This week’s Gospel is the last of five Gospels from Luke. And just as the little mini-series from St. John during the Easter Season had certain themes and emphases, so does Luke. I think this is what makes the historic lectionary so fun. It’s like traveling cross country over different geographic regions and experiencing the same country, but through different subcultures. The historic lectionary does that verbally. It’s the same Gospel, but it’s experienced through different sub-themes as articulated through the different evangelists.
Luke from the first Sunday in Trinity has emphasized mercy for the poor, blind, maimed and lame lost ones. He’s focused on the location of this mercy, at the table of the one who has much to give. The Father exhibits this abundant mercy through His Son, the Teacher. Last week we learned the Lord expects the disciple to “be like” the Teacher and the Father in terms of giving from our abundance.
And now, this week, we get to see all this put together through the first miracle of Jesus in the Trinity season, the great haul of fish.
In this Gospel, just as in the Gospel from two weeks ago – the lost ones Gospel – people are coming to hear Jesus. Why? Because that’s where sinners go, to hear Jesus. As we observed two weeks ago, Jesus and sinners go together. Jesus is not where not-sinners are – and of course this is ironical, as there are no such things as not-sinners, but there are certainly those who don’t see themselves as sinners, but as righteous. They have no use for a Jesus.
It was a multitude of people because Jesus deals in abundance. Lots of grace for lots of sinners who have lots of sins. From the abundance of His heart He speaks. He’s been filled with the grace from His merciful Father, and so He speaks. By His words He is justified. And His words are exactly what everyone wants to hear, because they are gracious and full of life. So the people are teeming to Him.
They are not teeming to the Scribes and Pharisees. These are the blind leading the blind, those pretending to a righteousness, but in fact having no clue what righteousness is, and so leading the blind into a ditch. But Jesus is overflowing from His heart with God’s mercy, forgiveness, and grace. So the people reflect that abundance.
The people are also not going to Peter, James, and John. They are just men. Or as Peter said, “Sinful men,” but he repeats himself. To be “men” is to be “sinful.” Peter recognizes the plank in his eye, his inability to teach others, his inability to lead others anywhere but in a ditch.
Sinful men catch nothing in terms of abundance, like an abundant crowd as Jesus has. But he will. He will when Jesus does what we might call an action parable, a parable He evidently had in mind the night prior, as He in His divine foresight caused Peter and his partners to catch no fish at night, as they toiled all night. Because, toil as sinful men might, they will always be the blind leading the blind, working in the darkness, leading people into ditches.
But Jesus teaches them divine abundance, the overflowing gift. He has them throw their nets on the other side, and causes fish to swarm into the nets. Clearly this is a miracle at hand. Clearly God is acting here. And clearly God is acting through Jesus Christ.
So Peter falls down before Jesus and says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Again, it’s not that there’s anything particularly sinful about Peter per se, like he was a cheat or an adulterer or something. No, he was confessing himself a sinner just as Isaiah did when he was lifted up in the presence of God. It’s also how we confess ourselves sinners in the beginning of the liturgy. Our instinct that we are not worthy to be in the presence of God.
And make no mistake, Peter is inadvertently confessing the incarnation here, the divinity of Jesus Christ. “I am a sinful man,” he says to Jesus. But clearly Jesus is a man as well. Why would Peter tell him to leave the presence of sinful men, if He Himself is a man, unless Peter recognized what was really going on, this man was no mere man, but a man who also was God? Peter knew He was in the presence of God. It’s why He fell at Jesus’ knees.
But Jesus says, “Do not be afraid,” those wonderful words of comfort repeated throughout the Bible by God, His powerful messengers and angels, and Jesus. It’s the reason why we stand during the Gospel, because our posture before the presence of God in flesh need not be falling on our faces, but confident standing in His presence.
And then Jesus concludes the parable. “From now on you will catch men.” Peter will catch them, but we see Who’s really behind the scenes making it happen. Peter will be involved in catching men as much as he was involved in catching the great haul of fish. Which is to say, he will be the instrument of the Lord’s word.
He had already been introduced to the power of the Lord’s word when he said to Jesus, “At your word.” We don’t know how much of his heart was into those words. It doesn’t really matter. The Lord doesn’t need our hearts to work great things. But we do know that Peter still had a lot to learn, as all the disciples did. Peter, after all, was the one who asked, “How often shall I forgive? Seven times?” Did Peter not remember the abundant haul of fish? Was it seven fish or seventy times seven?
Well, Peter would eventually learn of the Lord’s abundant grace, when he found himself as the poor lost one, having denied his Lord three times, and the Lord restored him to his place, and Peter became one of the great apostles of the church, laying the very foundation for it in the book of Acts.
From that moment, around 2 billion living Christians, in addition to untold scores more who have lived throughout history, isn’t a bad haul.