It happened that he was standing by the lake of Genesareth, at a time when the multitude was pressing close about him to hear the word of God; and he saw two boats moored at the edge of the lake; the fishermen had gone ashore, and were washing their nets. And he went on board one of the boats, which belonged to Simon, and asked him to stand off a little from the land; and so, sitting down, he began to teach the multitudes from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, Stand out into the deep water, and let down your nets for a catch. Simon answered him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and caught nothing; but at thy word I will let down the net. And when they had done this, they took a great quantity of fish, so that the net was near breaking, and they must needs beckon to their partners who were in the other boat to come and help them. When these came, they filled both boats, so that they were ready to sink. At seeing this, Simon Peter fell down and caught Jesus by the knees; Leave me to myself, Lord, he said; I am a sinner. Such amazement had overcome both him and all his crew, at the catch of fish they had made; so it was, too, with James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were Simon’s partners. But Jesus said to Simon, Do not be afraid; henceforth thou shalt be a fisher of men. So, when they had brought their boats to land, they left all and followed him. [Luke 5:1-11]
There is something here that is astonishing to me, and I am not talking about the incredible load of fish that St. Peter and Co. were given. It is St. Peter’s reaction, and the Lord’s response to him.
I think I understand St. Peter. A sign beyond his personal experience has just come up and landed in his boat with dozens (hundreds?) of fish tails flopping about. His reaction feels like mine might be: “I am not worthy; I am a sinner.” How else would one respond to such an astonishing thing? When he asks Jesus to leave, it isn’t with smugness at all but rather with a profound recognition of his unworthiness to be associated with or even near Him. This is totally comprehensible to me, the perfectionist who is far from perfect. Sometimes I can hardly stand to be with myself because of my imperfections; how on earth could I possibly bear the presence of the Holy One of God, which would be a constant reminder to me of my weakness, of my flaws, of my sins? Depart from me, Lord. I am a sinner!
But here is the thing.
Jesus knows all this about St. Peter, and He knows it all about me. He doesn’t tell St. Peter to stop ragging on himself as though Peter was wrong to consider himself unworthy or to acknowledge his sinfulness. He does not say otherwise to me. What He does say to Peter, and I think by extension to each of His children, is: Do not be afraid. He accepts Peter as he is, He loves Peter as he is, He has plans for this Peter who will over and over again say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, even deny that he knows Christ at all.
Does He say any less to any of us? To me? He does not, because He loved us enough to die for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8-12). He knows that I am wretched. He knows that I am imperfect; His response to me when I say “Depart from me, Lord; I am a sinner” is the same one that He gave to Peter: Do not be afraid. Lord, I am not worthy. Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. Lord, I am afraid; give me courage.