jesus is a prophet who knows what will happen beforehand. The fact that this prediction is so overwhelmingly fulfilled provides surety for his prediction concerning Peter, that he would be a netter of people. Unlike the other Synoptists who show Peter and companions responding only to the naked command of Jesus as he passes by, Luke builds a context and motivation for their commitment of faith.

In Peter's objection and acquiescence (5:5), we find a consistent Lukan perception. The fishermen had labored all night in vain. But at Jesus' command, Peter will lower the nets again. The careful reader will detect in this sequence an echo of Mary's objection that she did not know man (1:34) yet would accept the word of the Lord (1:38), as well as the lesson pointed out in that passage by the angel concerning the barrenness and surprising fertility of Elizabeth: "nothing is impossible for God" (1:37). The contrast between a lack of human potential and the reality of divine fulfillment is essential to Luke's theme of the "Great Reversal" and finds its paradigmatic expression in the suffering and raised Messiah. The attentive reader therefore may legitimately hear in Peter's designation of Jesus as "Master" and "Lord" hints of a fuller resurrection resonance to this story.

Simon enters Luke's narrative for the first time, (although his name identified the mother-in-law healed in 4:38), and will prove to be one of Luke's dominant and most engaging characters. This vignette offers a number of clues for deciphering Peter's narrative significance. Like the other Synoptists, Luke has Jesus foretell Peter's future role as "netter of people," but it is only Luke's extended narrative in Acts that will show Jesus' prophecy reaching fulfillment (see especially Peter's response to the crowd's question, "what shall we do" at Pentecost: "save yourself from this crooked generation," Acts 2:40).

Other details are also revealing. Peter is a "sinner" and thus represents one of the categories of people who respond with faith to the prophet's visitation. This enables Luke to portray Peter as one who is "saved," and to declare in Acts 15:11, "we believe that we are saved by the gift of the Lord Jesus just as they are." The declaration that he is a sinner should be under-stood not primarily in moral terms but as an expression of awe before the power of the Holy, the mysterium tremendum ac fascinosum. It is characteristic of Luke (and a point of contrast to Mark) that the "fascinating" that is, attractive-aspect of Jesus' power is emphasized more than its "fearful"- and repelling-quality. Thus, although Peter asks Jesus to "depart," he ends up by "following."

Peter's sharing of possessions with his business partners is a subtle anticipation of the later Jerusalem community in Acts 2 and 4. More significantly, he and his fellows symbolize their metanoia, change of life, by "leaving all and following him." The disposition of possessions in Luke-Acts consistently symbolizes self-disposition.

Peter emerges here at once as the spokesperson for the disciples. Luke focuses the reader's attention on Peter throughout. He accomplishes this by melding the separate call of James and John to the account of Peter's call, and reducing this important pair to subordinate clauses, almost as an afterthought!

Most of all, Peter is portrayed as a person of faith. We may be allowed as readers to think that the character Simon may have heard of what Jesus had done for his mother-in-law, and therefore would be receptive to this teacher's power. But Jesus' present command confronted Peter's personal experience of a night's long work for nothing. Despite appearances to the contrary, however, he places his trust in the word of the prophet. His following Jesus on a path unknown is therefore a logical progression for one who had already "put out into the deep" on the basis of a word only.



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