Like most people, I generally consider myself as a good guy. I help people when I can and try to offer words of encouragement to others. I desire for the world to have been a better place because I walked on it. However, I also make mistakes. Sometimes big ones. A rash comment which damages relationships. I can be proud and arrogant, and then see my own self importance come crashing down. And sometimes I am just plain idiotically silly. On reflection, these things can fill me with guilt and shame.
One of the things I really love about the Bible is the rawness of relationships demonstrated in such a relatable way. I would love to have the patience and managerial skills of Joseph, the son of Jacob as he goes from being a long suffering falsely accused prisoner to second in command of Egypt; or have the administration qualities and integrity of Daniel. However, I can find it much easier to relate to the gaffes, mistakes and failings of the apostle Peter (also called Simon). I actually find it really emotional reading about one of the first interactions Peter has with Jesus.
One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
– Luke 5:1-5
Simon Peter was a fisherman. He ran a fishing business. He employed others in his fishing business. This was his livelihood, not a hobby. Peter knew how to fish. He was the local expert. If you wanted to know how to fish, where to fish, what time to fish, you would ask Peter. He probably felt a good sense of pride in his knowledge, knowledge that helped the local community through his fishing skills and abilities.
One day, this carpenter who has recently taken up preaching turns ups and uses Peter’s boat as a makeshift pulpit. At the end of his teaching, this up start preacher has the audacity to tell Peter, the fishing guru, that it is now time to go fishing. What might Peter have thought when Jesus made this request? He and his men hadn’t caught any fish all night. He would have been tired and maybe a little depressed at not having anything to show for his efforts. Maybe to just prove Jesus wrong or because he is tired and can’t be bothered to fight, he decides to entertain Jesus’ idea and start fishing. As we see later in this story he wasn’t expecting anything great to happen from this event…
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.
– Luke 5:6-7
Something amazing happened. A miracle. The carpenter, Jesus, had caught more fish than Peter and his company had ever caught before in one go and in conditions which the expert fisherman would never try to catch them. Jesus just destroyed Peter’s knowledge of fishing. Both boats were totally filled to capacity. Such a contrast to the previous evening’s shift where nothing was caught. When we read Peter’s reaction to this event, the gravity of the miracle isn’t lost on him…
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.
– Luke 5:8-10
Simon Peter knew that something extraordinary had happened. The novice fisherman was not just a carpenter. The man in Peter’s boat is rather special. In fact he is God incarnate, in the flesh, next to Peter and Peter knows it. Peter is overwhelmed. Through the miracle of the fish, it has been revealed to Peter how great and awesome Jesus is. Peter’s reaction is to reflect on his own being, his own character and instantly feels inadequate and filled with shame. The perfect catch of fish in front of him orchestrated by Jesus contrasted with the Peter’s totally imperfect previous night’s fishing is a metaphor of the perfection found in Christ compared with his own failings and imperfections. He sees a chasm between himself and Jesus. It prompts Peter to say “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”. He doesn’t feel worthy to be in Jesus’ presence.
I can really relate to Peter here. When I say the wrong thing. Act in a way which is not in line with a follower of Jesus. I can feel I am not worthy to be associated with anything to do with Christianity. I feel like a fake Christian. Even when I try to do good, I can often remind myself of my failings and mistakes and I lose confidence. When I reflect on the goodness of Christ I see the gulf between myself and him. This leads to shame which in turns leads to fear.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
– Luke 5:10b-11
Jesus acknowledges Simon Peter’s fears, but promises him that he doesn’t need to be afraid. He doesn’t need to feel shame. Sin surrounds, encases and entangles us with shame. Whereas fear of shame can motivate in the short term, love motivates without ending. Sometimes, the most comforting words which can be said are “It’s Okay”. Just a reassurance that in spite of the current situation, everything is okay. You don’t have to feel shame. Jesus gives Peter that reassurance. Jesus removes his shame.
Peter leaves his business and follows Jesus. He has felt the love of having his shame erased and now has been called to a new life. Plus, he has realised that God is in control, so following Jesus might just be the best idea anyway.
Peter became one of Jesus’ closest followers. He lived a life of faith. Yet he still had his failings. When Jesus walked on water, Peter was the only disciple to step of out the boat. However, when he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the wind and the waves around him, he began to sink. After Jesus was arrested, Peter was the disciple who followed him when all the others ran far away. But his loyalty didn’t have the courage to remain faithful and he denied three times that he knew Jesus.
After the crucifixion, Peter goes back to fishing. See John 21. His leader had been killed and he returned to his former profession. Once again he has an unsuccessful fishing trip. An unknown man from the shoreline calls after them to left down their nets again. Once again a miracle catch is performed. Instantly they recognise the man as Jesus, haul their boat and their catch ashore and eat with him. Peter is again reminded that God is in control. In spite of his sin and his failings, God values him and believes in him. Within weeks he is preaching to thousands about how sin has been conquered by the cross. How forgiveness is available for all.
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off
– Acts 2:38-39
I am so inspired by Peter. He isn’t defined by his sin. God didn’t let this happen. Satan is the one who tries to define us by our sin. God’s love for him cast out his fear of shame. The guilt of sin has been nailed to the cross of Christ. Without ever letting down his nets, Peter would never have understood the power of God and let go of his sin, guilt and shame. Do you have nets to let down to experience the power of God in your life?