|03 - Cast Your Nets for a Catch, Sept 22, 2013|
I Corinthians 16:13-24
Our Gospel this morning takes us to the shore of Lake Gennesaret, which is also known as the Sea of Galilee. This is significant; it takes us to the prophet Ezekiel where the rich theological meaning of this morning’s Gospel is opened to us.
In a vision (Eze 47), Ezekiel sees a mighty River flowing out from the temple of Jerusalem toward the east, into Galilee, and from there to Arabia and to the sea. As it flows to the east from out of the temple of Jerusalem, Ezekiel is told, it will heal the waters that it touches. In Ezekiel’s vision, there is a “great multitude of fish” that will be healed because the waters go there. Indeed, everything that moves will be healed and live wherever the waters of this River go. Fishermen are standing by the River, spreading their nets and catching a great many fish.
Now, at the Feast of Theophany, we will hear the Lord called the “River of Joy”. He heals the waters of creation when He is baptized in the Jordan. And, when He comes down to make His home in Galilee, after triumphing over the devil in the wilderness, we see Him going about all of Galilee healing every malady and every infirmity of both soul and body wherever He goes. (cf. Mt 23) Is it not clear that Jesus is Himself the Mighty River Ezekiel saw flowing from the Temple into Galilee and out to the sea?
But, what does the Lord cry out on the Feast of Pentecost? “Let Him who thirsts come to Me and drink; He who believes in Me, from His heart will flow rivers of living water.” (Jn 7:37) I am inclined to believe from this, that “the sea” to which the prophet Ezekiel saw Jesus, the Mighty River of Joy, making His way to when He got into Simon’s boat on Lake Gennesaret – the Sea of Galilee – in this morning’s Gospel was not the worldly sea of the Mediterranean but the spiritual mystery of Holy Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit as “Living Water” will be poured out on all flesh, flowing forth from the side of Jesus’ crucified and risen and glorified body as from the Heavenly Temple in Ezekiel’s vision – for the body of Jesus is the Temple of God as we read in John (2:21) – and healing all “the fish” who believe in Him and receive Him wherever He goes, even as far as the “deeps” of the human heart.
For, we know from the prophet Jeremiah that it is the heart of man that is the “deep”. Jeremiah says: “The heart is deep beyond all things, and it is the man! (Jer 17:9 (17:5 LXX)) So, when the Savior commands Simon Peter to “launch out into the deep,” we know now from the prophets its theological meaning: “Go into your heart!” Moreover, we know from the Proverb that it is from the heart that the waters of life flow (Prov 4:23). Now, we begin to see the theological meaning of Jesus’ command: “And, cast your nets for a catch.” Catch the Holy Spirit, the living waters that flow from the side of Christ’s crucified and risen body as from the Temple of God in the Jerusalem of Heaven that Ezekiel saw in his vision. Go into the deep of your heart and acquire the Holy Spirit so that the Lord may create in you a clean heart and put in you a new and right spirit.
That, I think, is the theological meaning of Jesus’ command to Simon. I think it may explain why they were afraid and astonished – as they will be at the Lord’s Resurrection. This little fishing expedition had in fact opened onto the mystery of God that the prophets were all talking about, the mystery that had been hidden before the ages – until now, when it was made manifest in the mystery of Jesus Christ, because that mystery is Jesus. But, if that was so, it meant that they were the fishermen whom Ezekiel had seen in his vision standing by the River and casting their nets! (Ee 47:10) Of course Simon cries out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinner!” Was this not, in effect, the cry of Moses? Who of us who has seen God can stand in His presence, let alone become His witness to the ends of the earth? And yet, what calling is so full of joy?
I think this theological meaning that Simon and his fishing companions saw revealed in this “little fishing expedition” on Lake Gennesaret explains why they left their nets to follow Christ. It was to follow Him into the “deep” of their heart in order to acquire the Holy Spirit and to be re-created with a clean heart, with a new and right spirit. And, I think it explains what it meant for them to become fishers of men: it meant to go throughout the world, baptizing all the nations in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to keep all that the Savior had commanded them (Mt 28:19-20) – i.e., going throughout the world raising all the “fish” of the sea from the dead and placing them in the mighty River of the healing waters of Christ’s Holy Spirit, putting them on the path that leads into the deep of their heart and to the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, the creation of a clean heart and of a new and right spirit.
It is only now that we come to the point that I hope to impart to you this morning. How do we go into the deep of our heart? And, what is the net that we are to cast, and how do we cast it, if we wish to acquire the Holy Spirit of Christ?
We “go into the deep” of our heart through repentance, by turning away from the world and from our own opinions to follow Christ; for the deep of our heart is where He is going when He ascends the Cross and is then buried in the tomb. And we repent, we follow Christ, by casting our nets for a catch: i.e., by “denying ourselves and taking up our cross and following Christ.”
We heard at the Matins service for the Elevation of the Cross this hymn: “In the Church, that once was barren, the wood of the Cross has now put forth flower, filling her with strength and steadfastness. (Irmos for Ode 2; Festal Menaion, p. 145) Here, the Church is likened to the Theotokos who brings forth Christ. She is the “wood of the Cross” that has “now put forth flower”, which is Christ. At Christmas, by the way, He is called the “precious rose” that blossoms from the virgin in the cave. Now, reflect on this hymn together with this verse sung in the first week of Great Lent: “From the tree of the Cross there grows for all the world the flower of abstinence. Let us therefore accept the Fast with love and take pleasure in the fruit of Christ’s divine commandments.” (Lenten Triodion, p. 230)
Do you see that both Christ and the ascetic disciplines of the Church – prayer, fasting, acts of mercy – are “flowers” that issue from the “wood of the Cross”? It means that when we take up the ascetic disciplines of the Church we are putting on Christ!
There’s more to this imagery. St Anthony the Great calls Jesus the Tree of Life. In ancient Israel, the faithful Israelite would sign himself with the sign of God’s name, which was a shorthand for the Hebrew letter, tau, and which was in the shape of a cross. It seems to me that in the liturgical texts, the wood of the Cross is a symbol of Christ’s humanity, of His body and soul, which, of course, is the same nature as ours. The Cross gives to the wood of the Cross its specific shape, so that it is the shape of a cross and not, for example, of a throne. So also, the divine Person of Christ gives to the humanity that He receives from the Virgin its specific shape, its “form”, as St Paul calls it (Phil 2:5-11): the “form”, the “shape” of the God-Man, the New Adam.
This means that when we take up the ascetic disciplines of the Church as our Cross, we are taking on the form of Christ; and, the “wood” that we are is reshaped into the “form” of Christ. When in Holy Eucharist we receive the “wood” of Christ’s most pure and precious body and blood, it spreads throughout the “wood” of our body and blood, penetrating all the way into the “deep” of the heart, to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Heb 4:12) and healing the “wood” of the heart of its bitterness, like a “medicine of immortality”, for the Body and Blood of Christ are the healing waters of the Mighty River in Ezekiel’s vision.
And so, through the ascetic disciplines of the Church and in the reverent reception of her holy sacraments in the fear of God, with faith and love, the “wood” of our body and soul begins to take on the shape of Christ and the fragrance of Christ, the Flower who comes forth from the “Wood” of the Cross, the “Flower” that is the “precious rose” who blossoms from the Virgin in the cave, the Flower who comes forth from the tomb of the heart in the Glory of His Resurrection, the Flower that is the hidden “form” and the hidden “energy” in the ascetic disciplines of the Church that grow from the wood of the Cross. We are being shaped into the likeness of Christ; or better, the love of Christ is becoming the shape and the fragrance of our life.
One last thing: let us note that the Cross has a vertical and a horizontal beam, which come together in the “center” or the “heart” of the Cross. So also, our heart is where our inner or spiritual part (the vertical bar) and our outer or bodily part (the horizontal bar) come together. So, to “go into the deep, and to cast our nets for a catch” means that we engage not only our outer part but our inner part as well. We can’t just come to Church physically – although that is an excellent start; we don’t just say our prayers so that we can say that we said them – although that is a good start, too. We must work to pray in our heart, with attention, with feeling, to fast for the love of Christ, to show mercy for the sake of Christ. We must strive to catch hold of our inmost desire that wants to run off to busy itself in the things of the world, and make it captive to the Cross of Christ, to crucify it so that it may be laid into the living waters of Christ and receive healing and cleansing. Then, do we begin to live, for now the “deep” of our heart has opened beyond all things to catch the Holy Spirit, so that it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us. Amen.