But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
Jesus shows up by the lake of Gennesaret and crowds begin to gather to hear whatever it is he has to say. He starts teaching, if that’s what we want to call it – he tells stories, some of them make the folk scratch their heads, some of them make the people mad.
Talk of the first being last and the last being first always sounds like good news to those on the bottom rungs of life, but it sounds like unmitigated bad news to those with everything to lose.
Anyway, Jesus amasses such a crowd that, while standing by the seashore, the Lord decides to amplify his proclamations.
Down the way he stops a few boats and men who had been out all night fishing. They are busy cleaning their nets and Jesus decides to hop into one of their boats and says, “Hey, let’s get out on the water.”
And without giving it much thought, a nobody named Simon Peter pushes the boats out, and starts oaring the Lord back toward the crowds.
“Thanks Pete,” Jesus says, “This’ll do fine. Keep it steady will ya?”
And then Jesus teaches some more. Perhaps talk of fig trees and mustard seeds, maybe some more of that “all things being made new,” perhaps he ended with a particularly probing parable.
And then Jesus looks back to his conscripted fisherman and says, “Pete, since we’re out here already, what do you think about going deeper and let’s see if we can’t find ourselves some breakfast?”
“No offense, Lord,” Peter replies, “But I’ve been out all night fishing. You see, fishing is what I do. And there ain’t no fish to be caught. However, you seem to be on a roll today, so why not?”
15 minutes minutes pass and they catch more fish than they can safely bring aboard their aquatic vessel and they call out to the other fishermen to come help.
Pretty soon they have so many fish that the boats start sinking into the lake from which their plunder came.
Peter, with his arms burning from pulling in net after net, falls to the bottom of the boat and he says, “Get away from me Lord! I am not worthy of this!”
Jesus calmly replies, “No one is. But that’s the whole point. And you needn’t be afraid my friend, from now on you’ll be catching people.”
And Peter, along with his brother and their fishing partners, leave everything at the shore and they follow Jesus.
I love this story.
Every time I enter the strange new world of the Bible to this little tale by the sea I am bombarded by Peter’s reaction to Jesus. He falls before the Lord with a feeling of complete unworthiness. He, somehow, understands that God is near in the person of Jesus in a way that is more tangible and palpable than he can comprehend. And it is in the presence of God that Peter feels his sin.
Does Jesus call Peter a sinner? Does Jesus list all of Peter’s faults and failures? No.
Instead, the experience of God’s wonderful presence leads Peter to a recognition of his unworthiness. And then, lo and behold, Jesus wants to have a sinner such a Peter in his service!
“C’mon Pete! It’s time to start catching people!”
It’s hard to know exactly when it happens, but somewhere along the line Jesus catches us. That’s what Jesus does, in the end. It’s not just the telling of tales, and the proclamations of parables, and the making of miracles. Jesus delights in gathering us, all of us, into the great net that, in the church, we call salvation.
And Jesus is very good at what he does.
Life, as we often perceive it, is little more than going through the motions and doing one thing after another. But Jesus doesn’t come to bring us more of the same. That’s the great witness and proclamation of the church – Jesus comes that we might have life and life abundant. Jesus shakes up the monotony of our daily existence, sets us free from the chains of sin and death, and invites us to the Supper of the Lamb that has no end.
Jesus’ divine fishing charter, his conscription of Peter, is not merely about gathering in whoever he can whenever he can – it’s about bringing us to a place we could never arrive on our own.
Hear the Good News, the very best news: The tall and the small, the good and the bad… Jesus’ net is wide enough for all of us.