Luke’s Gospel leaves the call of the first disciples until Jesus’ own ministry has got under way. His ministry then provides a model for them to follow.
So Simon Peter’s call comes in the context of Jesus’ preaching to a crowd eager to hear the Word. Peter, the fisherman, helps Jesus by allowing him to make use of his boat to avoid being pushed by the crowd into the sea.
Jesus, however, has further plans for Peter. He doesn’t call him immediately to a new way of life but challenges him precisely in his area of expertise: catching fish. Peter resists, but eventually goes along with the command to put out to sea and try for a catch. The unbelievable harvest that results, where all night there had been no catch at all, is a clear sign that he is in the presence of the power and limitless generosity of God. Hence his dramatic response: falling at Jesus’ feet, owning his own sinfulness and unworthiness.
It is precisely at this moment of conversion and self-knowledge that Jesus judges Peter ready to receive the call: “Do not be afraid; from now on you it is people you will catch”. Normally, when fish are caught, they die—preparatory to being eaten! To avoid this implication, Luke uses here a rare Greek word for “catch” here, one that has the sense of catching and keeping alive—as when one nets fish for an aquarium.
Peter is now to “catch” people with the Word that will make them truly “alive”.
Fr Brendan Byrne SJ