In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
Tthe Prophet Isaiah has given us Words from the Lord that we know well: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways. … For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:8-9). Not only are the Lord’s thoughts and ways different from ours, to us they make no sense. St. Paul told us as much, that apart from the Holy Spirit we cannot possibly understand God’s ways: “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14).
When you take these ideas and place them into the background of today’s Gospel reading, you can almost hear the thoughts running through Peter’s head when Jesus commandeers his fishing boat and turns it into a pulpit. Though Peter stays polite enough on the outside, his internal dialogue was probably more agitated. The whole time Jesus was preaching, Peter and his crew were washing and folding their nets. This is a tedious job no matter what, but it’s especially frustrating after an unsuccessful night at sea. Now Jesus asks them to undo all of that work by letting down their nets. And what Jesus asks them to do is the exact opposite of how good fishing works. First, fish don’t like the deep, and second the day is the wrong time to fish because then they can see the net. Peter and his exhausted crew are asked to repeat their failure, to add insult to injury. Whatever Jesus makes up for in knowing the Scriptures, He lacks in knowledge of fishing.
But Peter obviously had a good mother who taught him how to be polite. He could have said any of those things to Jesus but answered politely, if not a little passive-aggressively, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your Word I will let down the net.” It may sound like a faithful answer, but Peter was probably only humoring Jesus with the hope of being able to say afterwards, “I told you so!” because it’s natural for us to think we’re smarter than the Lord. But as foolish as dropping the nets may have sounded to him, and as much as the crew may have resented it, they obeyed. Since the Master said it, they did it. There’s a lesson for us all.
And what happened when they listened to Jesus? There were more fish than anyone could count, more fish than a professional fishing boat could contain. The Lord of all creation commanded the fish to appear, and they did. When the Lord gives, He’s not stingy! Just like He gave an abundance of wine at the Wedding at Cana, so here He gives an abundance of fish. This is the kind of giving for which we praised God in the Collect of the Day, His promise exceed all that we can desire. Jesus doesn’t do anything half way. He gives everything and then some.
But Peter, instead of rejoicing, is terrified. He’s not afraid of the fish or even the sinking boats. He realizes that what He is witnessing is about more than fish or earning a living, or even trust. He realizes that He is in the presence of God. The Scriptures were opened to him and he realized that the Man who turned his boat into a pulpit is more than a Rabbi, more than “Master,” but is God in the flesh. And Peter knows that unholiness cannot exist in the presence of God, so he confesses what he deserves: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” He confesses that he deserves hell. Not only should he go down with the ship, but his soul should keep on sinking because he was in God’s presence not covered by sacrificial blood or clouds of incense, but with all his sin exposed.
But God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor His ways our ways. He didn’t come into the flesh to scare sinners off, to damn them to hell, but to draw them into communion with Himself. In Jesus’ simple response, “Do not be afraid,” is packed so much more than meets the eye. First and foremost, it is a Word of Absolution. Jesus forgives Peter’s sins, sins of unbelief and everything else. Jesus tells him that he has nothing to worry about because he is forgiven, brought into communion with God. And then Jesus tells him “From now on you will catch men.” Jesus opens Peter’s eyes again and shows him that He has come to give an abundance, not of fish or earthly gain, but to give forgiveness in abundance, to make heaven look like those fishing boats, filled with a catch no one can count. Jesus has come to take away fear, to make all people able to stand in God’s presence boldly because their sin is forgiven, removed and cast away as far as the east is from the west.
So not only Peter, but James and John as well, leave everything behind and follow Jesus. They walk away from the boats and the nets and even the fish that would have made them millionaires. We may be perplexed by what they left behind, but if you have the Lord of heaven and earth with you, what have you really left behind? So they follow Jesus and watch Him do what He came do to. They saw firsthand that the thoughts of God are not our thoughts. They accompany Jesus throughout His earthy ministry and see that God did not come into the flesh to wipe out sinners, but to wipe out sin. God came into the flesh, not to judge and condemn, but to be judged and condemned, to suffer and to die, to be nailed to the cross. This is not our thoughts at all! God the Son became all that we are by nature to make us all that He is by grace. He the sinner, we the children. He the damned, we the blessed. He in our hell, we in His heaven. Who could have dreamt such an outcome? This may be folly to those who are perishing, but to we who are being saved, Christ on the cross is the power of God and the wisdom of God. Risen from the dead, He sends forth His disciples in all generations to fish for men with the net of the Gospel.
Truly God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways. Thank God for that! Were it up to us, we would mess it all up. Jesus brings us back into communion with God the Father without any work on our part. He has lived the perfect life in our place, and then paid the debt we owed for our imperfect life. It’s all different than we could have imagined or deserved. We have been caught by the net of the Gospel, brought into the safety of the boat of the holy Christian Church, sustained by Word and Sacrament, and are waiting for that day when we reach the shores of heaven. Thanks be to God that He has won our salvation in His ways that are greater than ours, and gives us all His good gifts despite ourselves.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Due to a pastoral illness, this sermon was adapted from one by the Rev. William Weedon, which can be found here.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).