Luke 5: 1-11: Fear not!
“When Simon Peter saw the miracle Jesus had wrought, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord”
I wonder whether this is a response to Jesus that you have had from time to time. I know it has been for me. When one contemplates the sheer holiness of the son of God, his perfection in all things moral, all things spiritual, all things deep within us all, it is tempting to run screaming for the hills. I know that I can never attain that level of holiness. I just don’t have the will power, or the ability to be that good!
Martin Mosse reminded me this week of a song, from the Sound of Music. I wonder if you know the one...its when Maria, basking in the arms of her new husband sings “Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good”. Martin’s point in reminding me of this was to wonder what the nuns (with whom Maria had been living) had actually taught her about God. What kind of warped theology is this? Maria’s song suggests that we only receive good things as a reward for the good things we have done. Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good - which is why I now have a husband!
This of course is patent nonsense...theologically speaking. How many people do you and I know - or see on the TV - who have lived dissolute, greedy, abusive lives, and yet seem to have all the wealth and material happiness this world affords. On the other hand, how many good, honest, kind and loving people do we know who somehow seem to just get bad break after bad break?
The message of the Gospel is the message of grace. The salvation which God offers us, through Jesus, has nothing whatsoever to do with the things we have done - and everything to do with what God has done, through Jesus. As St Paul says, writing to the Ephesians, “it is by grace that you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not by works, so that no-one can boast”.
When Peter falls to Jesus’ knees, begging him to ‘Depart from me’ - ‘Go away from me, for I am a sinful man’ he reflects what all of us must surely say if we are honest about the kind of people we are. But Jesus responds to Peter, and to you and me, with these simple words: “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men”.
“Do not be afraid of your sinfulness - for I am graceful, and can forgive you. Do not be afraid that you won’t make it to eternity, because if you trust in me, I will take you there. Do not be afraid that your salvation rests on your own efforts, your own power. For instead, it rests on my efforts, my grace, my forgiveness and my power.”
This is indeed, good news!
Incidentally, just to finish off, do you know the difference between the mercy of God and the grace of God. No, this isn’t the opening line of a joke!
Mercy is when God withholds the punishment that should be ours.
Grace is when God gives us the reward we don’t deserve.
Let me just break that down a bit: because of our sins, because we, like Peter, recognise the awful things we sometimes do or think, God would be perfectly within his rights to punish us. We’ve gone astray, and we deserve to be destroyed as useless to his Kingdom purposes. But God is full of mercy….and so he offers us forgiveness.
Then, astoundingly, we are not only forgiven by his mercy, but we are given a new role in his Kingdom. According to St Peter, writing out of his own experience of Jesus by the lake-shore, Jesus by his grace gives us all now jobs in his Kingdom. In his first letter, Peter says this: “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”
What gracefulness is this?! Not only does God withhold the punishment we deserve (by his mercy), he then gracefully gives us positions of honour in his Kingdom...and the role of being his Holy Nation, tasked with proclaiming God himself to the whole world.
To Peter - and to us - Jesus says:
1) “Fear not” - I am merciful. You have nothing to fear.
2) “From henceforth, thou shalt catch men” - from now on, I’m giving you a new role, a new dignity, a vital Kingdom job...go and tell others about me.
What a merciful, graceful, incredible God we serve!