…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 it might take possession of us.
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 gripped with a fever, and healed 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 was not signs, wonders, and miracles, but God’s Word or 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 Genesaret, thronged by a mob of people who would hear the Word of God from Him. The mob provides us with a useful image of those who are not seeking signs and wonders, but God’s Word. 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.
But notice that we have here two kinds of people that are involved. First there are the people who must be content to remain on the shore to hear God’s Word, and then there are Peter, James, and John who have accompanied Jesus in the ships. As we shall learn, both groups are intended to be caught up in the net of Christ as his spiritual fish, as Archbishop Trench reminds us, but 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 through the Church that the Saviour is establishing.
So we read that both the people on the shore and the Apostles in the ships hear the Word of God preached by Christ. Then this: Now when he had left speaking, he said unto Simon, Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said unto him, Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. (Ibid, 4,5) Simon, like his fellow fishers, has had a long and unsuccessful night of fishing. His friends are on the shore, no doubt licking their wounds, contemplating their own limitations, and nature’s resistance to their livelihood. Matthew Henry tells us that One would have thought this should have excused them from Christ’s sermon; but it was more refreshing and reviving to them than the softest slumbers. (Comm. Luke V) The people on the shore also would hear Christ’s sermon, but they did not have the same need for its comfort and refreshment.
So while the other fishermen washed their nets and went to bed, the Apostles would turn from their powerlessness, failure, and fatigue to hear the good Word that Christ alone could speak. These Apostles worked hard to catch their fish, but when failure threatened to overwhelm them, they turned themselves over to the work that Christ had for them to do with all the same industrious zeal that made them good fishermen. Christ did not come to destroy them but to redeem and perfect the good seed that He had already planted in their souls. Nevertheless at thy Word, I will let down the net. (Ibid)
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) The moment did not seize the attention of all in the same way. Peter, James, and John call on their partners to pull in the haul of fishes that caused the boats to sink. We surmise that James and John are motionless and silent. Peter alone gathers them up into another kind of net, the spiritual net of Christ.
The Gospel says, 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, speaking for his fellow Apostles and the others, 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 the God that he witnesses, that he can only feel the distance between himself and his Lord. This is, of course, a dangerous feeling to have. It might lead a man to despair, recognizing as Peter does, that he is wholly undeserving of such a presence and power. Archbishop Trench reminds 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)But on the other hand, this sense could lead also to spiritual growth and fertility.
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 falls down and anticipates that death which the fish resist. He finds himself a worthless and useless sinner in the face of an all-powerful God.
Yet it is Christ’s will that this death which Peter, James, and John begin to endure be spiritual. Again, with Archbishop Trench, 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. (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 move beyond their outward and visible, fleshly and bodily natures into the realm of the spiritual, inward, and immaterial ground of their being. What they must see is the power of God’s Word 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? We read at the conclusion of our Gospel that when the [Apostles] had brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed him. (Ibid, 11) Our Gospel seems to make clear that the Apostles were called to be fish out of water, to forsake the world, the flesh, the devil, and themselves. But this forsaking all is a spiritual disposition that industriously and zealously obeys Jesus faithfully on a regular basis. Forsaking all is a question of prioritizing loyalty and obedience to Jesus. We must become willing to place our lives in the hands of God’s Word, Jesus Christ.
Being filled with the power of God’s Word, we must be overawed by the spiritual love that sinks the ships of our former earthly lives and makes us into those vessels that can catch men up and into the net of Christ. And let us always remember that the Divine Love that we find in Christ 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 -the catch of fish was superabundant. Imagine the potential for earthly profit! But instead they chose the labour and work of Jesus Christ, where the supernatural power of God’s love in their Master promised to yield a draught of the greatest worth. Amen.