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July 12, 2020
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this fifth Sunday after Trinity comes from our Gospel text where Luke records Peter’s words to Jesus, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord,” and Jesus’s response, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends …

You need to understand, first and foremost, that fishing done at night usually yielded good results. That’s often the case today; it’s been some time since I’ve gone fishing myself, but often enough I’ll hear friends say they were on the lake before dawn to get the best bites. In any case, it was supposed to be easier and more fruitful to do than during the day, but for Peter and his crew, the night prior to the events of our text were less than fruitful. Perhaps they were washing their nets because there wasn’t anything better to do during the day than to prepare for the next night’s fishing. It’s unlikely they would have gone out during the day if the night’s work yielded nothing. Which makes what Jesus tells Peter to seem perhaps … foolish.

We aren’t privy to the thoughts that were going through Peter’s head when Jesus asked him to “put out a little from the land” in order to teach the crowds of people on the shoreline from the boat. He does it, no questions asked; he probably enjoyed listening to what the rabbi was teaching as he went about whatever business he had. But then Jesus tells him something extraordinary: “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” To Peter’s ears, this is probably most unwelcome. He’s tired, he’s disheartened by the fruitless night of toil. He’s clearly not keen on going back out into the deep to spend another several hours of fruitless labor; if the night’s work yielded nothing, there certainly was little chance of catching anything during the day. It went against the conventional wisdom of the day, and no doubt sounded to Peter like foolishness. Hence, his initial protestation of, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing!” Nevertheless, he also adds, “But at Your word I will let down the nets.”

It seemed like foolishness. You simply don’t fish during the day! And yet “… when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink.”

Mindboggling! Unfathomable! Contrary to conventional wisdom, and clearly not a fluke! This can only mean one thing: Peter and his compatriots are in the presence of One who is sent from God. They are in the presence of holiness! And Peter acts in kind. He’s acting according to human nature and wisdom that had been passed down for generations: sinful mortals cannot be in the presence of holiness and live! As with the nature of fishing at night, there is precedence for this wisdom: Moses had to veil his face after being in the presence of YHWH, Isaiah bemoaned his life when he saw YHWH in His throne room, and even in our Old Testament lesson, Elijah covers his face with his cloak before the presence of God. Thus, Peter cries out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” He knows he’s a sinner in the presence of holiness, and he doesn’t want to die! Who can blame him? For a sinner to treat holiness with flippancy sounds exceedingly foolish!  But Jesus tells Peter, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” That is not foolishness; it is the love, mercy, and grace of God.

Some may think that sort of reckless love for wretched sinners like Peter is, in and of itself, foolishness! After all, we know how nasty people can be. We’ve all been jilted, hurt, cheated by others, and Lord knows that the wisdom of this world would dictate, “fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth.” Forgive, maybe, but never forget.

But God’s ways are not our ways! He chooses what appears to sinful humanity as nonsensical foolishness … and uses it to accomplish His great purposes. Who would have anticipated a huge haul of fish after a night of nothing? Who would expect a holy God to tell a sinner to not be afraid? Who would have thought that Peter – the same guy who would deny his Lord thrice on the night when He was betrayed – would become a great apologist and leader in the Church? Who would have thought that Paul, the Hebrew of Hebrews who initially took great pride in the persecution and destruction of Christian lives, would go on to be the greatest missionary that ever lived and bear the message of Christ before the Gentiles? Who would have ever thought … that the way God would save His world, His creation … would be through offering up His only-begotten Son, God in the flesh, as a sacrifice for all sin? On its face, according to human wisdom, this is the height of foolishness!

But “… the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

Who would expect water and a promise to make you clean for all eternity? Who would ever think that words spoken by a simple man can actually have the power to forgive sins? Who could have anticipated that in, under, and with simple bread and wine, you would actually taste and see that YHWH is good, in the very body and blood sacrificed for you on the cross? It’s foolishness, even stupidity, according to the wisdom of this world! But when God steps into His creation, into the space and time of His cosmos … He does the unexpected, the alarming, the foolish … and He shows Himself to be the only One who is wise, and the only One who truly loves.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tags: Luke 5:1-11