It is a happy coincidence that the fifth Sunday after Trinity usually comes close to the Feast of St. Peter the Apostle on June 29. It is instructive to compare the Gospel for St. Peter’s Day on page 245 in the Prayer Book with today’s Gospel reading. The central text on St. Peter’s day is “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This is called “Peter’s Confession” because it was a critical turning point, a hinge moment in the Gospel narrative, as related by Matthew, Mark and Luke. John 6:68 is an equivalent moment, when Peter declared, ”Lord, to whom shall we go, for thou hast the words of eternal life.” In John’s Gospel, that was Peter’s high point.
In today’s Gospel we have a slight contrast, in Peter’s words, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Do these words reflect a lack of faith on Peter’s part, or an insufficient knowledge of God’s mercy and loving-kindness? While Peter surely had a knack for saying inappropriate things (think of his nattering on the mount of transfiguration, or his cowardly behavior in Pilate’s courtyard), here in Luke 5, he was not wrong at all. This miracle and Peter’s response to it took place early in the Gospel story, well before his great confession of faith.
This response recalls Isaiah’s reaction to the heavenly vision in Isa. 6:5, “Woe is me! For I am lost: for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Both Isaiah and Peter understood that a real head-on confrontation with God Himself will give us a humiliating self-awareness of ourselves as we are, frail and finite beings, damaged and ruined by sin. It is both logical and appropriate that when we come into God’s presence in His house, we fall to our knees in reverence and adoration.
When we know who He is, then we are bound to know who we are. That knowledge will not be altogether comfortable. But the good news for us in today’s reading from Luke 5 is that Jesus did not grant Peter’s prayer, “Depart from me.” The whole message of the Bible is that God has never departed from His people and never will. We could devote an entire sermon to the theme of Biblical prayers God in His mercy refused to grant. Jesus did not depart from Peter, but instead made him an Apostle. Neither does Jesus depart from us. Like Peter, we confess Him as the Son of the living God, who has the words of eternal life for us. LKW