Simon had worked all night with his partners, trying to catch the fish they sold in their business. Despite their experience, they had caught nothing. Dispirited, they sat near their boats, washing their nets in the lake. Some preacher-guy came up and started talking to the people round about; hundreds flocked to him! Simon wished they’d move away, although he noticed the preacher-guy was being edged into the water. Suddenly, the preacher-guy seemed to notice him, turned and asked if Simon would let him into his boat, and put out a bit from the shore, so the guy could carry on preaching. Simon didn’t see why not; he recognised the guy now as a very popular preacher, and he felt a stirring of interest. Simon sat in his boat, keeping it steady and a short distance from the shore, as the guy continued preaching. Once he’d finished, he turned to Simon and told him to out down his nets. Simon wasn’t convinced – hadn’t they worked hard all night and caught nothing? Nevertheless, he was intrigued so much by this preacher-guy, that he agreed and put the nets out. Immediately, he felt them full of fish – so full he had to call his partners to come and help! The boats began to sink under the weight, and as they struggled to shore,
Simon fell on his knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord! I am a sinful man!’. The preacher-guy agreed with Simon’s assessment. Yes, he said, Simon was a sinner! The fish paid for the use of the boat, but in future he would avoid this part of the lake, so that he wouldn’t come across Simon again, who really was a disgusting person. The preacher-guy felt contaminated by Simon and his partners, and wanted nothing more to do with them. he was off to pray and purify himself after the contact with them. Thanks for the use of your boat – but never again! Oh, and if you do happen to stumble across me, please take avoidance tactics, or make efforts to be purer, should that be possible. Simon felt deflated, angry, humiliated. He knew he was sinful; the contact with the preacher-guy had brought him to a deeper awareness, a sense of the possibilities, of moving forward. The preacher-guy’s response had totally destroyed all that.
That’s not how it happened. You can read the original in Luke 5:1-11. But I wonder if, on one level, that is how we expect Jesus to react to us? With anger and disgust at our sinfulness; or, possibly, we react to other people with that anger and disgust at their sinfulness, having covered up our own, or given a nod to it. I wonder how many of us try to avoid that disgust by not truly acknowledging our sinfulness, our less admirable points, and trying desperately to be perfect, or possibly believing that God loves us only on a very surface level. Maybe we go to church to prove to God that we are worthy of his acknowledgement? Or maybe we have turned away from God, away from our perception of that anger and disgust. (Possibly less likely if you are reading this blog – but I wonder how many do?). Turn away in the knowledge that you don’t want to follow a God like that, that a God like that doesn’t make sense, doesn’t even exist.
In the latter case, you are correct. A god like that doesn’t exist. Jesus didn’t respond to Simon like that. He didn’t even comment on Simon’s statement that he was sinful. Jesus merely responded: ‘Do not be afraid, henceforth you will be catching people’. Simon and his companions left everything and followed Jesus. Not because they weren’t sinful, because they were, they knew they were. But because Jesus invited them at that point as they were. Jesus didn’t say ‘well, yes, you are rather sinful, go and get your life in order, go and become less sinful’ he said ‘do not be afraid, from now on you will catch people’.
He starts where they are, as sinners, with ‘Do not be afraid’. Our knowledge of our sin can bring us to God, but so often it makes us afraid to come before God. That feeling that God must be disgusted by us, that dislike of our own sinfulness is in itself probably a sin. For that is not how God regards us. God knows we mess up, get things wrong. Jesus called Simon Peter in the full knowledge that he wasn’t perfect, would mess up, that he would blurt things out. Jesus called Peter not despite that, but maybe because of that. Jesus needed human disciples to follow him, not plaster saints. It’s possible that God could work most effectively in those very characteristics which were Peter’s failings. It was his ability to say ‘you are the Christ’ that also led him to say ‘Lord, forbid that this should happen to you’ (See Matthew 16:13-23).
Do not be afraid. We are called to follow, as the people we are, as the sinners we are. Called to follow Jesus, called to journey more and more deeply into the knowledge that we are loved sinners. Called to let go of anything that may stand in the way of that journey. Called to stand in the presence of God, as we are – loved.
Sit before God, aware of your sinfulness. Try to let go of any anger and disgust you may feel, or at least acknowledge its’ part in your sinfulness. Don’t resist, or try to move beyond where you are. Just sit there, aware of the greatness, the glory, the love of God, and our own humbleness before that. here yourself say to God, ‘I am a sinful person’; hear God’s response, ‘Do not be afraid, from now on …’.
Do not be afraid, for God calls you to work for the kingdom exactly as you are: a loved person, who frequently messes up.