Our God of Surprises
Surprises!!! How many of us like surprises?!? Of course, it probably depends on whether it’s a good surprise or a bad surprise! Yet, surprises can be exciting. Today, I want to focus on realizing that our God is a God of surprises.
Often, He may surprise us and will then challenge us in ways we never dreamed. When we remember, however, that He is a good God, He is our Loving Father, we realize that whatever surprises He may bring, no matter how they may initially appear, ultimately, can turn into moments of exciting change and transformation!
This theme of surprises is something I see clearly in today’s Gospel story, where Jesus calls some fishermen around the Sea of Galilee to become His disciples. We know the story well. Peter and James and John had been fishing all night and caught nothing. They were tired from a futile night of fishing, cleaning their nets and getting everything ready for the next morning. And along comes Jesus teaching a crowd of people pushing their way closer to Him around the shore.
Peter had heard of the rabbi Jesus from his brother Andrew, yet maybe this was the first time that he himself had a chance to hear the man from Nazareth close up. Peter goes on cleaning his nets when Jesus unexpectedly asks the fisherman if He can use his boat to preach to the people on the shore!
This was quite unexpected, and probably inconvenient!
Yet despite this unexpected surprise, Peter agrees to adjust his schedule and allows Christ to preach from his boat. Now in the boat, Peter didn’t have a choice but to listen to the Master, since he could no longer clean his nets and prepare for the next day. Maybe this was the first time that Peter listened attentively to what Jesus had to say, and the words of the Master seemed to move him in a powerful way.
Then, another surprise came! After Jesus finishes talking to the crowd - it’s probably midday by now – He tells Peter to push his boat out into the sea and begin fishing once again. Imagine that. A carpenter telling a fisherman when to go fishing. Surely, Peter must have been quite skeptical. Experienced fishermen DO NOT go fishing at midday, when the sun is highest. Peter and his companions had fished all night and come back empty. Now, was he supposed to go fishing in the middle of the day and expect anything better?!?
Peter turns to Jesus and says, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing.” In other words, “What you are asking of me make no sense!!!” Yet, he adds, “Nevertheless, at Your word I will let down the nets.”
Peter wasn’t a disciple of the Lord yet, but he had just heard Jesus preach and he must have realized there was something special about this carpenter from Nazareth. So, he accepts this surprising and almost ridiculous request. “At Your word, I will let down the nets. The nets I just cleaned and prepared for tomorrow. I will put aside my logic and experience, and I will obey You.”
Sometimes the surprises of the Lord may seem inconvenient and even pointless to a logical mind. Yet, Peter would come to realize, as we Christians already know, that our God is a loving God who knows what’s best for us. The safest place to be is always to be in the will of God. And thus, even if something doesn’t make sense to us, if we know it’s God’s will, we can be assured that we are in the safest place there is.
Peter doesn’t necessarily agree and surely doesn’t understand, but he trusts Jesus enough to say, “At Your word I will obey.”
Then comes another surprise. Peter catches one of the largest shoals of fish he’s ever seen. Yes, he spent the night fishing and caught nothing. Yes, fishermen don’t typically catch anything in the middle of the day. Yes, Jesus is a carpenter who’s not supposed to know about fishing. Thus, in the eyes of Peter, a miracle has happened. The shoal of fish was so great he had to call out his partners, James and John, to help pull in all the fish!
Yes, we see a surprising miracle with the catch of fish, yet maybe the greatest surprise, and even greater miracle, was yet to come.
As Peter tries to comprehend what just happened – not only did he hear the profound preaching of Jesus which touched his heart and soul, but then he saw the actions of the Master leading to a miraculous catch of fish – Peter realizes that there is something special going on, there is something holy here.
When we come into contact with something or someone that is truly sacred and holy, this divine moment can sometimes overwhelm us, or it can help us see ourselves in a clarity with which we have never seen ourselves before. We realize the holiness of God, as well as our own distance from such holiness!
Thus, Peter comes to this dreadful realization, falls to his knees and bluntly states, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Get away from me Lord. I don’t deserve to be around you!!! I realize you are someone special. I understand I am in the presence of something sacred. I don’t fully understand what is happening today, but I do understand one thing - that I am surely not worthy of You, and thus, with deep humility Peter says, “Depart from me! For I am a sinful man!”
Now comes the greatest surprise of all! It’s not Christ’s wonderful preaching. It’s not His surprising and inconvenient command to Peter. It’s not the miraculous catch of fish. The greatest surprise is that after Peter says, “Depart from me for I am a sinful man!” Jesus responds to him by saying, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will be a fisher of men!”
In other words, “Don’t be afraid. I want YOU Peter to become one of MY followers. I want you Simon Peter to become one of my intimate disciples and friends! I know that you’re sinful. I know that you’re not worthy to follow me. I know that you’re a simple, illiterate fisherman. I know everything about your life, with all its shortcomings and failures. I know you Peter. And despite all your sinfulness, I want you to follow me!”
And with this surprising call, each one of us gets our own surprise. Jesus doesn’t simply call Peter to follow Him. He calls each one of us as well!
Today, God says to each one of us, “I know your failures and shortcomings. I know your sinfulness and unworthiness. I know who you are, who each one of us is, in all our weaknesses and frail humanity. God knows each one of us! And He still calls us to follow Him. He invites each one of us to become one of His intimate disciples. He says, “Don’t be afraid. Come follow me. And from now on, I will use you as my instrument in helping others come into an intimate relationship with me!”
Our God is a God of surprises! He surprises us by asking us to obey his commands, even when they seem inconvenient or unexpected. He surprises us sometimes with miracles and unexplained happenings in our lives. Yet, the greatest way He surprises us is by inviting us - with all our shortcomings and weaknesses, with all our sins and failures, with all our human frailty –to become one of His followers, one of His disciples, one of His intimate friends, and then calling us to participate in His divine mission “to become fishers of men,” to reach out to the entire world with His divine love and salvation!
Facing Our Uncertain Future
What Is Reality?
Our Orthodox Faith
The Orthodox Church: An Introduction