…The people pressed upon him to hear the word of God…
(St. Luke v. 1)
It must always be the case that good Christians should be pressing upon [Jesus] to hear the Word of God. (Idem) But hearing the Word of God is one thing, and doing it is quite another. St. James tells us to be…doers of the Word, and not hearers only. (St. James i. 22) This is where most well-intentioned Christians find trouble. After all, we can read God’s Word and hear it, but how can we do it? The problem seems to be with the application of the Word to human life. Knowledge and understanding comprise one activity, but to be caught up in the goodness that God’s Word generates in our lives is another. Today, let us see if we might press upon Jesus to hear God’s Word so that we might be caught up in the net of His goodness.
Prior to this morning’s Gospel Lesson from St. Luke, Jesus had been thrown out of His home town of Nazareth, barely escaping with His life. No prophet finds acceptance in his own country. (St. Luke iv. 24). And so He travelled into Capernaum where His teaching was acknowledged as authoritative. Here He cast a demon out of a possessed man, healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law who had been gripped with a fever, and restored others who were diseased either physically or spiritually. Finally He retired to a desert place and prayed. But crowds of people caught up with Him because they wanted more. But the more that Jesus was preparing to give them would not be found in signs, wonders, and miracles, but in God’s Word and Will for man, so that they might begin to perceive and understand the way to salvation.
So, today we find Jesus moving down into the fishing village of Gennesaret, thronged by a mob of people who would hear the Word of God. We read that Jesus entered into one of the ships, which was Simon’s, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. (Ibid, 3) If we would press upon [Jesus] to hear God’s Word, we must allow the Word to thrust out a little from the land (Ibid, 3) of human commerce, clamor, confusion, hustle, and bustle in order to free us from those earthly preoccupations that would distract us. Over and against the usual course of human affairs, God’s Word must stand to address us from a place of unique separation.
But notice also that here though there are some who are on shore and therefore separated from Jesus, there are a few others who will be involved in not only hearing the truth of God’s Word but experiencing its power. Thus, we find Peter, James, and John who have accompanied Jesus in the ships. And while both groups are intended to be caught up in the net of Christ as his spiritual fish, as Archbishop Trench reminds us, the Apostles must be converted first that they may then become Christ’s fishers of men. So I think that Saint Peter in particular, and then Saints James and John –by reason of their presence in the other ship–represent in this story the Church and her ministers. The people on the shore represent the fish that are caught on land once the Apostles have been caught up in Christ’s net from a deeper spiritual sea. There are different levels and stages of faith, trust, and obedience that pass first from Christ to His Apostles, and then from His Apostles to all others who would be saved. First, there is the preaching that is heard by both the Apostles at sea and the people on land. Here we find a spiritual curiosity and openness that will consider what Jesus Christ has to say.
Next come the trying and testing of the faith of the Apostles who have thrust out from land and onto the sea with Jesus. We read: Now when He had left speaking, He said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. (Ibid, 4) Simon, like his fellow fishermen and unlike the crowd, has had a long and unsuccessful night of fishing. Most of the other fishermen are on the shore, exhausted, cleaning their nets, and no doubt licking their wounds, perhaps downcast and depressed for having failed to catch any fish. Matthew Henry tells us that One would have thought this should have excused [the Apostles also] from Christ’s sermon; but it was more refreshing and reviving to them than the softest slumbers. (Comm. Luke V) The fishermen on shore did not see much sense in thrusting off onto the waters again with Jesus. But the Apostles did. So while the others washed their nets and went to bed, the Apostles would use their powerlessness, failure, and fatigue as a reason for turning more faithfully from themselves towards Jesus. The Apostles worked hard to catch their fish, but when they failed, they did not quit but would follow Christ for the reviving of their souls. Christ knows their weakness, allows even for Peter’s doubts, and yet out of it all will draw out their faith. Simon Peter responds to Jesus: Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. (Ibid 5,6)
Peter submits. And when they had this done, they inclosed a great multitude of fishes: and their net brake. And they beckoned unto their partners, which were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came, and filled both the ships, so that they began to sink. (Ibid, 6,7) Peter, James, and John were overwhelmed by the catch. They called on their partners to help to relieve the burden of the bounty whose largesse was causing their boats to sink. The Apostles were beside themselves with wonder and awe. Peter alone spoke for them as it began to dawn on him that they were being caught up in another kind of net. We read that when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken: and so was also James, and John, the sons of Zebedee, which were partners with Simon. (Ibid, 8-10) St. Peter is overwhelmed by the power of God that he experiences in the Person of Jesus Christ. He is so conscious of the radical otherness of God’s power that he can only feel the distance between himself and his Lord. Knowledge and understanding comprise one activity but to be caught up in the goodness that God’s Word generates is quite another. Peter’s unworthiness separates him from the power of God in Jesus. He knows that he is wholly undeserving of such a gift. Archbishop Trench tells us that the deepest thing in a man’s heart…is a sense of God’s holiness as something bringing death and destruction to the unholy creature. (Miracles, 102) Peter’s faith and trust yield a miracle greater than the draught of the fishes. Peter knows himself as an unworthy sinner in need of all that Jesus can do for him.
You see, the first step towards a right relationship with God is the fear of the Lord. It is the beginning of wisdom, as a man learns humility in the presence of the Divine power. Father Mouroux reminds us that man must realize that [he] is dust and ashes before his God; however much he abounds he is always a poverty-stricken thing hanging on the Divine Mercy, and however much he may be purified he is still a sinner face to face with Holiness. (The Meaning of Man, p. 217) The fish which the men have caught are still alive, flailing, thrashing, and thwacking with all their might to return to their former manner of life in the sea. Peter, on the other hand, falls down and experiences a spiritual death that he cannot resist. He finds himself a worthless and useless sinner in the face of an all-powerful God who promises him new life.
Christ catches Peter, James, and John in His net. They find themselves in a state of Grace, in which all the contradiction is felt, God is still a consuming fire, yet not any more for the sinner, but for the sin…[for they are in] the presence of God…[whose] glory is veiled, whose nearness…every sinful man may endure, and in that nearness may little by little be prepared for the…open vision of the face of God. (Trench, Idem) Jesus says, Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men. (Ibid, 10) Jesus intends that Peter, James, John and the other Apostles should become fishers of men. But not before they have begun to be moved and defined by the power of God in Christ the Great Fisherman. What they must experience is the power of God’s Word and the presence of His goodness to redeem and transform their natures for the service of His Kingdom.
So, what does it mean to be caught up as spiritual fish into Christ’s net and to become fishers of men? Our Gospel concludes with, when the [Apostles] had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed Him. (Ibid, 11) The Apostles were called to be fish out of water -to forsake the world, the flesh, the devil, and themselves. This forsaking all is a spiritual disposition that industriously and zealously puts Jesus first, hears Him, obeys Him, and follows Him into the real work of God’s goodness. Forsaking all means death to themselves and coming alive to God’s goodness in all our thinking, acting, and doing. To benefit from what Jesus has to give, we must press upon Jesus to hear the Word of God. (Idem) In addition, we must leave our earthly occupations and their limited worldly success behind as we thrust out a little from the land. (Idem) In other words, we must begin to distance ourselves from the world. Next, we must launch into the deep with Jesus and cast our nets out for a draught. It might seem daunting but this fear of the Lord alone can sink our ship so that we might be caught up in the power of Christ’s net. Faith in God’s Grace can flourish and bloom [only if] it is welcomed; it can act [only if] it is activated, [for] all the infinitude of its power comes from the adoring passivity in which it lies open to God. (Mouroux, p. 217) The Apostles had every natural reason to return to their profession because of this miracle. They didn’t. Another miracle is at work here. The power of God’s goodness overwhelms, overtakes, and overcomes fallen men. Are we ready to be caught up in Christ’s net and to become His fish out of water? Amen.