You want truth? You can’t handle the truth!
Luke 4:38- 5:11
He left the meeting place and went to Simon’s house. Simon’s mother-in-law was running a high fever and they asked him to do something for her. He stood over her, told the fever to leave—and it left. Before they knew it, she was up getting dinner for them.
When the sun went down, everyone who had anyone sick with some ailment or other brought them to him. One by one he placed his hands on them and healed them. Demons left in droves, screaming, “Son of God! You’re the Son of God!” But he shut them up, refusing to let them speak because they knew too much, knew him to be the Messiah.
Once when he was standing on the shore of Lake Gennesaret, the crowd was pushing in on him to better hear the Word of God. He noticed two boats tied up. The fishermen had just left them and were out scrubbing their nets. He climbed into the boat that was Simon’s and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Sitting there, using the boat for a pulpit, he taught the crowd.
When he finished teaching, he said to Simon, “Push out into deep water and let your nets out for a catch.”
Simon said, “Master, we’ve been fishing hard all night and haven’t caught even a minnow. But if you say so, I’ll let out the nets.” It was no sooner said than done—a huge haul of fish, straining the nets past capacity. They waved to their partners in the other boat to come help them. They filled both boats, nearly swamping them with the catch.
Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell to his knees before Jesus. “Master, leave. I’m a sinner and can’t handle this holiness. Leave me to myself.” When they pulled in that catch of fish, awe overwhelmed Simon and everyone with him. It was the same with James and John, Zebedee’s sons, coworkers with Simon.
Jesus said to Simon, “There is nothing to fear. From now on you’ll be fishing for men and women.” They pulled their boats up on the beach, left them, nets and all, and followed him.
If you didn’t grow up around legalistic Christians, you may not be hindered by the baggage that I carry with this story.
Before I could write anything about this passage, I had to deal with my own bitterness about how this story was wrongly used by manipulative church people with hidden agendas.
In my past, I heard preachers and church leaders share this passage as an example of how we are supposed to give up everything in order to serve Jesus. Then they attached this story to whatever project they were trying to push.
It always went something like this: Our church is starting a new building project. We are following Jesus. If you want to follow Jesus, then there is no amount of sacrifice too great. Look at the example of Simon Peter: he caught the biggest catch of his life and just left it to rot on the seashore so he could follow Jesus. So, you should give up all of your comforts in order to follow Jesus.
One of the most amazing Christians I ever met was completely sucked in by one of these sermons. She was a single mom from Central America. She was the hardest working woman I had ever met and also had an incredibly sweet disposition. She was always full of joy and completely gracious.
This woman LOVED Jesus. She knew he gave her the strength to carry on day by day.
One day during our church’s building campaign, this woman’s car broke down. She used all of her grocery money to pay for the repairs. She called me in desperation. I went with her to get food and take care of her family’s immediate needs.
After I thought we had it all worked out, she broke down in tears in my car. She was completely grateful for all the people who helped her and overwhelmed with all that had been given to her. She was crying because she “wanted to follow Jesus and give to the building program”. My mind flashed to all of the drama she didn’t know about and all of the money our church was wasting. I was infuriated that this amazing saint was convinced she needed to go without food in order to follow Jesus, in America! (I completely believe that God honored her heart and sacrifice. ) I also believe that she was abused by church people who played on her emotional vulnerability for their own agenda.
I don’t think I can state strongly enough how much I hate using this passage to manipulate people into supporting your cause! As a New Englander, I want to insert a string of swears (that’s cuss word’s yall!) here. It infuriates me because it makes God seem like a big jerk who just wants to see how much he can abusively use people. It also makes his followers seem like they are supposed to neglect their families in order to support the church. Simon Peter obviously had a family (that’s how he got the mother-in-law from chapter 4). He was a fisherman. He made money from fishing. He just caught the biggest catch of his life. Do we really believe that Jesus wanted Simon Peter to just leave the fish on the beach to rot? And Jesus wanted Simon Peter to leave his family wondering how they were going to survive while he followed Jesus around?
This does not sound like the God I know at all.
But why? Why is this story so hard for us to handle? Why is it so misused? I believe that all of those church leaders sincerely wanted to follow Jesus. I believe they honestly cared about people. I believe their hearts were mostly in the right place. But what were they missing?
If you read the Bible story very carefully and consider it within the bigger context of the whole book of Luke, I think you will see a truth that is incredibly hard to comprehend. A truth that people who follow Jesus for their whole lives struggle with fully believing and living out. Yet, it should be the basis for everything we do.
The story begins with Jesus going to Simon Peter’s house. In the ancient world, going to someone’s house was a big deal. It meant you were in their clique. The people you ate with were the people you were associated with.
So, Jesus and Simon Peter were hanging out at his house. Jesus did what Jesus does and he started healing people. He healed Simon’s mother in law who immediately got up and started waiting on everyone (which was impressive because I’d have totally milked the “I was just on my death bed” thing for a day or two.)
Then things got crazy. All the gross sick people started coming to Simon’s house. Simon had a front row seat to see Jesus heal all kinds of diseases. He even saw Jesus drive out demons and silence them, which must have been some freaky shtuff.
(Simon P must have been like “uhmmm…can you do something to make sure those things don’t stay hanging around my house?…)
Simon P was obviously impressed with Jesus. At this point in the story, he was already serving Jesus by having him in his home and letting people visit Jesus there.
In the second part of the story, Simon P serves Jesus again by taking Jesus out in his boat so Jesus could preach to the crowds. Simon P had been up all night, fishing. He was tired, discouraged and still had a lot of work to do before he could go home and rest. It actually shows a lot of devotion that he took Jesus out in the boat and stayed with him while he preached.
Chew on this for a minute: I’ve never heard any preacher that I’d stay up for after working through the night. Why? Because I can hear preachers whenever I want. America is inundated with preachers. I have gone to church most of my life. However, my exposure to religious teachers is probably nothing compared to how much Simon P heard. His whole culture was built on the Rabbi system. So, he was surrounded by religious teachers and wannabe teachers. And generally, hard-working men who are tired, don’t want to hear someone preach…I can’t say how much Simon P’s heart was in this particular act of service, I can just tell you, it was indeed an act of service.
Then when Jesus finished preaching to the crowds, things started to get real:
Jesus tells Simon P to take the boat out into deep water and fish some more.
I love Simon P’s reaction of explaining the obvious to Jesus:
“so, yeah, about that. See all my fishing partners over there, washing their nets? That’s what we do after we’ve been fishing all night, you know, when fish are feeding! (I imagine him speaking loudly, so everyone would know that it was Jesus’ idea.)I will do this because you told me to.”
Then Simon P goes out, throws his nets out and catches so many fish that he has to call TO HIS PARTNERS for help. His fishing business partners bring another boat out and they fill both boats so full of fish that they are about to sink.
They get to shore, Simon P looks at the huge, miraculous catch of fish and then falls to his knees in front of Jesus.
And he says something surprising:
Simon P, freaked out. He said, “Get away from me. I’m unclean.”
Before this, Simon P had witnessed miracles and he seemed to be ready to follow Jesus. He saw DEMONS come out of people and declare that Jesus was the Messiah only to be silenced by Jesus. That had to be more impressive than a big catch of fish.
What happened? Why did he react this way? Why was he afraid (as Jesus’ response indicates)?
I believe that in order to understand Simon P’s freak out response, you have to understand the beauty of what Jesus did.
Before he called these fishermen to follow him, Jesus provided for their needs. The story clearly indicates that they had partners working with them. James’ and John’s father was one of the people working with them. Obviously, the partners took the fish and sold it. The huge catch of fish was a blessing for Simon P, James, and John. It freed them to follow Jesus.
So, why did Simon P tell Jesus to get away from him?
Because now it was personal. Jesus entered into Simon’s life and cared about his needs.
It’s easy to follow Jesus when he is fixing everyone else. It’s easy to want to serve him when he’s making the world better. It’s comfortable to follow rules. Religion gives us security.
But for some reason, truly letting God love us is scary! As soon as we realize we have right standing with GOD, we know we don’t deserve it.
It is a truth that we generally can’t handle.
(these are all verses about how much God loves you!)
So much so that in Ephesians 3:17-19, Paul prays for believers to have POWER to comprehend this truth.
I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
When we truly see who Jesus is and how much he cares for us, as individuals, it’s overwhelming. If we actually understand it, there is no response possible except: I don’t deserve this!
I realize that my harsh judgment of church people for misinterpreting this story is quite hypocritical. I constantly struggle with trying to be good enough for God. I try to be in control. I’m comfortable with playing church really well.*
But I still get uncomfortable with the reality that Jesus is with me and wanting the best for me in everything I do.
My friend Mihaela confronted me with this recently. She simply asked me to pray about why I don’t promote my own work. Uggghhh.
So, I reluctantly journaled and prayed about why I struggle. It came back to this same truth:
Jesus cares about me, personally as an individual. He cares about my blog and all my other projects. He is with me in every single thing I do.
I say that all the time and I live it out sometimes. I absolutely, 100% do not deserve Jesus’ love. I’m imperfect and messy but here he is loving me as I write my messy blog that I probably won’t promote! LOL
I’m praying for everyone who reads this. I pray that you are overwhelmed. I pray that you say along with Simon Peter, “Lord, get away! I don’t deserve your care.” I pray that you allow this love to heal your heartaches and give you purpose, joy, and peace. I pray that you grow in this love every day. I pray that we all represent this love well to our world which desperately needs it!
Thanks for reading, commenting and sharing my posts!
*Some who have been in church meetings with me may strongly disagree!