By Al Gray
The morning in late May had turned sultry early on the Florida fresh water sea. Panfishermen from across the Southeast descend on Lake George hoping to catch giant bluegills and shellcrackers on enormous beds during the magical few days in May that see the fish in a feeding frenzy. Alas, on this day your humble scribe was sitting in a boat on calm, listless waters surrounded by 60 other boats. Burgeoning heat had the cattle on the distant shore inching toward the water to join those who had braved alligators to go wading.
The fishermen were mostly bored as none were catching fish. Everyone was using standard rods and reels loaded with 10 pound test line. Switching to an ultralight rod, I decided to rework a shell ridge that had been fruitless for the last hour. The fish started biting. The catch began to pile up. The other 59 boats circled, getting closer, but nobody else was catching anything. Eventually, about time the catch limit was reached, there were boats on top of the shell ridge, with one only 12 feet away, so casting was no longer possible!
On another boat far away in time and space, casting again in “fished-out” waters made for a similar bounty. The story is found in Luke 5:4-10
4 When He had finished speaking, He said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”5 Simon answered and said, “ Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but [a]I will do as You say and let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they enclosed a great quantity of fish, and their nets began to break; 7 so they signaled to their partners in the other boat for them to come and help them. And they came and filled both of the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw that, he fell down at Jesus’ [b]feet, saying, “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For amazement had seized him and all his companions because of the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were [c]James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “ Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.”
This fishing trip happened at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. From that point on, Simon Peter witnessed a wondrous array of miracles, healings, parables, and teaching the way to salvation and eternal life. Mankind being as sinful as it is, none of these things mattered when tough times came near the end, when politicians, zealots, and even masses of people turned against Jesus. Ponder the words of Simon Peter “Go away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man!”
Let’s ponder that statement a minute. Simon Peter was acknowledging that his ways were the sinful ways of the world. He would follow Jesus every step of the way through His ministry, yet he remained captive to his position in society to the very end. Today this phenomenon is known as cognitive dissonance which is defined as anxiety that results from simultaneously holding contradictory or otherwise incompatible attitudes, beliefs, or the like.
Human nature being as it is, the person with cognitive dissonance typically reverts or seeks that which is familiar, socially acceptable, and less uncomfortable at moments of stress. Today it is often seen in our responses to the current, ongoing financial and economic collapse – a total certainty – which is generally wishing it away, while refusing to take action to save ourselves. We want our cushy, old lives back. Indeed, in Greece there have been bank runs in recent weeks to the tune of $500 million, inexplicably delayed two whole years after the first bond defaults signaled to the people there that their deposits were not safe. Examples of calamitous delays in reacting to negative events appear throughout human history. The cognitive dissonance that gripped Peter was so powerful that he denied Jesus three times before people Peter perceived to be hostile to Jesus.
69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard, and a servant-girl came to him and said, “You too were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before them all, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” 71 When he had gone out to the gateway, another servant-girl saw him and *said to those who were there, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.” 72 And again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” 73 A little later the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Surely you too are one of them; for even the way you talk [a]gives you away.” 74 Then he began to curse and swear, “I do not know the man!” And immediately a rooster crowed. 75 And Peter remembered the word which Jesus had said, “ Before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.
That is how powerful cognitive dissonance is. Peter had witnessed miracles by Jesus, yet the apparent inability of Jesus to save himself from arrest and persecution cast enough doubt that Peter’s weak human self readily defaulted to disavowing Jesus!
Only the resurrection and seeing the living Jesus broke the hold of evil human society and politics on Peter. The transformation came during another fishing trip.
After these things Jesus [a] manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifestedHimself in this way. 2 Simon Peter, and Thomas called [b]Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. 3 Simon Peter *said to them, “I am going fishing.” They *said to him, “We will also come with you.” They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing.
4 But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 So Jesus *said to them, “Children, you do not have [c]any fish, do you?” They answered Him, “No.” 6 And He said to them,“ Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.” So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish. 7 Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved *said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea. 8 But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about [d]one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish…..
So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus *said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you [f] love Me more than these?” He *said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I [g]love You.” He *said to him, “Tend My lambs.” 16 He *said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you [h]love Me?” He *said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I [i]love You.” He *said to him, “ Shepherd My sheep.” 17 He *said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you [j]love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you [k]love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I [l]love You.” Jesus *said to him, “Tend My sheep.
18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” 19 Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He *said to him, “Follow Me!”
Peter followed Jesus. He overcame his cognitive dissonance in the most complete way possible by embracing death to gain salvation through faith in a resurrected Jesus Christ.
That day in balmy Florida when this fisherman cast aside the ways of the entire fleet to embrace an unlikely technique that produced a bountiful catch wasn’t just like Peter in that one respect. It was also fishing on the right side of the boat. If we go through life relying on the crowd and defaulting to our weak tendency for conformity, we will go home empty handed and hungry. It is only by breaking the bonds of sin, even embracing social disdain, ostracism and punishment to the point of death, in embracing Jesus that we can ascend to eternal life.
These are transformative times, times in which those who are prepared for the worse must step forward to preserve the best.
There is only one side on which to be – the RIGHT side. We cannot afford to let denial keep us from it. Christ put it simply.
Read last week's sermon here--> Life Choice: The Lamp Vs Lamp Post Conundrum
Read last week's sermon here--> Life Choice: The Lamp Vs Lamp Post Conundrum