When Simon Peter saw both boats filled with fish, he said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
One Saturday evening sixty-nine years ago I heard a surprising motive alleged for Peter’s telling Jesus to depart. Let me explain the circumstances behind the surprising allegation.
Father Joe English was our pastor from 1923 to 1946. He baptized us all, and did our weddings. He was the kind of Irish priest we haven’t seen for fifty years. He didn’t socialize. His bedroom furniture came from Salvation Army, and his clothes needed new patches.
In the summer of 1942, three of us: Matt, Len, and me, signed up to study for the priesthood. For Father English that meant we were no longer lay people. We had become part of his own clerical world. We had become people with whom his principles let him speak on the level.
That Saturday evening we: Matt, Len and I, served a holy hour, and afterwards Father English told us to scoot our hinies up on a big sacristy table; and with that, he produced his greatest luxury. It was a brown paper bag of oranges.
Showing us how to peel away, he launched into this Gospel that had Peter saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” He asked us why Peter said that. At fourteen, what did we know?
“Can’t you see, boys? Why, it’s obvious. He wanted Jesus to leave, so he could sell all those fish, so he could have a big time.”
With that observation, for me, he turned the people in the Bible into real people. When St. John wrote, “The Word became flesh” he was telling us that Jesus was as fleshy as we are. He could have an itch right in the middle of his back. He could have had secret laughs.
Like, remember how Martha complained about doing all the work, while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus. It might have been that Mary was a little lazy, and it might have been that Jesus was amused over Mary pulling one of her old tricks to get out of work.