|04 - Great Catch of Fish, Sept 26, 2010|
2 Corinthians 9:6-11
The disciples did what the Lord commanded them to do, and they caught so many fish, it was almost too much even for two boats.
The Lord Jesus Christ is the Word of God. In the beginning, He spoke, and the world came to be. His word is creative and all-powerful. It brings into being what was not.
As words of the Lord, the commandments of the Lord are all-powerful and creative. As they brought the world into being from nothing, so also they can raise from the dead and make alive those who are dead in their sins and trespasses. As words of the Lord, the commandments of the Lord reveal the true structure of nature or of the world or of being; they show forth the joy of the uncreated energies or grace of God by which the world came into being and was made alive. So, to do the commandments of Christ is to receive Christ’s word into one’s life and to make one’s life alive in the joy of God.
Preachers and teachers of the Church tell us that the Christian Faith is not a philosophy or school of thought. That’s because the words that make up the doctrines of the Christian Faith do not express the wisdom of human opinion. They do not express the views of some human who founded a particular school of thought. The words of the doctrines of the Christian Faith express the Word of the Lord Jesus Christ that is creative and all-powerful. In the words of the Christian Faith are not the thoughts of human wisdom but the uncreated Life of God.
This is why the fundamental attitude of the Christian is obedience; the chief sense is the ear; and the chief virtue of the Church’s ascetic life is discernment. The Christian listens to discern the word of God, not the word of man amid the babble of words flooding the marketplace of human society, because he wants to obey the word of God that gives life and divine joy, not the word of man that only gives information and has not the power to create life.
In this morning’s Gospel, I note that St Luke the Evangelist does not refer to Simon as Simon “Peter” until the moment that he “beheld” the great catch and in fear fell on his knees before Jesus, crying out: “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, Lord.” (v. 8) You’ll remember that the Lord gave Simon the name Peter when on the road to Caesarea Philippi, St Peter confessed that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. That confession of St Peter is the rock of the Christian Faith on which every bishop of the Church and every Christian stands. Here Simon Peter confesses in fear, “I am a sinful man, Lord.” “Depart from me,” he says; which seems to me clearly to mean, “I am not worthy to stand in your presence, for I am a sinner.” I think it is true to say that Simon Peter’s fear in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ is also an essential part of the confession of Jesus as the Christ that is the rock of the Christian Faith on which every Christian stands. It is another sign that the Christian Faith is not a school of thought or a religious philosophy. No philosophy, no human idea that I know of ever seized its hearers with fear to make them fall to their knees before the one speaking the words of that idea or philosophy and imploring him to: “depart from me, for I am a sinful man.” Standing on a boat fishing in the middle of the lake, the world opens up before St Peter in the great catch of fish, and he beholds Jesus as the Word of God who created the world and in whom the whole world is held together. Jesus Christ is Himself the reality of the word that He teaches. And, the words of His teaching are not just ideas; they are words of life; words that create life from nothing; words that raise to life those who were dead. And these life-creating words of Jesus are the very words that fall on our ears in the prayers and in the teaching of the Church; for the Church is the body of Christ, the fullness of Him who is all in all.
The Gospel this morning, if we are listening closely, is giving us a clue, I think, as to how we may hear the Word of God in the words of the Church that fall on our ears whenever we say her prayers or read her teaching in Scripture, in her dogma, in the lives of her saints. In this morning’s Gospel, the Lord commands Simon Peter: “Go out into the deep [baqoV] and let your nets down for a catch!” I have explained a number of times that in Christ, everything is united. The outer world is united to the inner world. When the Lord gives the command, “Go out into the deep,” the command to be sure pertains to an outward action; in this case, launching your boat out onto the lake. But there is an inner reality in the command, and so there is also an inner spiritual reality in the outer action of the disciples’ launching their boat into the deep. It is abundantly clear in the context of the Tradition of the Orthodox Church that the inner spiritual reality contained in the Savior’s command to launch the boat into the deep is the command to descend with the mind in prayer into the heart in obedience to and under the direction of the word of the Savior; that is to say, to practice the life of prayer in obedience to and under the direction not of our own words, not under the direction of our own wisdom, but only in obedience to the Word of God, learning to listen very carefully, with discernment, to hear the word of God in order to obey that word and not our own word or the word of man.
We read in the prophet Jeremiah, in the Septuagint, “The heart is deep [baqoV] beyond all things, and it is the man. Even so, who can know him?” The word to describe the heart, “deep”, is the same word Jesus uses when He commands the disciples to launch their boat into the deep. I believe there is a mystical connection also to be found in Genesis, which takes us to the moment of creation. “In the beginning, God made the heavens and the earth, and the earth was without form and void; and darkness covered the face of the deep [abussoV]; and, the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.” In the beginning, God, the Lord Jesus Christ, spoke a word and the world came into being. God spoke again and there was light – not the light of the sun and moon, but the light of God’s Law, in whose light the world was made. In this morning’s Gospel, God the Word speaks a command, launch your boat into the deep, and when the disciples obey the word of the Savior’s command, they make a great catch of fish. When he “beholds” that great catch of fish, Simon Peter sees into the inner world of the Spirit and sees, he knows, that Jesus is no ordinary man but God the Word. He sees who Jesus really is beneath his outer identity as man as though light has dawned in the deeps of his heart. I submit that he fears Jesus and falls to his knees to worship Him because that mystical inner moment of creation that stands underneath every outer moment of space-time has opened up to him. He sees into the deeps of his heart. He sees the nothingness, the void that he is at the core of his being, since he is a creature who came into being from nothing. But he sees the nothingness and the deep emptiness of his heart opening not onto nothing but out into the creative Word of God; and he sees that the creative Word of God by whom all things came to be is standing before him in the flesh as the God-man Jesus. He sees the outer world resting on the inner world, like the earth that rests on the waters. He sees all things resting on Jesus as the creation resting on the Word of God who was in the beginning with the Father, by whom all things were made.
This is the moment in the work of prayer when light dawns in the heart. It is the moment when one truly comes to be, when one truly is raised out of the nothingness of the world and comes alive to see in the light of God’s creation who one really is: a creature made in the Image of God; and Jesus Christ is that Image of God in whom we were made. Up until that moment, it’s as though we don’t really exist. But in that moment when light dawns in the deeps of our heart, the Spirit suddenly is seen and felt brooding over the face of our heart’s deeps, waiting to bring us forth as children of God, alive in God, seeing God, hearing God, living and moving and having our being in the joy of the Life of God.
This uncreated life of God that makes light to shine in the deeps of our heart is the inner essence of every word in the commandments of Christ, the Word of God. The life the words of Christ’s commandments create, the light they make to dawn, the vision they reveal – none of them are of man. They are all of God. We cannot produce or manufacture the reality the words of Christ’s commandments carry in their wings. We can only receive them. That is why the fundamental disposition of the Christian is obedience in humility to the commandments of Christ; the chief work is listening to discern the word of God amid the babble of words that fill the marketplace.
Live to hear the words of the world and you live in darkness, death and corruption. Die to the words of the world in order to hear the word of God and to keep it, and you live in the immortal life of God, you clothe yourself with Christ. Amen.