16th Sunday after Pentecost
In the Gospel reading for this Sunday, our Lord is preaching to the people from the fishing boat of Simon Peter. After He had finished speaking to the people, our Lord asked the Apostle Peter to cast out into the deeper parts of the lake so that they might cast their nets for fish.
Peter, who was an experienced fisherman, replied that they had been fishing all night and had caught nothing… nevertheless, Peter exclaimed, ‘At Thy word, I will let down the net.’ In other words, ‘Thy will be done’. Against what might be considered his better judgment, Peter was willing to subject himself to the will of the Lord. So, they cast off from their place near the shore and went out into the deeper waters of the lake and they let down their nets. The Gospel tells us that the nets were so full of fish that they could hardly bring them into the boat.
Certainly, one of the key lessons that we learn from today’s Holy Gospel is the power and importance of submitting ourselves to the will of God. Our pride and self-will and sense of ‘knowing better’ are the root cause of so many of our sins and miseries. And yet, we cling to them so jealously.
St Silouan of Mt Athos wrote, ‘The proud and self-willed do not want to surrender to God's will because they like their own way, and that is harmful for the soul.... The proud man likes to be his own master and does not see that man has not wisdom enough to guide himself without God.’
When we live our lives dictated by our pride and self-will, it inevitably sets us up to become frustrated or angry or despondent when things don’t go our way. St Silouan goes on to tell us, ‘The man who is discontented with his lot and murmurs against his fate, or against those who cause him offense, should realize that his spirit is in a state of pride, which has taken from him his sense of gratitude toward God. But, if it be so with you, do not lose heart but try to trust firmly in the Lord, and ask Him for a humble spirit, and when the lowly Spirit of God comes to you, you will then love Him, and be at rest in spite of all afflictions.’
Our modern minds tend to equate humility with weakness and pride with strength. This is completely upside down. What requires more strength... to keep silent in the face of an offense or to react with passionate anger? It takes no strength or self-control to just react. Fighting against these passionate reactions is a truly heroic act of strength.
This humble submission to the will of God is no easy task. We are fearful that we must always be the ones in control – if we are not in control, then the only other alternative is that things must then be ‘out of control’. This is not true… When we acknowledge and submit to the will of God in our lives, we are not casting things into chaos, we are handing things into far more capable hands.
St John of Kronstadt, in his beautiful spiritual diary ‘My Life in Christ’ writes:
‘It is never so difficult to say from the heart, ‘Thy Will be done, Father,’ as when we are in sore affliction or grievous sickness, and especially when we are subjected to the injustice of men, or the assaults and wiles of the enemy. It is also difficult to say from the heart ‘Thy Will be done’ when we ourselves were the cause of some misfortune, for then we think that it is not God’s Will, but our own will, that has placed us in such a position, although nothing can happen without the Will of God. In general, it is difficult to sincerely believe that it is the Will of God that we should suffer, when the heart knows both by faith and experience that God is our blessedness; and therefore it is difficult to say in misfortune, ‘Thy Will be done.’ We think, ‘Is it possible that this is the Will of God? Why does God torment us? Why are others quiet and happy? What have we done? Will there be an end to our torments?’ And so on. But when it is difficult for our corrupt nature to acknowledge the Will of God over us, that Will of God without which nothing happens, and to humbly submit to it, then is the very time for us to humbly submit to this Will, and to offer to the Lord our most precious sacrifice—that is, heartfelt devotion to Him, not only in the time of ease and happiness, but also in suffering and misfortune; it is then that we must submit our vain erring wisdom to the perfect Wisdom of God, for our thoughts are as far from the thoughts of God ‘as the heavens are higher than the earth’...
It is a stumbling block of pride to demand that we understand everything. We cannot understand all the ways of God. As God spoke to Job: ‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me if you have understanding.’
How often do we hear people - and maybe we even think these things ourselves – saying: ‘Why is there so much suffering? Why doesn’t God answer my prayers? How can He love us when there is so much misery and evil in this world?’
It is a deception to lay the blame for the miseries we see in this world at the feet of God. God is actually the one blameless player in this whole drama of our existence. God has done everything possible to relieve us and restore us from our sufferings… even going so far as to accept them upon Himself, to suffer through them in His humanity and to redeem them in His divinity. And yet, when things go wrong, we are so quick to blame God.
If your heart weeps for the misery and the sin that you see in this world, then there is one true and noble and impactful thing that you can do. Stop sinning yourself! As our Lord said to the angry mob surrounding the woman caught in adultery: ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’
Unless we are willing to repent and to get down on our knees and accept our responsibility and our contributions to the weight of the sin that exists in this world, then we must stop looking elsewhere to blame. Do you see evil and injustice in this world? This is not a call to indignation and pharisaical judgment… it is a call to prayer and fasting and seeking to place the greatest care that we ourselves do not contribute one additional drop to the evil that is in this world. Every unkind thought, every unkind word, every act of impatience and judgment and self-righteousness that we commit just heaps additional weight to that repository of evil that spills out into this world.
Just as Peter thought Christ was asking the impossible when instructed to cast out his nets, so too may we think that our sins are insurmountable. If we place our trust and our hope in God, all things are possible. Yes, the world is full of suffering and sin - by God’s grace, let us resolve to not add to it.
Let us face our Christian responsibility and accountability with courage and with trust in God. You and I cannot stand against the weight of the sins of this world. But there is One Who can, and Who has already done so, and has already emerged victorious. That is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As Christians we are called to unite ourselves to Him and to His victory.