In Jesus calling of his first disciples, I am continually surprised by Simon Peter’s initial statement to Jesus (Luke 5:8-9):
“But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken.”
“Depart from me“: Peter tells Jesus to go away because he is a sinful person. Why would he tell Jesus to depart from him? If you’ve treated someone with nothing but bad behaviour, but they in turn treat you with kindness—how would you feel? You might feel a sense of guilt or shame. Why? You know you don’t deserve the kindness they’ve shown you.
I remember someone I had not seen for years had come to me to apologize for something they had done many years ago. I had already forgotten about it long ago. He blessed me more than the blessings I had to offer him. I did not deserve it. That’s grace.
Peter knew he had just encountered the holy One of God. The power and grace of God was evident in the huge amount of fish God had just provided. They fished all evening but had caught nothing, but now, their net was so full of fish it began to tear. It must have blown his mind. That’s grace.
Peter was overwhelmingly convinced in that encounter with Jesus that God’s grace was sufficient. Jesus wanted Peter to understand that there is nothing in heaven and earth that could stop the power and love of God from flowing down. Grace had just poured out to Peter–despite his sinfulness. This miraculous catch of fish was evidence that Jesus was the Son of God. He had enough proof. He left his nets, boat, and followed Jesus.
“For I am a sinful man“: Peter was giving Jesus a preliminary warning. “I don’t deserve to be in the presence of your holiness. You are holy; I am not. I would be bad for you and your image. I’ve stolen, perhaps broken numerous laws, and should not count myself worthy of being in your presence.”
What might a person say to Jesus today? “Jesus, I’ve cheated on my tax return. Claimed more expenses than what’s legal. Or maybe, I’ve broken environmental laws by spilling toxic waste into the water system causing sickness to many. Or maybe, I’ve robbed a bank or defrauded other people our their hard-earned savings or pension. Jesus, I’m not like you. You are good. I’m rotten. You might not know how bad I am but I do bad things to people. I feel guilty and ashamed. I don’t deserve to be given such a huge gift.”
Or we might also tell Jesus, “No you must have given the blessing to the wrong person. Bless that other guy over there. He does good things for the community. She gives to homeless and volunteers her time to good causes like the marginalized and the sick. But me? If you really knew who I am, and the horrible and illegal things I’ve done, you wouldn’t want to be around me. So Jesus, save your time and just head on over there to the other fishermen who is more deserving of this big gift of fish. They deserve it.”
But Jesus affirms. Jesus turns to Peter and says: “No Peter, I’ve got the right person. You are the person I am giving this gift to. And maybe Jesus didn’t even give an explanation about grace. Kept it simple. It’s for you Peter. I really meant to give this to you.
His reaction. A big surprise. Perhaps he was overwhelmed with emotion and wept in private. He decided that Jesus’ acceptance of him was proof of God’s love for a sinner like him.
Today, God’s mercy is still the same. He accepts you the way you are. His love for you never changed. He is still the same yesterday, today and will be the same tomorrow.
This story of the great catch is about Jesus calling you. Telling you through his miracle of the fish that his acceptance and love for you is great. It is just a small sampling of God’s abundant grace. He says to you. You are mine. You are my son. You are my daughter. My love and acceptance for you is bigger than you thought. I have not made a mistake. You are the one I meant to give this to.
If you pray to the Lord: “Jesus, I accept your grace. Your grace is enough for me.” An appropriate reaction might be to drop your proverbial nets, leave your boats, and follow Jesus today. He is holding his arms to you today and saying, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men, and catchers of people.”