Wednesday, 29 June 2016
Sermon June 26, 2016 Fifth Sunday after Trinity
One of the rules for reading the Gospel which I try to employ is, ‘Gospel is always astonishing’. The idea of the rule is that when you read a Gospel passage it should be with fresh eyes and not make assumptions. I don’t always succeed in this approach—often with a passage that I know well. However, it came to mind when I read today’s Gospel again for the first time.
Was there a part of the Gospel that you found astonishing?... Can you guess which part I found astonishing?...Well. it was the part was where Peter says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man”. My reaction on reading this was one of astonishment. It also says that Peter was astonished so I guess I was in good company. Peter was astonished as were those others with him at the large number of fish they had caught. This was after they had fished all night and had caught nothing. It is easy to see why they would have been astonished at what they were able to do when they followed Jesus direction.
My astonishment was not due to the miraculous results of following Jesus’s command. Rather, it was Peter’s wish that Jesus should get away from him because Peter was a sinful man. That seems completely counter intuitive to me. Here we have Peter receiving the benefit of Jesus’s seemingly miraculous intervention and not wanting more. His instinct is to not have anything to do with this miracle worker. Does that make any sense?
Now we know from the other accounts of Peter in the Gospels that he operates to a great extent on instinct. Sometimes this works out well for him and sometimes it doesn’t. Peter is the one who responds to Jesus question to the disciples, “who do people say I am?” The others respond, 28and they answered him, ‘John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’
Then He asked them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’” It is Peter, who answers without hesitation, ‘You are the Messiah.’
Right after that, true to form when Jesus tells them that he must go to Jerusalem and be crucified Peter responds immediately from his heart that he must not do that Jesus responds, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
It is also Peter who, a t the Last Supper, declares, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death!” Jesus said, ‘‘Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And we know what happens while the trial was going onl. The cock does crow twice and Peter does betray him three times.
So Peter does have rather mixed results in following his instincts. Sometimes they work well for him and sometimes not so well. But that still doesn’t answer the question as to why he reacts to the miracle in today’s Gospel in such a fashion. Why would Peter not want to be with someone who could perform such deeds? The obvous possibility is that Peter felt he was not worthy to be in the presence of such a miracle worker who was obviously a holy man of God. He does declare that he is a sinful man. Someone certainly can feel in awe of a holy person and not worthy to be in their presence.
I think this is another example of Peter’s instinct being just the opposite of what it should be. Of course Peter did not know Jesus yet and so he could not be aware that Jesus message is above all for the sinners and those who are not held in high esteem in society. The Gospel of Matthew reports Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinner and when he is criticized for doing this he says, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.”
That certainly makes sense. Peter could not have expected this message from Jesus. It certainly was not part of his culture and religion. The Holy was separate from the people. God resided in the Holy of Holy in the Temple and only those made righteous through the proper sacrifice could worship. He did not know that Jesus came to make the forgiveness of our sins possible.
Another possibility for Peter’s reaction is that he instinctively knew that following Jesus would mean that his life would never be the same. His peaceful life as a fisherman would be over. He would become a fisher of people. It would mean trials and tribulations and it would mean that he could never go back to his old familiar life once this holy man entered it. His instinct which ruled his life told him that this miracle worker who he didn’t know would completely transform his life.
The fact is that Jesus did come to all of us. He came to embrace all people. He came for the tax collectors and the publicans. He came for the prostitutes and the robbers who would be crucified on either side of him. As I noted last week he did not come for those who are perfect. He does not expect perfection from us despite what it says elsewhere. A better way of understanding that is all-embracing. Jesus does expect us to be all-embracing just as he was and is. He expects us to embrace the whole of God’s creation and to be in relationship with those we good Anglicans find unacceptable.
Jesus came for us and calls us to be his disciples with all our imperfections and flaws. Indeed he calls us because we are sinner and not perfect. Jesus knows that we are sinners and knows that we will sin. Jesus offers us the forgiveness of sins to enable us to repent and turn around and try again. Thanks be to God.