18th Sunday after Pentecost.
The Gospel reading for this Sunday is one with which many of us might be quite familiar… Our Lord Jesus Christ is preaching to the multitudes from a boat just off the shore of Lake Gennesaret. When He had finished His teaching, He asked the Apostle Peter to launch them out into the deeper parts of the lake and instructed him to let down his nets to catch fish.
Peter, who was an experienced fisherman, informed the Lord that they had been fishing all night and had caught nothing… now that the sun was high, there was no chance of catching any fish. ‘Nevertheless’, Peter exclaimed, ‘at Thy word, I will let down the net.’
The Gospel tells us that the nets became so full of fish that they could hardly bring them into the boat. They called to the other fisherman to quickly bring their boats over to help them bring in this miraculous haul of fish.
And then an interesting thing is noted… When Peter saw what was happening, he fell down at Jesus’ feet, saying: ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’ Peter was astonished at the obvious miracle and at the generosity of God. And, clearly perceiving and feeling the abundant grace of God before him, he witnessed his unworthiness to be in such Divine presence.
Standing in the presence of holiness and grace can be an unsettling thing. As one hierarch put it: ‘Every encounter with God is a kind of judgment.’ – for we are confronted with the uncomfortable reality of seeing who we truly are before the infinite goodness and majesty of God. Yet Jesus comforts and strengthens Peter, saying: ‘Do not be afraid. From now on you will catch men.’
I would like to draw forth three things from this reading… first is regarding the discernment of and the submission to the will of God; second is the paradox of joy and fear as we stand before God; and third is the encouragement of Christ that we need not be afraid.
As the example of Apostle Peter shows us, his earthly understanding and experience knew that to cast out his nets in the heat of the day was a futile effort. Yet he submitted his will to the will of God, saying: ‘at Thy word, I will let down the net’. And, of course, the results were an abundance of reward… the boat practically sank due to the weight of all the fish they caught!
What does it mean to discern and submit to the will of God? So often we think of discerning the will of God in our lives as a way of trying to make a decision about alternate possibilities. Should I do this or should I do that? Certainly, we should pray and desire for the circumstances of our lives to be in harmony with the will of God. But more specifically, what is the will of God for us? Apostle Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians encapsulates it in these few words: ‘For this is the will of God: your sanctification.’
God’s concern is always for our healing and salvation. We think we know we want or need from our limited perspective… but God can see far beyond our immediate circumstances and, if we will allow Him, He will guide us through all that is necessary for the purification of our soul. This takes trust in God… to trust that no matter what things you may encounter in this life, if you ‘seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all things will be added unto you.’
Apostle Peter’s choice to submit to Christ’s instruction demonstrates how he prioritized his love and trust of Jesus Christ over his own will and understanding. This is precisely the process of salvation… we relinquish that throne of our ego and we invite Christ our Lord to sit upon it, as is His proper place.
And then what may happen? When we draw open the curtains of our darkened life and allow the light of Christ to shine upon us, we may recoil from the clearer visibility of our sins. Christ’s glory was manifested in the miracle of the catch of fish, and Apostle Peter fell at the feet of Christ exclaiming: ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’
This is a heart-wrenching scene! Apostle Peter stands in the presence of God, in the brightness of Christ’s divinity, and Peter feels deeply how unworthy he is to be there.
It is a paradox… On the one hand, we long to be in the presence of God. He is our hope and our salvation and what could bring us more joy than to stand before Him? And yet, it may be that we too are afraid of this encounter with God… afraid because we know our sins will be exposed, because we are afraid of His righteous judgment, because we feel we are unworthy of being in His presence, or perhaps fearful that we will fail to live up to the love to which we are called.
But what does Christ say to Peter who has fallen before His feet? ‘Do not be afraid.’ Christ encourages and strengthens the Christian who dares to reach out Him. The Evangelist John tells us that ‘perfect love casts aside fear’. Christ Himself is that Perfect Love which casts aside fear. He sees us far more clearly and deeply than we can see our self. While we may feel embarrassed or hopeless due to our accumulation of filth, Christ perceives the image beneath and He loves that precious icon and desires to restore it. If we would turn from darkness, the light of Christ awaits with open arms.
May God grant us the wisdom which the world calls foolishness, and the strength which the world calls weakness. May we strive to conform ourselves to God’s good and holy will, which is none other than the salvation of our souls. And may that perfect love of Christ cast aside all fear that we may work in synergy with God in the restoration and resurrection of our souls.