Reading Luke 5.1-11
Preacher Canon Robert Titley
The events on the lake in Norway are a grotesque inversion of the gospel. In the reading from Luke, Jesus provokes fear, but then he reassures the disciples and inspires them to follow him; whereas the killer offers reassurance as a veil for murder. Thus does he utterly deny the Christian faith with which (we understand) he identifies himself. The brief excerpts from the memorial service in Oslo Cathedral today showed the true face of Christian faith before these unspeakable acts: helping to bind up wounds, offering words and silence with their whisper that even hurts as terrible as these might be held in a still greater Love.
When horror and deep loss come, we are right to look to the gospel of Christ for comfort. It is wrong, however to see being Christian as above all a matter of comfort, of me having my needs met. The point of being Christian is to know God, and that is a two-edged sword. Rudolf Otto, the German theologian, used the word ‘numinous’ to describe that feeling of otherness that suggests the real presence of God. He called it a mysterium tremendum et fascinans, a fearful and fascinating mystery. We see such a moment in the gospel on the lake of Gennesaret.
Jesus bids Peter cast the net one more time. He does, though (after a catchless night’s fishing) his heart is not in it. Then scepticism turns to fear when the colossal haul is brought in. The words of Peter in the boat, now he sees who Jesus really is, are not the words a man finding comfort. He pleads with Jesus, ‘Depart from me’, for he has discovered the truth of the scripture that ‘it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ (Hebrews 10.31).
Most things that change you, inspire you, or make you grow, are not cosy things, and to describe them we use words like ‘tremendous’ and ‘terrific’, adjectives connected to ‘tremble’ and ‘terror’. It is in this sense that we can speak in a healthy way about ‘fearing’ God: it is only when you have known the fearfulness of Peter when he falls at the feet of Jesus that you can know the true wonder of Jesus’ response – ‘Fear not’ – for then you see that the Creator, before whom even the mightiest will tremble, looks upon you and me with a smiling face. And when you know that, the ‘tremendous’ mystery of God becomes a ‘fascinating’ mystery as well: it binds you, you cannot turn your eyes away, you must change your life. So it was for Peter and his friends with Jesus: they ‘brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him.’