It was broken. Fishing nets had broken before, and they would break again. Mending nets was simply part of the job of being a fisherman. He had been mending nets since he was a child, long before he had a man’s strength to throw the nets out and haul them in again. But this time was different. He passed the strands through his fingers, and blinked back the tears in his eyes, lest anyone started thinking he was crying over something as silly as a broken net. Not that anyone was likely to; they were as stunned as he was and only had eyes for Jesus. It was the quietest return to shore he could ever remember.
It had all been so ordinary until then. Another wasted, wearisome night’s fishing, with nothing to show for it. They had thrown out the nets and hauled them in, thrown out the nets and hauled them in, over and over and over, until even his strong arms were tired. And not even one tiny fish to show for it! Nights like that were so discouraging. Those were the nights he started wondering why anyone would choose to be a fisherman, and trying to think of another trade. But his family had fished by the Sea of Galilee for generations, and, really, what else could he do? And they came back, and they washed their nets, because that was what you did next.
And there was Jesus; and there was the crowd pressing in close to hear him. When Jesus gestured to him, he understood immediately what was needed, and helped him into the boat. From that position Jesus could be seen and heard by everyone. And he, Simon, listened while Jesus taught, and something melted inside him, something he had no words for.
Then Jesus turned to him and told him to take out his boat and cast out his net. At first he protested, they had already wasted a whole night fishing for nothing. And yet … this was Jesus, and before he had time to reflect, he found himself saying, “Nevertheless, at your word ..”
And so they went out, and they cast their nets, and came up with so many fish that their nets were breaking from the weight of them, and others had to help them bring in the catch. And the broken nets were not as broken as he was. He had listened to the teaching and marvelled, but there were too many new ideas and he was not a learned man. But this he understood. He knew about fish. And he knew that what had just happened turned his whole world upside down. He was in the presence of something (or someone?) holy. And he was not holy at all. It was too much! “Depart from me,” he said, overwhelmed, “for I am a sinful man.”
And Jesus replied, “Do not be afraid Simon. From now on you will catch men.”
It was enough. He left behind his nets and followed Jesus.