Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Perhaps you remember Wayne’s World from the TV show Saturday Night Live. Comedians Mike Myers (as Wayne Campbell) and Dana Carvey (as Garth Algar) gave tongue-in-cheek compliments by kneeling and waving their arms in mock worship, proclaiming, “We’re not worthy!” People today exclaim “I’m not worthy” upon witnessing a particularly amazing feat. When I think of some of the skilled folks I’ve been blessed to fish with, “I’m not worthy” comes to my mind as well.
Of course, some not-so-skilled people tell exaggerated stories about their “epic” fishing trips. But let me tell you two fishing stories that need no exaggeration. The first story is a personal one, about the time I took my son on his first fishing outing. As attested by the pictures above, it was a good day. I’ll never forget the look on my son’s face as he reeled in his first fish. Rather large for a less-than-four-year-old boy, it nearly pulled him out of the boat! When we met some people back on shore, and they realized it was my son’s first catch, several jokingly proclaimed, “We’re not worthy!” Quite a fishing story, don’t you think? But nothing compared to the second—one I’m sure you know. It’s the incident where Jesus directed Simon Peter to a location where he and his companions then hauled in a record catch. Though Simon was the professional fisherman, Jesus gave Simon these instructions:
“Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. (Luke 5:4-7)
Notice Simon Peter’s reaction (illustrated in the painting above):
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken…. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:8-11)
Peter’s response to Jesus was, in essence, “I’m not worthy.” Isn’t that how we often feel when encountering God’s love and grace? We know we’re sinners and there’s nothing we can do to make ourselves worthy in God’s sight. But Jesus’ intent is never to push us away, or to shame us, but to help us understand that our worthiness comes not from ourselves, but from him. Jesus makes us worthy.
“But,” some might object, “isn’t it true that God refuses to be in the presence of sinners?” Though this false idea is held by some, the truth, thank God, is that the Son of God came to live among sinners—to be in their presence, and through his presence to make them worthy. This doesn’t mean that Jesus ignores our sin; in fact, he hates it—he hates how it hurts us and distorts and denigrates God’s character and God’s purposes for us.
The fact that we are sinners does not deter Jesus from seeking us out and fellowshipping with us—drawing us to the Father, in the Spirit. And while it’s true that what is “dead in sin” cannot make itself holy, God is both willing and able to make that which is dead, fully alive—to make that which is unholy, truly holy.
Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus associated and fellowshipped with sinners, much to the dislike of the Jewish religious leaders of his day: “The Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them'” (Luke 15:2). Jesus, who is the ultimate “fisher of men” (and women), rubbed shoulders with the people (sinners all) he intended to “catch,” including the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-29), pictured at right.
The Bible describes more than one miracle of Jesus involving catching fish—you might say that Jesus is the author of the ultimate fishing stories! Unlike fishermen who are famous for exaggerated stories, Jesus has no need to exaggerate. He skillfully gathered in Mary, Martha and Lazarus. He took a group of men who normally would not associate with each other and soon had them “swimming” together. Jesus “caught” those who became his apostles: Peter, Paul and the others. Throughout history he has continued to make stellar catches including former atheists C.S. Lewis and Alister McGrath. And let us not forget how he caught you and me in his net for eternal life!
Though there is nothing you or I can do to make ourselves worthy, we rest assured knowing that God the Father, by his sheer grace, makes us worthy by sharing with us in Christ through the Spirit, his own holiness. Now that’s the ultimate fishing story, and it’s great good news!
Glad to be caught by God,