There’s a beautiful irony in our Gospel lesson, an irony that wonderfully pictures for us the Christian life. Peter, James, and John make their living, provide for themselves and their families, by catching and selling fish. And they’ve caught none. That’s a problem. Then Jesus comes and they catch so many that their boats begin to sink. So their prayers have been answered. Here’s wealth. Here’s earthly security. Here’s everything they need for house and home. But now, and here’s the irony, Peter’s attention is turned away from the fish, away from wealth, away from earthly security, and he is on his knees before Jesus confessing his sin. And when Jesus tells him to follow him, Peter and James and John leave everything and follow him. They leave the boats, the fish, the business, the wealth, the things they had prayed for and exerted all their energy for. They leave it because Jesus is now their wealth and their treasure and their security and their everything.
Beautiful irony. Now how does this picture our lives? In two important ways it doesn’t apply to your lives at all. And I’m going to talk first about these and then get to how it does. First, Jesus has very literally not called you to quit your jobs and physically follow him through Palestine. That was a very specific commandment for a very specific time and purpose to very specific men. He was calling His apostles, the witnesses of all His miracles, of His death, and of His resurrection, so that they could preach Him to the nations and write His Word down for us in pages of the New Testament. That became their job. So the command literally to leave your jobs and follow Jesus doesn’t apply to you. Instead, He has commanded that those who refuse to work shouldn’t be allowed to eat and he has warned through his apostle Paul that he who does not take care of his family is worse than an unbeliever. This is to say we need to stay away from all monkishness. Let me explain this and then let me tell you how it’s still around today.
It became very common in the middle ages for men and women to leave everything behind and go into monasteries, where they would study and pray. Many of these would eventually end up begging for food and money to feed themselves (they were called mendicants, that’s a fancy Latin term for beggars). And this life of leaving everything else behind, leaving the world, leaving society, not having a family, not working, but instead devoting your life to prayer, people began to see this life as more holy than a life at home with family and work. The monks, it was said, were actually obeying Jesus’ counsel to leave everything and follow him. Look how holy they are! They are going above and beyond what a normal Christian can do. And because they go above and beyond, their lives are ultra holy. They do super good works. That’s literally what they called them, what the Roman Catholic church still calls them. Super good works, works of supererogation, works that did more than Jesus commanded and so earned not just heaven for the monks who did them, but extra grace for you poor slobs who spend your lives working and caring for home and family.
This is what Martin Luther opposed so vehemently. Remember that Jesus is the one who upholds marriage and family, welcomes the little children, praises the mothers who bring them to him. Remember that Peter didn’t abandon his wife – St. Paul in fact makes a big deal about how Peter has a wife and even takes her with him on his missionary journeys. Peter didn’t even abandon his boats completely. He’s back on them later. He’s back fishing himself after Jesus’ resurrection. Instead Peter directed all his life, his marriage, his family, his job, everything toward his Lord Jesus. So, this is the first point, that Jesus has most definitely not called you to abandon family and home and working to provide for yourself and your family. To follow Jesus, in fact, is to listen to His word and live by it, and His word upholds marriage and family and children and hard work.
Now there is a huge temptation still today, among Christians in our day, including us Lutherans, to think that churchly work is somehow more important than work at home. It’s not. Participating in the Ladies group, or the LWML, can be a very good thing in this congregation, but it isn’t more holy than being a mom at home. Leading youth groups and short-term missions and serving on boards for the church and engaging in charity work, these are not more holy works than reading devotions at home with the family or working hard to provide food to fill their bellies. In fact, it happens very often that men and women in the church will use church work to escape from their duties at home. And this is exactly contrary to Jesus’ command to follow him. Pastors do it too. I’m so busy with this meeting and that, I’ve got to do so much at the church, because that’s clearly holy stuff, stuff God loves, so the kids don’t get Dad at home tonight, they don’t get to hear Dad read the Bible, or say prayers or sing hymns. No, Jesus has instituted the home, the family, Jesus has called fathers and mothers to raise their children in the fear of God, Jesus has commanded us to provide for them. They need it. The devil is out to get them. The world lures them. Their sinful flesh would love to tear them away from Jesus and heaven. They need their moms and dads modeling the faith at home, praying with them, reading the Bible with them, singing with them. A life of following Jesus doesn’t consist in self-chosen holy works, but works that God has prepared in advance for us to do. It’s as Jesus says to the Pharisees, you tithe mint and dill and have ignored the weightier things of the Law, which is to love God and love your neighbor, and your closest neighbor is your family and your church, so provide for them and make sure you fill your house with praise for your Lord Jesus.
Second, it’s very important to see that when Jesus calls Peter and James and John, he’s very specifically calling pastors to do pastor work. He doesn’t call everyone to do this. He hasn’t called you to do it. He’s called me and Pastor Richard to do it. And he’s calling Vicar to do it. Too often I hear Christian preachers preach as if everyone is a minister, everyone called to preach the Gospel. That’s simply not true. You’re certainly called to confess it. You’re certainly called to teach it at home. But you haven’t been called to be public preachers. And this should give you comfort for two reasons. One, it should take a load off of you. Too many Christians have this horrible burden put on them that it’s their job to go convert the world. It’s not. Not individually. Never let a anyone tell you that you’re not being a good Christian unless you’re walking the neighborhood, knocking on doors and asking people whether they know they’ll go to heaven if they die tonight. Never let the devil burden your conscience as if you need always to be preaching at work and at play. St. Peter says to be ready to give a defense for the hope that is in you. So be ready to defend the faith. And you’ll be ready if you do your simple and beautiful and humble duty, which is to read God’s word at home and pray at home and love your Lord Jesus and think of Him constantly as you go about your daily life.
And second, what a wonderful gift that God has given you pastors. I don’t say this of myself or Pastor Richard as if we’re so good, because pastors come and go and God knows we have many faults. I say it of the office, that God has so beautifully ordered things that men are trained in history and and Greek and Hebrew and Bible and have time to devote to studying and preaching and teaching and visiting, all in order to bring Jesus to the people of God and strengthen Christ’s body, the Church. And so take advantage of your pastors. Listen to their advice and their teaching. Their job, what they get paid to do, is to think about God’s Word and how it applies to you, to pray for you and to love you and to teach you and give you advice and correction if needed. They see death constantly. They see sickness and heartbreak. They see what sin does to families and relationships. They see the pain unbelief brings on people. They’ve learned time and again, seen it over and over, that what people truly need above all else, above wealth and health and pleasures and reputation on this earth, is Jesus. And that’s why they can preach Jesus to you, Him crucified for your sins, and never grow tired of doing it. Because they need it and you need it. Even if your flesh thinks things are going well right now and so you can ignore Jesus and just enjoy life, you need to hear that Jesus is your life. This is why Jesus called Peter and James and John. If you love me, Jesus said to Peter, feed my sheep. And he says that to every pastor. Don’t think you love me unless you love my people and give them my word. So the Lord Jesus gives you pastors to teach you and feed you because He loves you.
Finally, we get to what this means for you to abandon everything and follow Jesus. Because the Lord’s command is for you, for everyone. He says it constantly, “Unless a man take up his cross and follow me, he can have no part with me.” “Whoever loves his life will lose it, but whoever hates his life for my sake will gain it for eternal life.” “Whoever loves father or mother or son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Jesus is teaching here the first and greatest commandment. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. Jesus tells you to cling to Him because He loves you and He knows what’s best for you. He made you. He formed you in your mother’s womb. He gave life to you. Every happiness you’ve ever experienced came from His hand. Your soul was made to find its delight and its fulfilment in Him, the Giver of all good things. But it’s sought fulfillment in the things of this world. And this is its misery. That’s the tragedy and vanity of sin. Because family is a wonderful blessing, but when it becomes a god, when it replaces Jesus, we make it into a terrible curse that fails us in the end. And God giving us work and wealth and pleasures on this earth, these are beautiful things, but when we put them over Jesus, we make them ugly things, use them to deny the God of beauty who gave them. To abandon everything and follow Jesus is to believe and live as if Jesus really is your priceless treasure, as we just sang. And that will not happen, it cannot happen, unless we see our great need for this God.
Peter said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” But Jesus did not depart from him. Peter saw that this is exactly what he deserved. His heart had been invested in work, in wealth, and now Jesus showed beyond any doubt that all his work meant absolutely nothing without God blessing it. No fish, no wealth, no family, nothing, without God giving it. And this God whom Peter had not thanked as he should have, had not acknowledged as the Giver of all good, had not lived his life for, this God now stood before him. And so he says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.”
And Jesus doesn’t depart because Jesus is pure love and mercy. Look at Jesus. Look at His response to a sinner who knows it and knows he’s unworthy and is terrified at his sin and what it deserves from his God. Jesus says two words, three in English, Don’t be afraid. Do not fear. Don’t you see? How can you think I will cast you away from me? I wear your flesh and blood. I’ve come to the thankless and the proud and the greedy and the sinner to take their burden on myself, to bear it in my body on the cross, to show you the love of the God who gives everything good in this world and refuses to let it all end in death and vanity. You want to see God’s goodness, how everything really is in God’s control, how He gives success and He sends crosses and works it all for your good, look away from the success or failure of this life, and see your God robed in human flesh, willing to live and die for you, to take all your punishment on Himself, to give you peace with Him and take away your fear of death.
And so Peter leaves it all. That’s how our Gospel ends. It’s a beautiful ending. He just got the biggest catch of his life. He’s got all the earthly success he could hope for. And he leaves it all behind and follows Jesus. What is the world to me, we sing. You have Jesus and you have the Creator of this world. You don’t worship your stuff, your success, your career, your money, your family, you worship the God who made it all and gave it all to you and bled to sanctify you and everything on this sinful earth. And this God will call you away from it all. He will. That’s what death is. You’ll leave behind all success, everything on this earth. You’ll leave behind family and friends. But you will lose nothing. Because you will be with the God who made it and gave it and loves you now and will forever. Who will restore to you a hundredfold because you are a member of His family and you do His work. And this is how we Christians have to think of things now. Don’t leave behind your job and family. Jesus hasn’t called you to do that. But leave it all in God’s hands, in your work and in your play, fear and be astonished at the God who blesses you with everything good, lessens every hard load, and welcomes you to follow Him through this life to the everlasting life bought by His most precious blood. Amen.