The Better Fisherman: Finding Our Identity in Christ Not Our Jobs

Fishing

As he stopped speaking, Jesus said to Simon, “Take the boat out into the deep and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon responded, “Instructor, the whole night we labored and took nothing…but because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they did this, they entrapped a large number of fish, so much so, that the nets began to tear. They had to wave down their partners in the other boat for help. As the men came and helped, they filled up the boats to the point that they begin to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell down at the knees of Jesus and said, “Get away from me, because I am a sinful man, Lord” for he was seized with astonishment at the catch of fish they took, as well as all those who were with him…Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid. From now on, you will be catching men.” When they had brought the boat upon the shore, they left everything and followed him.

{Luke 5:1 – 12}

In this well-known story, we see how Jesus recasts Peter’s (also known as Simon) job into what can be considered a vocation (or “calling” from the Latin, vocare). Peter’s job was a fisherman, and I can only assume that he was good at it. At the very least we can see from the text that he was a hard worker (“the whole night we labored”). It is most likely that from an early age, Peter was trained and equipped as a fisherman. He knew the ins and outs of the profession. He depended on it for his food and income. He probably could be considered an expert in his field, given the experience and knowledge acquired over the course of his life.

So, it makes sense when this “Teacher” or “Instructor” comes and tells Peter how to do his job that Peter responds with what appears to be a bit of skepticism, even annoyance. “Instructor, we labored the whole night and took nothing,” could be understood as a polite way of saying, “Look, Teacher, I have worked all night, doing everything I know to do to catch fish, because that is my job!” To give Peter credit, however, he acquiesces because he respects Jesus (though, not as Lord yet, but merely as a teacher).

I can only imagine how difficult it would have been for Peter in the moment. It would have been very much like a college professor of philosophy coming to an auto shop, and after the car mechanic had “labored and done everything in his power” to fix the car, but to no avail, telling him to simply turn the ignition switch to see if it would work. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if the mechanic was a good bit incredulous, and even a bit more offended. There are also the possible ramifications for the mechanic’s ego to be threatened by someone so unfamiliar in the field showing him up in his profession.

This is what happens to Peter. The lifetime fisherman is told by the teacher to take the boat out again. He listens, albeit reluctantly. Even though Peter thought he knew better. Even though his experience had told him that there was nothing to be gained by going out again. Even though he had worked as hard as he could already. Even though they had already cleaned their nets. Yet he listens to this Teacher, if only out of respect for the Man and not his ability as a Fisherman. And because Jesus is God, perfect in who he is and what he can do, he leads the fisherman to catch so many fish that they tear their nets and almost sink their boats.

Jesus proves that he is a better fisherman than Peter. And Peter, and all the fishermen with him, knew it too. In fact, “they were overwhelmed with astonishment at the catch of fish they took.”

Now think if Peter finds his identity in being a fisherman. All his dedication and work that had been devoted to shaping and forming who he is as a fisherman has been shattered by a Man known simply as “Teacher” who performed in an instant what Peter couldn’t do all night long. This Teacher is someone Peter doesn’t quite understand yet fears him because Jesus has done something absolutely miraculous, other-worldly, and frankly beyond his comparably weak and pitiful attempts at fishing. Jesus is in a different league, so to speak, than any other fisherman. If Peter’s identity had been wrapped up in his profession of fisherman, there is no doubt this would have been a devastating blow to what he perceived himself to be.

But the beauty of the story is that Peter does not feel threatened…he feels unworthy. He says to Jesus, “Get away from me, I am a sinful man, Lord!” He comes to realize that this world is about Jesus and all that we do should be oriented accordingly. And though, in that moment, it appears that Peter’s identity as a fisherman should be shattered, Jesus actually empowers this identity as a fisherman, transcends it even, transforming this common job of catching fish, to the magnificent vocation of catching men. Jesus recasts the conception of Peter’s daily life into a greater vision for the Kingdom that has come and is coming fully.

Today, we as men have the danger of making our jobs and professions our identity; orienting our entire lives around these finite things. It can be easy to get caught up in the money and status and definition that they might bring. It is sobering (and beneficial) to know that there is always someone better at what I do, and always Someone infinitely better. But as a believer in Christ, I have been given a vocation, a “calling” that transcends my daily job and profession (whether I am a lawyer, construction worker, or actor) into an understanding that we are to bring glory to God in whatever we do (1 Corinthians 10:31). Our lives, including all our jobs, hobbies, and activities, must be about Christ and his Kingdom.

It is also important to note that Peter never ceases to be an actual fisherman as in John, 21:3, Peter literally tells his friends, “I am going fishing.” It is a part of Peter that never leaves him, and I bet he continually used fishing for his ministry, his daily sustenance, and even when he wanted to have a good time with his boys. What Jesus reveals to Peter and to us is that we are not living on earth to merely catch fish or find our identity in our professions. We find our identity only in Christ, which transforms all that we are and do, in order that we may fulfill our calling by “presenting every person mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). Or to use fishing terms: “to catch men.”

Such a task is great as it is daunting, but we should not fear, because we have the better Fisherman to transform us into the type of fishermen he has created us to be.

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