“Go Away from Me, Lord, for I Am A Sinful Man!” (Luke 5:8)
by Pastor George Van Alstine
This was the reaction of Simon Peter, who later became Jesus’ most prominent disciple, after Jesus had demonstrated his superhuman power. These professional fishermen had caught nothing all night long, but when Jesus directed them to let their nets down again, suddenly there was an enormous catch, so great that the nets began to break and the weight of the fish brought on board threatened to sink two boats. Peter saw this as God’s power at work, and he fell down before Jesus in worship.
“Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Peter doesn’t run away from Jesus in fear, but he believes Jesus ought to run away from him in revulsion. It was not a demonstration of purity that made Peter feel so sinful, but a demonstration of presence, God’s presence in Jesus. In this presence he felt puny and totally inadequate, a poor excuse for a man. Certainly, this new version of Jesus, enhanced by the fishing miracle, would not wish to remain in Peter’s company.
Surprisingly, Jesus shows no inclination to “go away” but rather, draws nearer. He says to Peter and his fishing buddies James and John, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people” (verse 10). Instead of repelling people, Peter will be someone God uses to attract people to God himself.
There’s an interesting choice of words here. In his analogy between the work of professional fishermen and the mission of saving lost people, which Jesus will give to Peter and the others, he doesn’t use the common Greek word for “fishing.” Rather, he chooses a very unusual word which literally means “capture alive” — the word for “life” is actually part of this verb. They were no longer to harvest dead fish, but were challenged to focus on human beings and to “bring ’em back alive.”
It’s when we’re in the presence of God that we’re most aware of our own unworthiness. Sometimes we feel that God must want to run away from us in disgust. But often, it’s at that very moment that we sense he is coming even closer to us with the surprising reminder that he intends to use us as bait to attract others to him. There are people all around us, drifting aimlessly on life’s currents, ravenously hungry for real spiritual sustenance, and God uses us to lure them into his nets.
Peter probably always smelled of dead fish. In that particular moment, he felt that the smell of his sin was even greater. Jesus, however, was smelling something different. It was the fragrance of all the fresh new believers who would be coming to life through Peter’s witness and ministry. Not the smell of death, but the smell of life.