Leave me Lord

Published on 07 Feb 2019
A man in a hat looking out to sea,

Leave me Lord I am a sinful man

Simon Peter often misses the point. Here he might seem to us to be lacking that self-esteem which is surely essential for achievement, including success in sharing with others the good news of God’s love for us all.  Love your neighbour, as yourself  we hear elsewhere in the Scriptures and are glad to know that love of self is not only permitted but is also a measure for our treatment and love of others. Yet there is no reason more persuasive for accepting the loving invitation of Jesus Christ to accompany him on his journey than a sense of sin and unworthiness.  Sinful men and women are the Lord’s sort of person. 

The sinful are the very people by whom Jesus most wants to be accepted. The Lord does not desire to be told by a sinner: Depart from me.  Jesus is often rejected. However among those who accept him are some repentant sinners.  So if Simon Peter thinks the Lord will leave him alone because he is a sinful man, he is mistaken.  No condition attracts such great interest in the one who has come to save sinners.  Mistaken also is the more widespread assumption that the way in which our wrong-doing can cut us off from God is equalled on his side by revulsion or superiority.  Distressed by our rejections of him, God importunately sends his Son to rescue us.  He is slow to depart from us.

For I am sinful

There is a kind of dissatisfaction with the past and with the way we have been until now which is healthy and fruitful.  Healthy repentance is prompted by the Word of God: turn back to.  Sane repentance is sustained by the remembrance of the love of the creator for what he has made, and to which he remains faithful. 

Your love O Lord is eternal: discard not the work of your hand 

Repentant sinners don't feel discarded, rather, they come to see that they are wanted on the journey which the Lord has begun.  Those who truly repent remember the Lord's love.  This memory moves us to join a pilgrimage and journey in which set off with God: he does not leave without us. 

Depart from me

can be said in several different spirits. There can be arrogance, hostility and weariness but also a kind of desperation and hopelessness. Simon Peter says Depart from me not arrogantly and not implying a hostile dismissal or a weary rejection. He expresses a feeling of unworthiness. This sense of shame is potentially very productive. It is a way of taking seriously what God is saying to us. We feel the impact of his concern for us. The challenge which the Lord makes to us all is a serious reproach to our life as we have led it until now. There is a demand for change. There is also a promise of something better.

One of the angels touched my mouth with a live coal that he had taken from the altar and said 'See now, this has touched your lips, your sin is taken away, your iniquity is purged. 

The Word of God burns the heart which hears it, the lips which repeat it sincerely. The Word pulls us up short.  However, Jesus, the Word made flesh, really does take our sins away.  The purging, the purification we can experience leaves us happier than we were before. The Lord’s impact on us is to leave us not just satisfied with self, rather than guilty, but, under grace, capable of living in a greatly improved way. Such a happy outcome might seem unlikely when we consider things realistically just now. 

We may be reluctant to do what God seems to be asking of us, even when the request is modest, because such spiritual enterprises have not worked out in the past.

We worked hard all night and caught nothing, but if you say so, we will pay out the nets. 

What sort of catch can we expect? What sort of new life is it that is promised by the Word of God?  Contentment?  Yes. An end to the feeling that things have been irretrievably messed up?  Certainly. But more than this, the new life promised will be more fruitful and more supportive, and not just for ourselves.  Our journeying with the Lord is much more than exercise in self-improvement. To say that the better more consoling life will be one of service might seem just too different from life as it leaves us feeling discontented just now.  We have enough trouble as it is, we might think.

The Lord said Whom shall I send?  Who will be our messenger? 

Came the answer, not in arrogance, not with self-satisfaction, but only too conscious of limitations: Here I am, send me.  To be sent by God is to be sent to others. It is also to be sent away from what grieves us and disappoints us in ourselves.  Of the disciples we hear that they left everything and followed him. 

We follow Christ proudly but not full of ourselves. Simon Peter acknowledged his sinfulness, continued to make many mistakes yet succeeded as one doing his best to find and act on the will of God.  The Lord did not depart from him.  He was not repelled either by his friend’s mistake or by his shame.  We follow the same path humbly not shamefully.

Peter Gallagher

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