Sermon Ideas For Luke 5:1-11 Part 6
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, "Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man" [5:8, NAB].
We have before us another "call story." The careful reader will have noted how it follows a pattern similar to that of Jeremiah 1:4-10. Confronted by God, now in the person of Jesus, Simon, like Jeremiah, declares his unworthiness. What else can he say in the face of this grand mystery: where there were no fish, there are suddenly more fish than two boats can carry. Indeed, both boats have become in danger of sinking.
Peter is right to want to get away. He is right to be afraid. No one has captured visually what I have called the "grand mystery" of this story any better than Peter Paul Rubens, the seventeenth-century Flemish master. Part of this may be due to the unfinished nature of the work, entitled The Miraculous Draught of Fishes. What we can see now in the National Gallery in London1 is a "working drawing" intended to guide an engraver. (Rubens was among the first to try to market his work to a wide audience, a venture at which he was most successful.) And what we have, particularly in Rubens' depiction of the sky and the sea, is a sketch. The result is that the net crammed with fish, and the fishermen both on the boat and in the water straining to land them are portrayed in great detail so they stand out against broad strokes of gray-green and gold and lacey white (for the water) and pale blue and gold and glaring white (for the sky). The action of the men is also crammed into the picture. It takes up most of the "space." Still, it seems lost against this dissolving sea and sky. The large, muscular fishermen are, for all their size, small. Peter, seated before an airy Christ standing—almost floating—in the bow of the boat, is right to be afraid.
"Do not be afraid," Jesus tells him. "From now on you will be catching men." It's an interesting metaphor, "fisher of men"—and women—if only because it cannot be pushed too far.
"Do not be afraid," Jesus tells Peter. "From now on you will be catching men." How comforting is that, for all that we cherish the words? "Do not be afraid." And we respond, "I will not be afraid, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff…" For all we love such words, they remind us that we have been afraid—and will be again. We treasure fairy tales from "The Brave Little Tailor" to "Beauty and the Beast," particularly when they remind us that fear can be overcome. But we identify with the heroes and heroines, because we know they, too, are afraid.
We know, as well, that there is fear—especially the fear that stands before the "grand mystery" that is God's presence and all that it portends—that will never be completely overcome. This may be nowhere better characterized than in William Alexander Percy's lovely, scary, true hymn, They Cast Their Nets in Galilee.
Be careful, the hymn warns, before you accept this invitation to become a fisher of men and women. In it there is great joy and great sadness. You will burst. It is quite right to be afraid.