Gospel: Luke 5:1-11
1 While the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret. 2 And he saw two boats by the lake; but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 And when he had ceased speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” 6 And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish; and as their nets were breaking, 7 they beckoned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” 9 For he was astonished, and all that were with him, at the catch of fish which they had taken; 10 and so also were James and John, sons of Zeb’edee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” 11 And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
When I was a young monastic in the Podvorie of St Seraphim in Birmingham, Igumen Seraphim and I very much liked the simple homilies of Archbishop Andrei of Rockland (1893-1973), of blessed memory – a vicar-bishop of the Eastern-American Diocese of our Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia.
Returning home tired from work and confession last night, I turned to his homily for today’s Gospel and was glad that I did so.
I will let Vladyka Andrei set the scene:
“Christ was preaching on the lake of Gennesaret. Now the sermon has finished. There were two boats at the shore, and Christ had been preaching from one of them. Here He addressed the Apostle Peter and said: “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets.” Peter answered: “Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing” (Lk. 5:4-5). And the Apostles were experienced fishermen; they knew the laws of the sea. If at night-time no fish were caught, then during the day a catch was out of the question. And Peter said this to Christ. But he added: “Nevertheless at Thy word I will let down the nets” (Lk. 5:5). And they let them down. And a miracle happened. The boats were so filled with fish that they started to sink. Then the Apostle Peter fell at the feet of the Saviour and said: “Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Lk. 5:8).”
Someone else may have said to Jesus – do I teach you about carpentry? Do I instruct you or show you what to do? No. Well, it might be better if your stick to carpentry and I stick to fishing. You do what you know about, and I’ll do what I know about.
Archbishop Andrei observes, “In spite of all his experience as a fisherman, he listened to Christ and let down the nets.”
We should remember that Peter was no novice fisherman. He knew about fish, he knew how to fish, and he knew that after a night’s fruitless fishing, there was no chance of remedy… yet despite all of his knowledge and expertise, he was humble enough, and obedient enough to do exactly as Christ requested.
In the words of Blessed Theophylact of Ochrid,
“When the Lord tells him to launch out into the deep, Peter does not become exasperated and leave Him, nor does he reply, “I have toiled the whole night and gained nothing, and now I should obey you and do it all again?” Peter said nothing like this, but instead, At Thy word I will let down the net. Such was the warmth of his trust even before he had faith.”
The Gospel tells us of the miraculous reward for Peter’s obedience to the unlikely request.
To return to the words of Vladyka Andrei:
“This is the process of faith. The Apostle knew that fish could not be caught. But he accepted the word of Christ within himself, within his will; and this will, which by now was Christ’s, he fulfilled.”
This is the alignment and marriage of our will and that of Christ of which I spoke in last week’s homily on the mystery of the Cross.
“And what happened? A miracle? Yes, a miracle. But the main miracle was not in the abundance of fish, although this catch was a miracle. The main miracle was the change of soul which occurred in Peter. He saw himself, he saw his essence. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Here is the process of faith: to accept in your heart the word of Christ, to fulfil it. And then to us will be revealed the thing which is most important for our salvation, for our inner life.”
We see this miracle throughout the Gospels.
When Zacchaeus reorientated himself to Christ, a miracle happened within him, and he was transformed and became new.
The Samaritan women – St Photina – likewise received the transformation with her leap of faith at Jacob’s Well in Nablus, running to bring others to experience the change so quickly wrought in her.
At the Cross this miracle was seen in the remaining minutes of the life of the Good Thief, who reached out to the Saviour in humble confession with those ever-memorable words –“Lord, Remember me in your Kingdom” – receiving the wonderful promise: “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.”
Conversely, not all who were requested by Christ to cast out into the uncertainty and unknown of the deep were able to do so.
The disciples left behind trades, livelihoods, families, incomes and homes, as we hear at the end of the Gospel reading – “And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.”
In so doing – like Peter – they were spiritually transformed and were miraculously changed to be the preachers of Grace filled with the Holy Spirit and the gift of tongues at Pentecost. However, the ‘rich young man’ who had so assiduously and faithfully kept the Law of Moses, was unable to face the uncertainty of the deep, by selling all that he had to follow Christ, and the inner miracle of new birth and newness of life was denied him.
His attachment to security and the world kept him at the shore, like the multitudes who seemed so eager to listen to Christ and pressed so close, hearing his words, but not committing themselves to living the Gospel and being willing to take the plunge of Faith by following Christ into the unknown and seemingly impossible deep that is Faith.
Archbishop Andrei continues,
“Listen to the word of Christ. But where do we find this word? In the Gospel – that is where. If we know the Gospel and apply it to our life, then our life in Christ will be revealed to us.”
Here we might pause and reflect that it is not enough to simply know the Gospel, no matter how detailed this knowledge. We hear that it is by labouring for Christ that His Gospel becomes real and transformational in our lives. We are not interested in theory, but in putting the Gospel into action – to repeat the words of Vladyka Andrei – “If we know the Gospel and apply it to our life, then our life in Christ will be revealed to us.”
In matins we sing, “God is the Lord, and hath revealed Himself to us…” Christ the God-Man was revealed in the incarnation and His earthly life, and He continues to reveal Himself in the Gospel, but this revelation is not to be something that is exterior to us, but a revelation within us, as the Gospel is made the living reality of our lives. We become part of this revelation, by living with Christ within our hearts. This is the mystery of our life in Christ and Christ in our lives.
The internal miracle within the Apostle Peter, and his understanding of his own unworthiness and sinfulness in the light of Christ is something which Archbishop Andrei perceives even when a Christian only tried to fulfil a single commandment of the Lord –
“…if you would only attempt to fulfil the word of Christ, at least one commandment of Christ, then the essence of your life would be revealed to you, too.”
Even in the conscientious fulfilment of one commandment, a miracle has happened, and a human being has been changed by uniting his/her heart with Christ and uniting his/her will to that of the Saviour, who has been revealed within that action, no matter how small.
Progressing from this small beginning, the more we embrace the Gospel and live it, the clearer Christ will be revealed to us, the clearer Christ will be reflected in us, and we will reveal Him to the world with ever-growing clarity. Like Peter, as this happens, we shall simply not begin to see Him as He is, but to see ourselves as we really are – both in terms of what needs to change in us, and how the grace of God is changing and transforming us, as we are reformed and remoulded by His love, according to our constant prayer: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”
The fulfilment of the Gospel of Christ, and its realisation in our lives is the essence of this recreation and renewal, as it was for Peter, realising his unworthiness in the light of Christ’s miracle. The more we appreciate our unworthiness, the more we are able to appreciate the magnitude of God’s love, and our life in Chris is where He will be revealed to us –
“And (in the words of Archbishop Andrei) His Resurrection will become for us more real than the physical world surrounding us. And He will fill our heart with an unspeakable joy, with the joy of Eternal Life; and this joy will have no end.
Only take the Gospel in your hands, only try to apply it in your life. Take everything which the Holy Church gives us. Then a miracle will happen to you, too – a greater miracle than the wonderful catch. Christ Himself will be revealed to you as He was revealed to Peter. Then you too will say deep in your heart: “I am a sinful man, O Lord!” And if you are a sinner, it means that you are sick and need a physician. And if a physician, then who is the Physician of the heart? Christ alone!”