Meditating on the Commands of Christ (7): Launch Out Into the Deep . . . For What??

Have you ever felt like God was asking you to climb out onto a limb . . . but you’re not sure if it’s really God or just your imagination? The quandary is: If it’s really God, then you’re willing to do something that seems futile by human wisdom, but if it’s just your imagination, then you know you’ll end up getting hurt one way or the other and probably feeling very humiliated and stupid. Yes? You know that feeling? I certainly have at various junctures in my life.

In Luke 5:4, where Jesus asked Peter to “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught,” I wonder if Peter had the same thought. Peter (aka/Simon) and his brother Andrew had been fishing all night without catching anything. I’m sure they were very tired and ready to go home to sleep. On top of that, Peter had already extended himself by letting Jesus use his boat as a pulpit from which to address the crowds who had gathered to hear his wisdom. Wise teacher? Yes! Knowledgeable about fishing? I suspect Peter had  his doubts.

Nevertheless, Peter and Andrew had already committed to following Jesus, and following requires obedience, so Peter reluctantly obeyed (at least partially; notice Jesus’ “nets” versus Peter’s “net,”—a small alteration that ultimately made a big difference, as we’ll see next Sunday): “And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net” (Luke 5:5).  Do you admire Peter’s willingness to obey? I do, even though it wasn’t complete. He was learning to trust, and I often identify with his doubts and fears. Peter stated his objections but proceeded to do as told . . . sort of. The essence of being a good follower is to state your opinion but obey your leader, whether it’s following Jesus, your husband (gasp!), or your boss. Furthermore, Jesus asked him to go deep! Are we willing to go deep with Jesus . . . out where— not only could we fall out of a tree— we could totally drown?!

In studying a passage for meditation, I like to consider many translations, and almost universally, the texts record Jesus telling Simon Peter to “Launch out into the deep.” However, in most of the modern versions, Jesus’ command ends something like this: “and let down your nets for a catch.” The most presumptuous is probably The Living Bible, which states it this way: “When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Now go out where it is deeper and let down your nets and you will catch a lot of fish!'”

This turns the command into a promise that is not in the King James Version (KJV), and although the vocabulary of the KJV  is sometimes archaic, I tend to trust its scholarship. In the KJV, Jesus tells Simon to “let down your nets for a draught.” Draught is an ancient word related to “drag” or “draw” and is usually used in terms of dragging or pulling liquid, as water through a net in fishing. (Or, in recent times, the idea of drawing out a “draught” or “draft” of beer into a cup.)

Although the difference may seem slight, I don’t believe Jesus is giving a promise of success to Peter, and I think the same is true for us today. When God tells us to launch out into the deep with him and put down our nets for a draught, He is asking us to obey him without promising any particular reward. Our nets may come up empty, or they may come up full, but the important thing is: Are we going to follow Christ and do what he asks or not? Period. Are we going to be okay if we fail by human standards and feel humiliated? Jesus didn’t promise us worldly fame or fortune, nor did he say that we’d be able to look with pride at what we’ve accomplished by following him. In fact, he predicts persecution, and if his life is our “perfect” example, then it looks like humiliation is in the mix too.

However, Jesus did promise us a life of spiritual abundance and fruitfulness if we follow him, and that’s worth more than any material gain. Are you willing? I am. Are we “able”? Well . . . that’s a harder question to answer!

‘”Are Ye Able,’ Said the Master”
(—Earl Marlatt, 1926)

“Are ye able,” said the Master,
“To be crucified with me?”
“Yea,” the sturdy dreamers answered,
“To the death we follow Thee.”

Lord, we are able. Our spirits are Thine.
Remold them, make us, like Thee, divine.
Thy guiding radiance above us shall be
a beacon to God, to love, and loyalty.

Are ye able? Still the Master
Whispers down eternity,
And heroic spirits answer,
Now as then in Galilee. [Refrain]

And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret,And saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen were gone out of them, and were washing their nets.And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net” (Luke 5:1-5).