The Big Fisherman Speaks
Simon Peter, a rugged fisherman, was surprised to find himself fishing for people. it all began...
But,let's let the big fisherman tell his own story.
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Did you ever go fishing? That’s the way I make my livelihood, y’know. Started when I was just a tadpole. My papa–you know him? Jonah Barsolomon,?–well, anyway I wasn’t much older’n five or six when one morning my papa said, “Come along, Simon.”
“Where you taking him?” Mama wanted to know.
Papa stopped at the door. “Remember how old Thunder,”–that’s what they called Papa’s fishing partner; they hadn’t got separate boats in those days. When they were able to buy another one, Thunder wanted the new one, which wasn’t actually new.
It needed lots of work, cleaning the bottom, putting new calking in, replacing a couple ribs. Papa used to laugh an say he shoulda kept the old’n. When Thunder said he wanted the new’n, Papa just said he liked the old’n anyhow. But I’m gettin’ away from my story of how I got started as a fisherman.
Mama wanted to know where Papa was taking me and Papa said, “Remember how old Thunder took his boys, Jimmy and Johnny, out with us yesterday. They did more playing than helping. I told Thunder, ‘One boy’s half a man, but two boys ain’t no man at all.’ Still, they were a help and they were beginning to learn the trade. So I’m taking Simon with me today to begin learning how to be a fisherman.”
Mama wrung her hands, knowing better’n outright arguing with Papa. You think Thunder can yell.... So she just murmured, “But what can such a little’n do?”
Papa looked down at me and tousled my hair. “Oh, I don’t know. If nothing else we can use him for bait.”
Well, I can tell you, I wasn’t goin’ to be no bait! ‘N’ at the end of the day even old Thunder grudgingly told Papa, “Now I know what you mean 1 boy is half a man. He's gonna be a fisherman mos' good as you.”
Pappa just laughed. "Fisherman? Fisherman good as me?"
But I felt like a full-grown man, and I never stopped helpin’ Papa and Thunder after that. When Jimmy and Johnny began to help, I called them James and John and made them act like fishermen instead of playing around like little kids. It wasn’t long until my younger brother, Andrew came aboard to become a fisherman. That’s when it got so crowded that Papa and Thunder began to look for another boat. A fisherman needs help, but a fisherman also needs room to work.
We fish with nets. Oh, I can use a hook and line–do it sometimes when I just want a fish for supper. You can drop a line into a hole the net won’t reach. That’s how I caught the fish the time Jesus need money for the Temple tax. “Peter,” he said–-my name is Simon, but he gave me a new name, Peter–“Peter,” he said, “you're a fisherman. Ggo catch a fish. Look in its mouth. You’ll find a coin there for the tax.” Now, I thought he was joking–he did a lot of that–thought maybe he wanted me to catch a fish and sell it at the market to get the money for the tax. Imagine my surprise when I caught the fish. A silver coin, of all things. So, you see, I can line fish, but I make my living net fishing.
One day before I met Jesus, I’d heard about him, but hadn’t met him yet, me and Andrew and another fisherman we hire to help us, had fished all night. Sometimes night fishing is better. It’s harder to see what you’re doing, but the way a fisherman works is so automatic we don’t need to see. But it not that night.
We were bone weary and drowsy from the hard night’s work and the simple task of cleaning and mending our nets. You see, you play out the net in a likely place. I’d been a fisherman almost all my life. I knew where the likely places were.
Then you make a big circle until you come back to the place you started. Playing out the net ain’t real easy. It has to go out smoothly. You dare not let the net snag on a sharp corner or it’ll tear.
Then you have to drop the sail and stop the boat. Pull the net back in. Repair it. Fold it back and forth ready to play out again. But if you watch it it’s not too bad.
Like I say, it ain’t real easy. But compared to hauling the net back in, it’s child’s play. Every hand pulling the net in makes it easier, but never easy. That’s why Papa took me out. I was a big stappin’ lad for my age, and I could pull ‘most good as some of the hired help. You tug on the net. Full or empty, it’s hard to drag in, but when it’s full you’d never be able to pull it in if it wasn’t for the excitement of getting a good haul. A fisherman lives ffor the haul. Even a line fisherman glories in the catch.
That night we’d pulled in many an empty net. Not even a trash fish. Once we thought we had something, but it was only a water-logged board that tore the net. That's a fisherman's bane. So we were tired. And sore. And out of sorts. We silently pulled the twigs and trash out of the net and mended the holes.
A fisherman goes home. Gets a bite to eat. Lays around. Tries to sleep in the heat of the day to go out the next night. That's what I was looking forward to that day.
That’s when Jesus came up to me and said, “Simon, put out a few feet from the shore so I can teach the people without getting shoved into the sea.”
He said it good-naturedly. There wasn’t any malice or disgust in his voice. I was startled because he knew my name. I figured someone had told him. Or maube my reputationm as a fisherman....But I didn’t know he was Jesus. Naw. Just some traveling Rabbi with a crowd of curiosity seekers at his heels.
I figured I didn’t have anything else to do. Andrew and the hired fisherman could hang the nets to dry, ready for foldin’ before we went out that night.
“That’s Jesus!” Andrew murmured in my ear as I told the Teacher, "Get aboard. Don't stand up if you don’t want to end up in the sea."
He looked at me with a merry gleam in his eye and said, “It is customary to sit down when you teach.”
I knew that, but somehow I wasn’t offended when he reminded me. And I figured he had a pretty good spiel as I sat in the boat listening. “I wonder what he wants from me,” I thought as I listened.
He was a famous teacher even though he had just started his ministry. I’d heard he did miracles of healing, but I didn’t need any kind of healing, so he couldn’t use me as a demonstration of his power. Maybe he wanted me to take him someplace after he finished teaching–to get away from the crowd. I was still thinking these thoughts when he said, “Simon, put out into the deep.” Uh-huh. Just as I thought.
“Where do you want to go?” I asked warily. I was one tired fisherman. I didn’t want to go too far.
“Just out to where the water’s deeper. Then let down your nets.”
“Wait a minute,” I told him. “We’ve been fishing all night and caught nothing. Now you want us to let down our nets so we can get more leaves and sticks and free-floating seaweed in our nets so we can clean and mend them all over again? Look. I’m the fisherman. You’re the teacher.”
Did you ever do that? Try to tell the Son of God you know more than he does? He didn’t even argue. He just looked at me like he knew something about me I didn’t even know about myself. Finally, I said, “But if you say so, we’ll give it one more try.”
Andrew and the hired fisherman groaned audibly. They thought the day’s work was over. Now, as I sailed out to where the bottom dropped off into deeper water, they took the nets down from the drying rack and folded them ready to play them out. I decided not to make the circle the way we usually do. I’d just drop the nets and haul them up again and say, “See? I told you so.”
“Let down the nets and pull them in,” I told the crew.
Jonathan, our hired fisherman started to say something, but Andrew caught on right away to what I was doing and shushed him. Jesus just watched and smiled. He has the most beautiful smile. I almost changed my mind and was going to do it the old way, but he seemed to shake his head slightly, so we went on with the plan.
We hadn’t played the net out all the way when I said, “O.K. Let’s pull it in.” Then there was a problem. We had snagged the net on something on the bottom. But we couldn’t. We were in deep water. Could it be fish.
Man, was it ever! We began hauling fish out of the net so it wouldn’t break. Then I yelled to our partners, James and John the sons of Thunder, to bring their boat. We filled both boats and there were still fish in the net.
We finally got to shore to keep our boats from sinking and to pull the rest of the fish up on the beach. Several folks in the crowd ran down to help pull the nets in. I looked at Jesus. He was still sitting there, watching with delight. Then it dawned on me. This really was a holy man. I fell at his knees and said, “Lord, I am a sinful man. Please go away and leave me alone.” Y’see, I was afraid of judgement. Here was one who could judge me.
He stood up and stepped out of the boat. Then he looked at me and said, “Follow me and you’ll fish for people.” I left the boat and fish for Papa and followed him. So did Andrew, and James and John.
Now I’m telling you all this because I think it puts the rest of the story into perspective.
Y’see, we followed him for three years, us and several others. The more he preached and taught and did miracles, the more popular he got The more popular he got, the more jealous the temple crowd got and the more nervous the Roman invaders got. Finally, they conspired to get rid of him. They came at night to a garden we often stayed in, and all of us ran away. All of us, Not a faithful follower in the lot.
I hid in some bushes and watched where they took him. I entered the courtyard of the place they took him and sat by the fire where onlookers were gathered. Big mistake. People kept recognizing me as one of his followers. Man, I didn’t want to go through what he was going through, so I kept saying, “No. You’re mistaken. I don’t know the man!”
Then, as they were taking him somewhere else, someone made the same observation and I said, “Damn it to hell! I-do-not-know-the-man!” Jesus stopped and looked sadly at me, and I knew I had betrayed him. I ran away and hid and cried.
Well, they crucified him, but death could not hold him in bondage. He arose from the grave. He appeared to us a couple of times and now we knew he was indeed the Son of God. But he had not given us marching orders.
When you don’t know what to do, you do what you know how to do. I went fishin’. Thomas the twin, Nathaniel from Cana, James and John, and a couple of others went with me. We had a lousy day, doin’ the back-breakin’ work of playin’ out, haulin’ in, of playin’ out, haulin’ in, and nary a fish in sight. So we went closer to shore and began using a cast net. Same difference.
Then a stranger on the shore called out, "Friends, haven't you any fish?"
“No,” we told him.
He said, "Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some."
“Who’s this guy?” asked Thomas. “We’re in the boat ‘n’ he’s on the shore ‘n’ he’s goin’ to tell us how to fish?”
“Maybe he sees somethin’,” said Nathaniel. “We ain’t havin’ any luck doin’ what we’re doin’, Might as well give it a try.”
So we cast the net on the other side. And man, we did begin to catch somethin’. As we tugged on the net, John kept lookin’ over his shoulder. Suddenly he remembered another day when we caught nothin’. We followed the advice of another guy not a fisherman with somethin’ of the same results. John said, “It’s the Lord!”
I’d been working in a loin cloth, so I grabbed my robe, slipped it over my head an jumped overboard. The water was only about 3 feet deep, but I’d a jumped in if it was 300 feet deep. I didn’t have time to wait for the boat.
“Hey! Aren’t you gonna help us,” cried a voice.
“Leave him alone,” said John. “It’s the Lord.”
Later, after they’d pulled the boat and fish ashore–153 of them!–Jesus took me to one side. It was when we had finished eating, Jesus said to me, "Simon Barjonah, do you truly love me more than these?"
I looked at the other disciples watching me to see what I’d say. Well, in spite of my denial in the courtyard, I’d always shown him I loved him more than them, so I said, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."
There he was with that servant thing again. I’d though maybe he’d make me the leader of the group in his absence. But if that was it, we were back to the towel and basin. He was a stickler for service. Then he shocked me out of my revery.
Again Jesus said, "Simon Barjohah, do you truly love me?"
Now I was puzzled. Was he remembering the courtyard denial? I answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."
Well, he’d said that, Didn’t he think I got it the first time?
The third time he said to me, "Simon Barjonah, do you love me?"
Now I was hurt because Jesus asked me the third time, "Do you love me?" I said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
He said, "Feed my sheep.” And then he brought it all into focus. I had denied him three times. He made me confess my love three times. He explained to me, “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go."
Then he said to me, "Follow me!"
And I say to you, if you’ve slipped up, just confess it to him. He understands. Just confess it and listen for him to say, “Follow me.”
If you like this story, try
Love Thy Neighbor
This true story is presented courtesy of
First United Methodist Church of Miami, Florida