Sermon February 18, 2024 by Tricia Gerhard

Lent 1 – Luke 5: 1-11 – So, why Peter?

What was it about Jesus that made Simon Peter give up his way of life without, as it seems in the gospel, without a second thought.  Jesus says: “Follow me” and Simon Peter drops his nets.  Not neatly piling the nets on the boat, no, it seems to be that Simon Peter dumps his nets on the shore much like a toddler dropping a jacket on the floor when they come in.

Maybe he so willingly leaves the shore and all he had known up until that very moment because of the boat load of fish he and his friends had just caught.  After fishing all night and catching nothing, they had given up, floating along the shore line, washing their nets in order to put them away.  Then this Jesus guy shows up, steps calmly into Simon’s boat, and asks him to go out a little from the shore… he wanted to teach the people gathered… to surprised to question what was happening, Simon did just what Jesus asked.  And once anchored, Jesus sat at the bow of the boat and taught the people on the shore.

After some time, Jesus asks Simon to go out farther… to put out to deeper water and put down their nets.  Now Simon finds his voice and I imagine he would have like to push back a little, maybe even saying: “Jesus, we’ve caught nothing all night and haven’t caught anything.  What’s so different now?  I’d really like to go clean up and maybe take a nap.” But you and I know he doesn’t do that.  Simon simply points out that the night’s catch had been poor, but because it was Jesus, he’d do what he said.  He dropped those nets, and he caught some fish.  Well, a whole lot of fish. So much fish that his nets began to tear. So much fish that he had to call his friends for help.  The catch was so huge that it filled not one but two whole fishing boats full to the point of sinking.  That, my friends, is a boat load of fish. Better than Ernie could ever do by calling “here fishy, fishy, fishy.”

Witnessing this incredible catch, flipped a switch in Simon.  Suddenly he’s on his knees in front of Jesus trying to convince Jesus that he wasn’t worthy of this miracle.  “I’m a sinful man.  I don’t belong in your presence.”  Simon, the one who will figure so prominently in Jesus’ story over the next six weeks, the one who becomes the foundation of the church, the one that Jesus trusts, doesn’t think he is worthy of Jesus. Not worthy of Jesus’ teaching, his miracles, his friendship.

I imagine in this moment, with Simon kneeling in a deep layer of fish on his boat, which has run aground because of the sheer weight of the catch, and Jesus leaning over to gently pull Simon up so that he can look him straight in the eye when he says (in his most pastoral and teacher like voice): “don’t be afraid. From now on you will fish for people.” And with that, Simon pulls his boat to the shore, drops his net, and turns towards the journey Jesus is about to embark on.

But why?  What is it about Jesus that Simon feels pulled towards him in such a way?  Why did it take a SECOND miracle to convince Simon that Jesus was really worth following? Jesus had just healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, which is a hard miracle to ignore for Simon to ignore.  Was following an poor, itinerant, status quo challenging teacher a wise life choice?  What about his fishing partners, his family?  Where did all those fish go?

So many questions, so many unknowns about Simon Peter, soon to be Peter.  His name hasn’t changed quite yet.  We are early in his friendship with Jesus.  It’s this guy, Simon Peter, soon to be Peter, who gives us a glimpse into what it means to follow Jesus, and I wonder why on earth we’d lean on a guy like him.  He has a wandering heart…his faith waivers, he questions Jesus, he betrays Jesus … his faith pushes and pulls, ebbs and flows – and this is the guy Jesus names as the rock, the rock that is to be the foundation of the church.  It’s a little mind boggling until you dig a little deeper into who Peter was.

Peter – a fisherman living under the occupation of the Roman Empire, trying his best to survive in a political and economic climate that was doing its best to keep him down.  Taxes, tariffs, excessive service fees put in place by the Roman government drove many fisher folk to hide and lie about goods and assets, doing their best to keep something for themselves and their families to survive on.  Peter wasn’t a dumb man either, he was fluent in both Greek and Aramaic, and lived in a community that was highly influenced by Hellenism[1].  All of that is to say that while the disciples are usually passed off as slightly clueless by the religious leaders, it’s likely not the case.  Peter would have been educated, but not in in the finer points of rabbinical interpretation of the Jewish Torah.  Which isn’t really surprising.  He wasn’t a rabbi.

What Simon Peter is, is human.  Peter had all the strengths and weakness, successes and stumbles that any other human had.  And that is why, at least in my opinion, is why Jesus befriended him.  I truly believe the relationship between Jesus and Peter was one of discipleship and teacher, but at the very core it was a friendship.  Time and again we see Jesus catch Peter, walking beside him and offering him love.  Peter tried to meet Jesus in this friendship the best he could.  Like any deep connection with another human, it wasn’t always an easy friendship.  Soon enough we will live through the betrayal of Peter.  We will see him question what it is Jesus is doing and why he is doing it.  He tries so hard to get Jesus to stop this journey – because he is afraid.  Very human responses.  He is trying to figure out this faith thing, and it’s not always easy and clear.  And that is the person Jesus chooses to be the rock of the church.

Diana Butler Bass, in her book Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Saviour, Lord, Way and Presence, explores the idea of friendship with Jesus.  She says, “friendship is contingent on love – real love: compassion, empathy, reaching out, going beyond what we imagine is possible.  That is the command: love.”[2]  Time and again we are witness to the deep love shared by Jesus and Peter.  It is a relationship that doesn’t always make sense and I am not sure that we are supposed to make sense of everything that takes place between them. We don’t need to understand everything. What we need to do is bear witness to the friendship. We need to see that “Jesus brought them (the disciples) to the very heart of God and then revealed that God’s heart longed for friendship.”[3]

Diana Butler Bass writes: …”now Jesus is saying, ‘I have called you friends” and he says this “to the ragged fishermen and curious women, sitting around him listening to his tales, trusting for the first time that the God of Israel had not forgotten them, souls broken under the weight of Roman oppression, suffering under imperial slavery.”  These are the friends of Jesus.  These are the friends that become his disciples, carrying his love out into the world.  This is Peter.  And this is us.  “True friendships are not” muses Paul Wadell, “relationships we control but adventures we enter into to.”[4]

The very ordinary, very human Peter enters into an adventure he cannot control nor can he predict it.  There’s no way to map the faith adventure.  It’s not easy, this friendship of his with Jesus, and still Jesus is there for him in so many ways.  It is a friendship of compassion, mutuality, respect and love.  It is a friendship that gives Peter the freedom to grow in faith, with a freedom to make mistakes and to ponder aloud the deep questions of the heart and soul.  This is why Jesus chooses to name Simon Peter, Peter – “the rock”.  His faith, although a little bumpy at times, is strong.  This is why we look at Jesus and his journey to the cross through Peter’s eyes.  Peter’s eyes are our eyes.  Peter’s faith is our faith. Jesus chooses Peter, just as Jesus chooses us – in all our humanness, with our rough edges and deep conviction – to be his friend. We journey with Peter this Lenten season because in the midst of the hard stuff, Peter still sees hope.  Peter is hope.  We are hope.

May we carry this truth and this friendship through all the days of Lent, no matter where our heart or where Peter’s heart may wander.  May it be so. Amen.

[1] Helyer, Larry R. The Life and Witness of Peter (Intervarsity Press: Downers Grove, IL, 2012)

[2] Butler Bass, Diana. Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Saviour, Lord, Way and Presence. (HarperCollins Publishers: New York, 2021) 14

[3] Ibis, p. 15

[4] Quoted in Diana Butler Bass’s book, p. 18.  From Wadell, Paul, Becoming Friends: Worship, Justice and the Practice of Christian Friendship. (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2002), 17.