An Extraordinary story

Epiphany 5

Luke 5:1-10

Marian Free


In the name of God who calls us, imperfect though we are, to follow Jesus and to share the gospel with others. Amen.

Those among you whose enjoy puzzles will know the “Find the Difference” puzzles. Even those who do not enjoy puzzles may have had to find the difference between two pictures as part of their early schooling. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, the puzzle involves two almost identical pictures which are placed side by side. The observer is asked to find the differences. Usually, if there are say, ten differences, the first seven or so are relatively easy – the dog is black in picture (a) and white in picture (b), a cloud in picture (a) is missing in picture (b) and so on. However, the last couple of differences tend to be more subtle and are often overlooked. For example, the curtain in picture (a) has four pleats and in picture (b) it only has four.

It is a different exercise, but we can play “find the difference” using the gospels. Placing one or more gospel passages side by side allows us to note the different ways in which Jesus’ life and teaching is recorded by the different authors. For example, last week we noticed how differently Luke presents the account of Jesus in the synagogue and we made some educated guesses as to the reason for the differences. In his re-telling of the story, Luke is influenced by his social justice programme and his desire to demonstrate that the inclusion of the Gentiles was always part of God’s plan.

Having noted that Luke has a different agenda, it will therefore come as no surprise to note that Luke’s report of the call of Peter, Andrew, James and John is also quite different from that of Mark. This week we will have a look at the actual texts. (You might like to see how many differences you can spot.)

Mark 1:16-20 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Luke 5:1-10 Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signalled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

In comparing the readings we note, as we might expect, that Luke has expanded and elaborated Mark’s account. Another obvious difference is that the sea is given a different name. In Mark, Jesus walks by the Sea of Galilee, in Luke, the crowds press in on Jesus at the lake of Gennesaret. In Mark Peter and Andrew are fishing from the shore, James and John are mending their nets. In Luke all four have left their boats and are washing their nets. Luke includes a miraculous haul of fish which is not in Mark and while Mark leaps straight into the call of the disciples, Luke precedes the account with a vast amount of material not considered necessary to Mark – the birth narrative and the genealogy.

Those are the obvious differences. A more subtle difference, but one which is important for our understanding of the Gospel of Luke is this: Peter now has a boat, he and Andrew are not standing on the shore casting their nets but are boat-owners. The comparison between the two families has been softened or obliterated. James and John are no longer set apart by the fact that their family owns a boat and has servants – both sets of brothers now have a boat. Finally, in Luke Peter’s response to the miracle of the fish is a significant addition, as is his designation for Jesus – “Lord”.

To understand the changes made by Luke it is important to understand something about him and why he is writing. For the purpose of today’s gospel, we need to note again to whom the gospel is addressed: “most excellent Theophilus”.  Luke’s re-telling is influenced in no small part by the person to whom he is telling the story. From his name and Luke’s form of address we suspect that Theophilus is a wealthy person of some status who lives a long way distant from the villages of Galilee. This means that Luke has to tell the story in such a way that it will not only make sense to Theophilus, but also in such a way that it will not offend him.

In order to do this, Luke makes some basic changes in the way he tells Mark’s account. He moves the gospel to the city, removes the poor, uneducated people and makes it clear from the very beginning not only that Peter is a leader in the church but that Jesus is “Lord” – a title used for a prominent person in the Empire. Luke changes Peter’s socio-economic status and his role in the early church is established. Peter recognises and names Jesus and Jesus is named in a way that would indicate Jesus’ significance to Theophilus. (A poor fisherman and an itinerant preacher may not have grabbed the attention of Theophilus, but he is able to recognise a boat owner and a “lord” as people worthy of his attention.)

Luke would have had no thought that by changing the way he told the story, he was changing the story. He would have thought that he was faithfully recounting the story of Jesus and the church, but that he was doing it in such a way as to ensure its reception not only by Theophilus, but also to the whole of the Roman Empire.

It is extraordinary to think that a man from a tiny village in a remote part of the Empire, who was executed as a trouble-maker, should have made such an impact that his story was told at all. It is even more extraordinary that four people thought it so important that the story be told that they told it in such a way that others would grasp its significance. And perhaps, most extraordinary of all, is that two thousand years later, we are still telling the story and are moved to faith by it.


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