We are light and dark.
We are sin and salvation.
Life’s a balance act.
But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!”… Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” — Luke 5:8, 10, NRSV
I was having a conversation with a much-beloved friend of mine about the human tendency to exhibit pride through excessive shame. A good example is the person who believes they are too sinful or lost for God to forgive or love them. It’s not that they are intentionally being prideful, but it is in some sense misguided to believe that God’s love (a love that sent Him willingly to execution on a cross) is limited based on our misdeeds. My beloved friend’s response to this was one that made me laugh and think all at once.
“Oh, honey… You’re not that powerful.”
This is, I think, a more sassy interpretation of what Jesus says to Peter in this passage of Luke 5. Jesus instructs Peter’s crew to “put out into the deep water” with the expectation of catching fish, despite them having “worked all night long” without catching a thing (5:4-5). Peter, naturally, expresses some doubt regarding the outcome, but relents.
Not surprisingly, Jesus’ prediction comes to fruition. Tons of fish are caught, and Peter (not for the last time) feels like an ass. In verse 8, he falls down before Jesus and says, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Despite evidence to the contrary, Peter believes his sinfulness should keep him from experiencing the power of Christ.
Jesus responds in a way that makes a world of difference. “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people” (5:10). There are two sides to this wonderful revelation. First, Peter should stop falling down in fear. Christ’s mission is not to condemn, but to save. This brings in the second piece, which tells us that Peter’s sin not only lacks the power to condemn him, but it also is powerless to prevent the work of God from being done through him. Peter is free to fearlessly follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
This interaction should also serve as a powerful lesson for us. We tend to give up on ourselves rather easily. How often have you said or heard someone say, “I am what I am. If I haven’t changed now, I just won’t?” This is really a lack of security masquerading as confidence. Sometimes our insecurities are more pronounced, as we believe ourselves to be so unworthy of love that we almost willingly fall deeper into our self-destructive cycles.
If we examine this passage and allow ourselves a bit of grace, however, we can see that we don’t determine the love that is felt for us by others (especially God). Jesus knew Peter would not only exhibit some disbelief, but that he would also abandon the Son of God to a horrible fate, yet Peter was brought into existence and called to be a leading Apostle. Likewise, God knew all that you would be capable of, both in a positive and negative sense, and He still decided that it would be worth every risk to have you in this world. Further, the same call He offered to Peter is offered to you, that you may experience and participate in the sharing of His unending love.
Of course there will be days when we feel unworthy. We are bound to screw up repeatedly. Luckily, perfection and shame are not requirements for discipleship so much as humility and the willingness to take a chance.
So when you begin to let shame take control, and you fear that you are too low for God to love or forgive, remember the good news of Jesus Christ: “Oh, honey… you’re not that powerful.”
…Jesus said to him, “Then the children are free. However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.” — Matthew 17:26-27, NRSV
Why is it that whenever someone defends “freedom of speech” in this country, it’s because they are being a jerk? I suppose it is technically true that one can say (mostly) whatever they want, and people can respond (to an extent) however they feel is appropriate. My issue is that the freedoms we seem so eager to embrace appear to be free of any duty to utilize them responsibly, and this is a problem, especially when we are examining Christian behavior.
Enter Jesus. In the text above, the full passage being found here, Jesus and the disciples are accused of not paying the temple tax, a payment that more or less went to the upkeep of the Jewish Temple. To not pay it would be considered both rude and unlawful according to the mandate set forth in Exodus. Jesus then has a conversation that parallels earthly kingdom practice with the nature of God’s kingdom, and in both of those, Jesus indicates that “the children are free.”
Yeah, buddy! Dang right, we are free. We don’t have to pay a stupid temple tax. Of course, Jesus then says, “However, so that we do not give offense to them, go to the sea and cast a hook; take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a coin; take that and give it to them for you and me.”
Wait a minute. You just said we were free… Yet we still have to act in a way that is inoffensive and perceived to be costly?!
It concerns me when I see my fellow Americans, particularly Christians, emphasizing freedom when it comes to what they say and do with no regard for how it affects others. The current situation with Judge Kavanaugh and Dr. Ford is a perfect example. For me, the question isn’t even about those two individuals anymore, especially when I see people react the way they have to Dr. Ford’s accusations. Our nation has once again had its rape culture exposed, this time defended by partisan politics. Little “jokes” and “jabs” here and there have surfaced, many of which amounting to outright attacks that make light of sexual assault survivors in general.
Sure enough, when someone is accosted about these tasteless comments, they use words like “freedom” and “opinion.” But if Christ teaches us anything, it is that our freedom is not a blank check to speak and act however we want, as God is still concerned about how we use our freedom. After all, Adam and Eve had freedom… and their bum choices had severe consequences, yes? So will all of our crappy words and actions.
In Romans 6, Paul encourages us to “No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness,” but to “present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.” Jesus did several things He didn’t have to in order to not ruin His witness to the truth of God. We should follow their lead and stop using our freedoms and feelings to justify our callous comments and actions that could have damaging effects on others.
I hope you will join me this week in keeping better track of how we use our “rights.” While we technically can do many things, that doesn’t mean that we should make use of that freedom at all costs. If we are willing to sacrifice the emotional and physical well-being of others to express our “freedom,” we are still under the slavery of sin and far from accepting of the transformative grace of God. If, however, we temper our freedom with understanding and compassion, we will find ourselves walking in the way of Christ, the way of the Cross, the way that leads to life.
Peace be with you!
Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus… — Romans 3:23-24, RSVCE
Every once in a while, I get aggravated. It appears to come out of nowhere, but once I get the journal and pen out, I find that the same conclusion is reached almost every time. I realize time and time again that it’s hard to balance aspirations to holiness with the reality of sin in the world. We always want to be the best version of ourselves, and we expect the same of others, but every once in a while we get a reminder that there is still a very great need for the grace of God.
Such reminders would be more welcome if they didn’t apply to us. We love the idea of being gracious to others, but we don’t like the reality that we stand in dire need of unmerited favor as well. We fall short, just like anyone else, and when we forget that, we eliminate our ability to act compassionately and reflect unto others the transformative forgiveness we receive from God. To be reminded that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” is a painful but necessary truth of which we need to be consistently reminded.
Now, this is not for the purposes of guilt. Too often, we shy away from confession and the acknowledgment of the reality of sin because it makes us feel bad. This is my problem, and it is why I get so aggravated when something comes along that reminds me of my human frailty. I have a problem with self-judgment, and I tend to fall into a cycle of self-condemnation and despair rather than taking the lesson for what it is. I believe this is a truth that many of us can relate to.
So what do we do?
The Scripture above from Romans is a good start. We need to recognize that it isn’t just us. We aren’t a particularly broken or sinful case, no matter what our struggle may be. Our world tries to portray brokenness and pain as exceptions that can be rooted out, rather than the painful “other side” that always comes with free will. When Paul says “all have sinned and fall short,” he means ALL OF US. Everyone has a struggle, a battle they wage. Everyone has a journey they are on. God’s reminders of our need for His grace are not meant to be condemnatory, but encouraging. The pain of sin is something we all have in common, and the need for grace is universal.
In short, YOU’RE NOT ALONE. None of us are.
Now, take a look at this passage from Matthew, please.
Did you do it? I’m trusting you…
Anyway, I believe this story is an excellent view of discipleship. Following Jesus isn’t about “making it.” There is no time or place we can reach where we will not need occasional reminders of our dependence on God. Peter learns this first hand, as he even walks on water with Jesus, and yet, like the rest of us, the time comes when even he must cry out, “Lord, save me!”
In the future, I’m going to try not to get frustrated when those “save me” moments come my way. I hope this brief word will encourage you to the same end. If we keep our eyes and hearts open, we will find consistent reminders from God that are not designed for our guilt or shame, but for our enlightenment. If we pay attention, we can see that we are not alone. We are all walking this road of life together, bound in the love of the One who will always extend His hand to pull us out of the waves of our sin and despair. Our job is not to be pulled up, stay above water, and spend life helping others see the light. Rather, we are called to recognize that as we are constantly being pulled up, so we must also constantly reflect that saving grace to others, not from a position of superiority, but of camaraderie.
Peace be with you!