…The people pressed upon him to hear the Word of God…
(St. Luke v. 1)
Trinity Tide, as we have said, is all about growth and fertility. We wear Green Vestments during this season to symbolize harvest, growth, and fruitfulness. In this season we learn how to love and obey our Heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, His Eternally Begotten Word and Logos for us made flesh, through the indwelling of our Lord the Holy Ghost. Our spiritual exercise is illustrated in the Gospel lesson as we see how the people pressed upon Jesus to hear the Word of God. Today, we learn that hearing the Word of God is one thing, and doing something about 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 get caught up. Hearing God’s Word and saying, I agree with that, is one thing, doing it or applying it to human life is quite another. Today, let us see if we might press upon Jesus to hear God’s Word so that, being caught up in the Net of His doing, our lives might begin to be transformed by God the Holy Trinity.
Prior to this morning’s Gospel lesson from St. Luke, Jesus had been thrown out of His hometown of Nazareth, barely escaping with His life. No prophet finds acceptance in his own country. (St. Luke iv. 24). So He traveled into Capernaum where His teaching was acknowledged as authoritative. Here He cast a demon out of a possessed man, healed St. Peter’s mother-in-law who had been gripped with a fever, and restored others who were diseased 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 –God’s Word and Will for man, would require some doing by Jesus.
So, we find Jesus moving down into the fishing village of Gennesaret. 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 thrust out a little from the land (Ibid, 3) away from the hustle and bustle, confusion and noise of human life, 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 alone with men of prayer to address them from a place of concentration, that they might serve Him in all Godly quietness. (Collect Trinity V)
Notice that in today’s Gospel, some are on shore and some are in the boats with Jesus. Some will hear the Word, and some will experience its Power in human life. Peter, James, and John 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 so that they may then become Christ’s doers of the Word and, thus, fishers of men. I think that Saint Peter, in particular, and then Saints James and John, represent in this story the Church and her ministers. The people on the shore represent the fish that will be caught up on land once the Apostles have been caught up in Christ’s Net from the deeper spiritual waters of the 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. Some men are ready to hear but not yet digest. Others will hear the Word and then experience the Power of its Love.
First, the faith of the Apostles, who have thrust out from land and onto the sea with Jesus, must be tested. 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, licking their wounds, and perhaps downcast at another night of failing 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. While others slept, the Apostles would use their powerlessness, failure, and fatigue as a trigger for turning more faithfully from themselves towards Jesus. The Apostles worked their bodies hard to catch fish, but when they failed, fully spent, they turned to Christ for the reviving of their souls. Christ knows our weakness, and it is when we feel this most truly that He will draw out new and vibrant 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 faithfully obeys. 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 weight of the treasure trove of fish that was sinking their boats. Where the Apostles had failed, Jesus would succeed. 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 and Love of God in Christ the Word and nature’s response to it. Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. i. 24) effects what might happen in nature on a favorable day but is accelerated now with supernatural intervention. Human ingenuity is one thing, but to be caught up in the provision that God’s Word yields is quite another. Peter feels his own deep sense of unworthiness as radically other than the Power and Love of God in Jesus. He falls down as one 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 obedience yield a miracle greater than the draught of the fishes. Peter knows himself as an unholy creature in the presence of an all-loving God. The Love of God in Jesus Christ must always startle us with a Power that confounds all our expectations.
The first step towards a right relationship with God is the fear of the Lord. It is the beginning of wisdom that learns humility in the presence of the all Holy God. 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 life in the sea. Peter, on the other hand, rendered dead to himself, is still, and falls down and endures a spiritual undoing that he cannot resist. He finds himself the chief of all sinners in the face of an all Loving and 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 anymore 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 come alive as fishers of men.
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: 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. They were called to be all of one mind, having compassion one of another, loving as brethren…pitiful…courteous; not rendering evil for evil…but contrariwise blessing…eschewing evil, ensuing good, seeking peace and ensuing it. (1 Peter iii. 8,9) Forsaking all is a spiritual disposition that zealously puts Christ first, hears, obeys, and follows Him into the New Life that He brings from above. Forsaking all will also mean following Jesus to His Cross. We press upon Jesus to hear the Word of God (Idem) to become doers of [it]. (Idem) We leave our earthly occupations and thrust out a little from the land. (Idem) We launch into the deep with Jesus and cast our nets out for a draught. Trusting with faith in the Word of the Lord, which alone can sink the ship of our sinfulness, we shall be caught up in the catch 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 could have returned to fishing for fish. But another miracle is at work here. God’s Power and Love will overcome fallen men and bring them into His dying life on the Cross.
The Son of God alone, wholly removed from His natural glory and bliss in Heaven, is the real fish out of water. We can become fish out of water also as Christ catches us up in the Net of His death for our future in Heaven. Being caught up into Christ’s Net, He will enable us to be followers of that which is good…suffering for righteousness’ sake…so that happy we may be (Idem), serving Him in all godly quietness (Collect) and fishing for men.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: