Have you ever given a gift and received an unexpected response? As a child I threw a tantrum when I opened a Christmas present from my parents that had socks and underwear. I think they gave that gift to have a good laugh at my expense. I wonder if they expected me to go into drama mode. Regardless I remember, ashamed to say, even to this day my terrible response. The correct response should have been a simple thanks even if I could not appreciate the gift in that moment.
Jesus at the beginning of his ministry gives Peter a gift and Peter responds exactly how Jesus wanted him to respond but it is not how I would have responded and most likely Peter’s response is unexpected to anyone reading Luke’s account.
Jesus was preaching to a crowd on the shore by using Peter’s boat as a platform. At the end of this speech Jesus asks Peter to put down the fishing nets. Peter being a life long fisherman knew this was not a simple task and would require more work on his part. This request from Jesus is like I had just worked a 12 hour shift and in the process of putting away all my tools for the day Jesus asked me to go back to work. Yet because Jesus asked the nets went into the water. The result is a gift from Jesus to Peter. The nets were filled with fish and were filled to such an extent that that Peter was overwhelmed.
5 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.” 6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 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 5:5-7 ESV
This is a wow factor type of gift. How many fish would it take to sink two boats? If the idea had ever crossed Peter’s mind it was only from fanciful daydreaming of how to be rich. This record haul of fish is a miraculous gift from Jesus to Peter.
So how does one respond to such a thing? A simple thank you? No that is not enough. An exuberant shout to Jesus proclaiming to him some kind of praise? Well maybe but what did Jesus expect from Peter? I think Jesus knew exactly how Peter would respond and it is not what I expected.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” Luke 5:8 ESV
Peter realizing what just happened in front of his very eyes with fish spilling out of every inch of his boat drops to his knees and asks Jesus to leave him. An unexpected response except that the response is exactly what Jesus expected. Peter’s response is instructive for the reader in two ways.
First Jesus by his very nature will rock the boat of our lives. Peter was just shown that his view of the world and how it works is way too limited. Also, Peter is shown a power greater than any he knew on earth. Get away from me is a fearful reaction that is common when the glory of heaven collides with the unholy earth. Take the moment Isaiah an Old Testament prophet is called to serve God.
4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Isaiah 6:4-5 ESV
Peter saw Jesus for who Jesus really is at that moment and Peter realized to some small degree how far he was from the holiness of God’s presence. And that realization leads us to the second part of Peter’s reaction regarding his own sins.
Jesus being God in the flesh represents righteous holiness that leaves us recognizing our unjust failures. Peter was fearful because he saw his sins clearly without the rationalization of our dark and cloudy self. If my sins were brought to my conscious self all at once I would also be overwhelmed. The self-cringing thoughts at my childhood gift receiving tantrum would be nothing in comparison to how I have chosen my own sinful desires over God’s perfection. I shutter at the idea of being exposed before God in such a way. But this is our very human nature from the beginning of Adam’s fall.
8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” Genesis 3:8-10 ESV
So what did Jesus expect to happen when he gave Peter a gift of more fish than Peter could manage? Did Jesus really expect to see Peter fear and despair because sin? The reaction is real but that is not the goal. Jesus is God in the form of a man seeking reconciliation. The reader sees the miraculous gift of a boat overflowing with fish but that is not the actual gift that Jesus was giving Peter. The gift that Jesus is giving Peter in this moment is a gift of clarity to see God more clearly and to see God work in salvation and relationship. Jesus needed Peter to be ready to give up his old life and start a new life following God.
Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. Luke 5:10-11 ESV
Whatever anxiety I have at the thoughts of my sin exposed like Peter was exposed before God is pushed aside by the glorious chills of God seeking me out for a relationship and being invited into his kingdom. Dear reader Jesus is working out the miraculous in your life. Now is the moment to respond and follow him.