I’m A Sinner


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Pushing back from the shoreline and the crowds, Jesus and Simon are together in a boat. In this space, without the peer pressure of the community, Simon has a real encounter with Jesus here. Simon has this Rabbi from God in his boat teaching about the kingdom of God, a place where the broken are healed, the blind see, the poor aren’t oppressed. In the culture we find Simon, this place–the Kingdom of God–sounds too good to be true. That’s not what power and authority does. Power and authority doesn’t care about those at the bottom of barrel. Power and authority wants more of the same — that was Simon’s experience with kingdoms. And here’s this Rabbi, teaching about God. Telling us that God does care for those without position and power.

Then Jesus does something that can’t be easily explained. He tells Simon to push into the deep. I see this as an acknowledgement of the complexity of the human condition. It’s often in deep waters, where it becomes hard to swim or make it on our own, that we come to realize some deeper things about ourselves. In demonstration of the Kingdom, Jesus asks Simon to do something. He says lower your nets. He takes those clean empty nets and fills them to overflowing. This is a clear demonstration of what the kingdom of God is like. The kingdom is about abundance, not scarcity.

Jesus has been preaching the word of God, he has been proclaiming what God is like, and then in a moment of truth, he demonstrated it. And in so doing, he’s given Simon a real choice.

I love you Simon. I want you to know yourself more fully and the God who loves you deeply.
I accept you Simon. I don’t accept everything about you, but I love you Simon. Now come and follow me into real life.

It’s the two together, proclamation and demonstration, that brings Simon and us into proximity with our true selves.

We discover who we are in the presence of the word of God being proclaimed to us telling us the truth about the world and ourselves in it. Then in the demonstration of the same, we are invited to surrender to a God who sees us and loves us and knows us and is calling us to follow him.

Simon in his confession sees himself as he is. A sinner. This is a powerful confession. Jesus doesn’t disagree with Simon’s assessment of himself. Jesus agrees that the choices Simon has made are preventing him from fully experiencing life in the Kingdom of God and a life that is fully dependent on God. But Jesus has a different view of Simon and us. Luke presents Jesus as the savior who “seeks and saves sinners.”

Jesus reveals that we aren’t who we think we are. We think because we are sinners, we are unclean, unworthy, and that we corrupt the holy. Jesus says, yes, you are a sinner, but I won’t be corrupted or defiled by you. And I won’t reject you, I accept you.
We learn from scripture that we are created in God’s image, and Jesus reflects that image in human form. Simon gives us some insight to what happens when we encounter the Divine in our midst. We come face to face to the image of the one, we are supposed to reflect. It’s like having a Divine mirror. As we glimpse ourselves in this mirror, we can become aware of how far we fall short of that reflected image. We realize that the image that we are supposed to bear, doesn’t look like the image in the mirror.

We can start to see the things, the junk, the stuff, the weaknesses, the disordered attachments, the toxic patterns of behavior that conspire against us and stand in the way of us being image bearers.

As we observe this interaction between Simon and Jesus, Simon is on his knees aware of his condition, overcome with shame. This is the same shame that the first humans, Adam and Eve experienced in the garden story when they had to answer God.

“I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” (Genesis 3:10)

This is Simon’s response as well.

“Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)

Looking into the Divine mirror, Simon realizes he doesn’t look like what he sees reflected there. In Jesus, he sees someone who completely trusts. Someone who is willing to risk everything to become dependent on God. Then his shame takes over and speaks on his behalf.

“Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)

But Jesus doesn’t do that instead he tells him something he tells numerous other people in the Gospels who come face to face with the Divine mirror.

“Don’t be afraid” (Luke 5:10)

He says,

“Do not be afraid” to the disciples on the boat in the storm.

“Do not be afraid” to Jairus when he hears his daughter has died.

“Do not be afraid” to the disciples when he approached them walking on water.

“Do not be afraid” to Peter, James and John at the transfiguration.

“Do not be afraid” when the women encounter Jesus at the tomb.

To the crowds in Luke 12:7 “Do not be afraid you are worth more than many sparrows,” he says.

In Luke 12:32 “Do not be afraid, little flock for your father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”

We all want to believe that following Jesus is easy, but it isn’t. Friends, this is really hard. It’s hard to trust ourselves to God. Our shame and fear get in the way.

Sixty-one times in the New Testament, Jesus says to us, in some variation, “Don’t be afraid.”

Adam and Eve’s sin was that they didn’t trust God. But through Jesus, God brings redemption from our participation in the rebellion. He offers us restoration as image bearers. He tells Peter first of all not to be afraid, and then he accepts him as he is, and calls him into a new way of life.

Even in this welcome, we are arrested and find ourselves in the grip of fear. We are afraid of who we are or how we will be treated. This is why we hold onto our self identity, our stuff, our family, our kids, our partners, but Jesus tells us that says to Simon, and to us, “Don’t be afraid.” We don’t have to be afraid.

Simon’s response is to trust. To trust the living God in front of him, Jesus.

Feel free to share your experience with others who have also tried this prayer exercise by commenting below or emailing: spiritual.practices@annarborvineyard.org.

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