Next Sunday is often called the “Lukan Jump”.
I can almost imagine the Evangelist Luke interviewing the Theotokos and writing the first icon of her, and then as he headed for home jumping for joy at this extraordinary privilege and at all the wonderful, beautiful, exciting, first-hand stories she had just told him. Left above: This is not him.
But no, actually it’s we who do the jumping here. This is the Sunday when we jump into Luke’s Gospel account.
Our Sunday Gospel readings during the summer and early autumn were from Matthew. They began with the call of the Apostles and brought us to the latter part of Christ’s earthly ministry.
Now we begin reading Luke’s Gospel, and suddenly we’re back again at the beginning. This coming Sunday (Luke 5:1-11) we hear how Christ called Simon Peter and his companions.
Here’s the story.
Simon Peter’s nets break and his boat almost sinks.
Text: Luke 5:1-11
Jesus was a popular, gifted orator. He always told stories, and people loved to listen to Him. Great crowds gathered. This morning He was speaking on the shore of the Lake of Genessaret (the Sea of Galilee), and the crowd was so large it was pressing him ever more towards the water.
Now, Simon Peter was a fisherman. Simon was his given name. Peter (πέτρος, which means Rock) was a nickname Jesus gave him. (John 1:42 places it before this reading; Matthew 16:18 has it considerably later. Take your pick.) He and his partners were on the shore washing their nets. Jesus got into Peter’s boat and called to him to put out a little way from land, and he taught from there.
This wasn’t quite as audacious as it sounds. Jesus already knew Peter. John says that he and John had been disciples of John the Forerunner, that the Baptist had directed them to Jesus, saying: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who takes away the sin of the world”. John 1:42 They left the Baptist and became disciples of Christ. It seems pretty clear that Jesus already had His eye on Him.
Meanwhile, Jesus had been baptized, had gone into the desert alone for forty days to be tempted by Satan. Peter and John had gone home to Galilee. Jesus also was now back in Galilee. He set up his base in Capernaum at the north end of the Sea of Galilee where Peter lived. Peter’s house was discovered there in 1968. Below
So (back to the story) Peter rowed a little offshore and Jesus taught the people. Afterwards He said to Simon Peter, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”
Now, Peter thought that was crazy. “Master, we fished all night and caught nothing.” (You don’t catch fish in the daytime, not in the Sea of Galilee.) “Nevertheless, if you say so I’ll do it.” Peter already was starting to trust this Man. And now there were so many fish the nets were breaking. He called his partners to bring another boat, and both boats began to sink.
When they got to shore what was Peter’s reaction? We speak often about his impetuosity and weakness. Yes, but this episode shows also his depth of character. He as a businessman might have said: “You know how to find fish! Stick around; we can make a lot of money!” Or he might have taken the religious path: “Master, let me follow you. If you are the Messiah, I want to be on the inside track with you.” But no, Peter fell at Jesus’ knees and begged Him to go away! “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” He apparently thought “If this Man can see fish hidden in the water, He can also see what’s hidden within me” – and he wasn’t ready to deal with that, not yet. Jesus said only “Don’t be afraid. From now on you will be catching men.” Peter and his partners James and John dropped everything and and followed Jesus. Here again his impetuosity and the quality of the man. Right: a Syriac icon
Now a jump ahead in time
Three years have passed. So much has happened in those years. Peter had followed, and Jesus chose him as one of the Twelve Apostles. He was first to confess Jesus as the Christ the Son of God. He was their natural leader, always listed first. Peter, James and John were Christ’s inner circle. They alone had been present at His Transfiguration. Peter had indeed followed almost to the end. Almost.
But now Christ has risen. The Lord has appeared several times: to Mary Magdalene and then the other women on Pascha morning, and that evening He came to Luke and Cleopas on the road to Emmaus, and still later that night to the disciples in the upper room. Then He came a week later to the disciples with Thomas present. We hear details of all these appearances.
But there was another appearance earlier on Pascha Day mentioned only by Saint Paul. I Corinthians 15:5 The risen Lord appeared to Simon Peter alone. We’re told nothing about it. Why? Did Peter never tell about it? If not, I’m guessing there was a reason for that.
You know well this sad story: Only two days earlier he had three times denied that he even knew Jesus – Simon Peter who at the Last Supper had promised: “Even if they all fall away on account of you, I never will.” Matthew 26:33 “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” Jesus had responded to Simon, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.” Luke 22:33-34 And so it was: “Woman, I do not know Him … Man, I am not! … Man, I do not know what you are saying!” … “Immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, ‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.’ And Peter went out and wept bitterly.” Luke 22:57-61
And when that afternoon his dear Lord Jesus was crucified, Simon Peter was nowhere to be found.
Try to imagine what Peter felt when the risen Lord came to him – what a mixture of utter joy and utter shame. I wonder what Christ said to him, what Peter said to Jesus. Can you imagine Simon Peter, his head down, not daring even to look up at His Lord. It had to have been so mortifying, so humiliating… If Peter never talked about it, little wonder.
However – and this is crucial – unlike Judas who went out and hanged himself, Peter did not run away. Peter did not give up. Peter was still there with the others to face the risen Christ that night, no matter what further pain and embarrassment that might entail. He surely knew after that first Pascha visit that Jesus would forgive him, but perhaps did the Lord leave him hanging in some way? or perhaps Peter couldn’t yet fully accept it? Christ surely understood that Peter needed time to settle down and deal with his failure. In one of our insightful Sunday Matins hymns, Peter asks himself, “Will I still be an Apostle or will You send me back to my ship and to the sea?”
Peter’s nets don’t break, and his boat doesn’t sink.
Now let’s turn to Saint John’s Gospel, chapter 21. We hear this at Sunday Matins every eleven weeks as part of the cycle of Resurrection Gospels. (I always wish more were present to hear these glorious readings.) This story always sends happy chills up my spine, no matter how often I hear it.
Some time had passed. The disciples had gone back to Galilee where the Lord had promised to meet them again, and had returned to their fishing. They needed to eat, after all. John writes “Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee [James and John] and two others of the disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him ‘We will go with you.’ That night they caught nothing.” Does this already sound familiar?
“When morning had come, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not know it was Jesus. Jesus said to them ‘Children, have you caught any fish?’ They answered Him, ‘No.’ He said to them, ‘Cast the net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ So they cast and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of the fish… That disciple whom Jesus loved * said to Peter, ‘It is Jesus.’ Now when Simon Peter heard that… ”
- John, “the beloved disciple”, who wrote this account
Peter was not slow. He got it immediately: This was how He first called me! He’s calling me again! and – he couldn’t wait – he put on his clothes, jumped into the sea and swam for shore! He’s giving me a new beginning!
“The other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from land, only about 100 yards off, dragging the net with the fish. Simon Peter went up and dragged the net to land, full of large fish… and although there were so many the net was not broken.”
So it was the same as three years before: Both times Jesus directed them to a huge catch. But the first time “their nets were breaking” and the boats were sinking. Now, after the Resurrection, “the net was not broken.” And note: the “little boat” did not sink. Now there was new power, new strength for their new task of “catching men”.
“As soon as they had come to land they saw a charcoal fire there and fish laid on it and bread.” The Lord God incarnate, the Conqueror of death and Ruler of the cosmos had fixed a picnic breakfast for them, even lit the fire. Such a lovely picture of His gracious Humanity. “Jesus said to them ‘Come and eat'” – as still He “fixes breakfast” for us every Sunday morning. Still He says:”Take, eat”.
“Then Jesus said to Simon Peter: ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me more than these?’ He said to Him ‘Yes, Lord, you know I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ He said to him a second time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?’ He said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.’ He said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.'”
Peter could feel it coming again like a knife toward his heart, but it had to come, he knew it had to come, once for each denial. “He said to him the third time, ‘Simon, son of Jonah, do you love me?’ Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time ‘Do you love me?’ and he said to Him, ‘Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.'”
Then to Peter’s great joy came the healing balm again: “Jesus said to him a third time, ‘Feed my sheep.'” Peter get back to work. I knew you were a sinner when I called you. I knew you would deny me. I know you are still a sinner. I know everything about you. And it’s alright. Now that you know how great a sinner you are and know my infinitely greater forgiveness, you will go out there and depend on me. (This is what we all need to learn.) Now with the power I give you, you will catch men and your nets will not break, and your ship will not sink. As they have not. Here we are 2000 years later – over 2,000,000,000 Christians, not all visibly part of the Holy Church, the Ship which Christ built on the Faith of Peter, but all believing in the One whom Peter first dared to call “the Christ, the Son of God”.
So Peter fed Christ’s lambs, he tended His sheep. He founded churches throughout the East. He founded the Patriarchate of Antioch, to which I belong. (There is more than one “Apostolic See”.) He and Saint Paul are our patrons. Right And then he went West.
Peter fed Christ’s flock through thick and thin (and there was a lot of “thin”) till finally he was crucified in Rome – tradition says upside down at his own request. He said he was not worthy to die as His Lord had died.
When my wife and I were at Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome in 1985 we expected to find it like other Western European cathedrals, chiefly showplaces for tourists. But Saint Peter’s, though there were many tourists, was chiefly a holy place. You could feel it. And when I came to the center of the Basilica and looked down onto Saint Peter’s tomb, to my great surprise (for I was not a “crying” man in those days) I began to cry. “Dear Simon Peter, weak Peter, impetuous Peter, unfaithful Peter, faithful Peter, faithful now to the end, blessed Peter, holy Peter, truly you were The Rock.”
“For we did not follow cunningly devised fables when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received from God the Father honor and glory when such a voice came to Him from the most Excellent Glory: ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’ And we heard this voice which came from heaven when we were with
Him on the holy mountain. And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” 2 Peter 1:16-19
Next Week: Two October Saints – a Deacon who couldn’t sing, and a Saint who was a fool
Week after next: a definitive and authoritative Amateur Speculation about why Christianity is declining rapidly in America