|04 - Into the Deep, September 25, 2011|
II Corinthians 4:6-15
Jesus commands Simon to go out into the deep and let down his nets for a catch. Simon answers, “Master, we have been laboring all night long and caught nothing.” So it means something that Simon and his companions make their great catch of fish when they obey the command of the Savior to launch out into the deep and let down their nets for a catch. What suddenly gave their work such power, what made it so effective was the Word of God that was acting in it through their obedience, i.e., through their faith. In their obedience to Christ, their work is united to the power of Christ’s Word and becomes so effective that they catch more fish than even the two boats together can hold.
We can say that the boat is the Church. Through baptism, we have gotten into the boat of the Church. So, we are like Simon and his companions in this morning’s Gospel. This morning, we have gotten into the boat: we have called upon the Name of Christ and He comes to us invisibly in His Holy Spirit. He teaches us from the hymns and prayers, the epistle readings and the Gospels as He taught the crowds from the boat. Very shortly, we will begin the second part of the Divine Liturgy. That is when Christ will turn to us and say: launch your boat into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.
The word that the Lord uses for “deep” here in St Matthew’s Gospel is the same word He gave to the prophet Jeremiah for the heart of man. “The heart is deep beyond all things, and it is the man.” The Psalmist, too, uses this word to describe the heart of man: “The inward mind and heart of a man are deep.”
In the boat of the Divine Liturgy, we are going to descend with Christ into the tomb of our heart as we bring the Holy Gifts to the altar. We are going to catch what we could not catch by our own power. We are going to catch the divine life of Christ in the mystery of His Holy Resurrection.
Launching our boat into the deep and letting down our nets for a catch is the work we are doing when we get into the boat of the Divine Liturgy. The mystical character of this work is given in St Paul’s words to the Corinthians that we read this morning: “The God who said, ‘Let the light shine out of the darkness,’ is He who has shone in our hearts with the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” When we step into the boat of the Divine Liturgy and launch into the deep, we descend into the darkness of our hearts where we are dead because of our sins and trespasses. There, we come upon the light in which creation came into being when God said, “Let there be light.” It is the light of the glory of God that shines in the face of Christ. It is the light of the New Creation that was brought into being by Christ’s words on the Cross; “It is finished!” What is finished? The creation is finished. It is finished in the light of creation that has blossomed into the light of Christ’s Holy Resurrection. This is the light that shines in the darkness of our heart, raising us up from death to the life of God in the Resurrection of Christ.
Now that we have seen the true Light shining in our heart, now that we have received the Heavenly Spirit in the boat of the Divine Liturgy, our work in this world begins. It is the work of faith, leaving everything to follow Christ and to become, as He commanded, fishers of men.
St Luke says that after this great catch of fish, the disciples left everything on the earth and they followed Him. It’s easy to see that St Luke is telling us that they were taking up their cross to follow Christ. It is also very easy to see that they left everything on the earth to follow Christ because their experience with Him on the sea had opened their eyes to see Him as the God who had said in the beginning: “Let the light shine out of the darkness.” And they must have seen in the face of Christ the light of God’s glory, and the light of that glory must have pierced all the way into the darkness of their souls to shine in their hearts with the knowledge, the love of God. They left everything on the earth. They loved the things of the earth no more. They loved the things of heaven. They loved Christ. They had found the pearl of great price. What must the glory of God be like that shines in the face of Christ that those who see it, yea, even those who only hear of it, are suddenly kindled with a burning love for it that they would leave everything that is of the earth in order to follow the Christ who is from heaven? And how blind, how foolish must we be who step into the boat of the Divine Liturgy, launch into the deep to see the True Light and to receive the Heavenly Spirit, who go back into the world and leave everything of heaven behind in order to follow after the things of the earth!
Let this morning’s Gospel be for us an exhortation that we hear and do: even if we do not see or feel the greatness of the heavenly light that is shining in our hearts from out of the darkness as we step into the boat of the Divine Liturgy and launch into the deep, let’s let down our nets this morning enough that we bring up at least a curiosity that is sufficiently disturbing to provoke us to consider the possibility of leaving at least some earthly things behind in order to “go at least a little ways to see this great thing that has come to pass that we hear rumors of. So many have borne witness to it; so many have sought it and found it; and whatever they found they loved so much that they left everything of the earth behind to follow after it. Why should not one of these many who found the pearl of great price be me?
How do we set out to do this? Step deeper into the boat of the Church by folding more and more of your daily life into the life, the Spirit of the Church. Talk to God, pray more. Listen to the Church more. Read the scriptures more. Read the lives of the saints more. Think more on what you hear and see in the Church. But don’t trust your own wisdom or counsel. You’re launching yourself into deeps that are spiritual in their quality. This is heavenly work. It is subtle and impossible for the mind that is earthly to grasp. If we try to understand what we hear and see from the wisdom of our own earthly opinions, or if we try to catch a glimpse of the Christ by our own earthly strength we will pervert it and fall away from it and we will catch nothing. We are ignorant of divine things because of the depth of our vanity and pride. To do this work of letting down our nets for a catch of fish, we need to get in the boat. We need to get in the Church. And once we’re in the boat, once we’re in the Church, we need to listen to what the Savior is teaching us in the boat, and then we need to be humble enough to lay aside our own ideas and our own will and submit in obedience to what the Savior commands us to do. The prayer of our heart should be: “Lord, I cry unto Thee, hear me! Lord, teach me Thy statutes, make me to understand your commandments, enlighten me with your precepts. Lord, illumine my mind with the light of your Gospel commandments. Lord, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The more we desire to behold the light of Christ, the deeper will be the launching of our boats. They will be the depths of humility and contrition – like the contrition of St Peter: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” And the deeper, the more humble, the more contrite the launching of our boats, the greater will be our catch of fish, for the tears of humble contrition have the effect of washing the dirt of self-esteem from our eyes so that our heart can begin to catch glimpses of the face of Christ shining from out of the darkness in our heart. Then, perhaps we shall find what so many others have found: that the soul is so wounded by love for Christ that it no longer desires the things of the earth. It desires only to launch into the deep to follow Christ to heaven. And then perhaps we become fishers of men, not by our words but by the love of Christ that shines from our hearts and bathes all that we say and do in the glory of God. Amen.