04 - They Followed Him, Sept 28, 2008

2 Corinthians 4:6-15

Luke 5:1-11

The Greek from this morning’s Gospel is loaded with hidden meanings. At the end of this morning’s Gospel, it says literally: “And bringing their boats down to the earth, and leaving everything, they followed after him.” Boat can be a symbol for one’s body that carries, like a boat, the mind, soul and heart through the sea of life. They brought their boats down to earth. To render this in English, we could say they took their heads out of the clouds and came down to earth; they came to their senses, left everything and followed him because, you could say, that’s what people do when they come again to their senses, when they “come to themselves,” as it is said of the Prodigal Son.

Simon and the fishermen with him “came down to earth” because of what happened to their nets. When they did as Christ told them to do, their nets yielded a great catch of fish. This shook them and they suddenly “woke up” as though from a deep sleep; their heads came down from out of the clouds and they hit the ground with a jolt that brought them to their senses suddenly to realize with terror that no ordinary man was standing before them, not even an extraordinary man, but the Lord, the very God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and who revealed himself to Moses and the prophets.

On the Feast of Pentecost, we sing: “O Christ our God, by sending down thy most Holy Spirit upon the fishermen, thou revealed them to be most wise. Through them, Thou didst draw the whole world into thy net.” Net in this hymn of Pentecost seems to mean “doctrine” or “teaching”; and this meaning for “net” does fit the story of this morning’s Gospel.

The fishermen, it says, were mending their nets while Jesus was teaching the crowd the word of God [logon tou qeou]; i.e. the teaching or doctrine of God – except that Jesus himself is the Word of God. His word is the power of the Father that carries “the All”, i.e. the whole universe, and that cleanses away every impurity and sin.[1] That is to say, that the word of God that Jesus was speaking to the crowds was the divine word of power that is both himself and his teaching. Jesus’ word, his doctrine, is the expression of Jesus himself, the Word of God. Jesus himself is the subject of his word, his doctrine. Jesus himself and his doctrine are the net that he casts into the “sea of life” to draw all men to himself and to the Father in the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel says that while he was teaching the crowds this “word of God”, these fishermen were focused on their nets; i.e. on their own doctrines, their own ideas and theories about God and the world and human nature and destiny. They were like those so-called intellectuals of the world whose heads are forever in the clouds, forever occupied with their religious philosophies and their scientific theories, tinkering with them and changing them every time new discoveries are made; trying to “mend” them to make them sufficient to “catch” what they take as God: that Grand Unified Theory that will explain reality exhaustively in both its macrocosmic and microcosmic dimensions – but never succeeding. Their nets – their teaching, their doctrines, their theories and hypotheses – are always coming up empty, even though they toil all night long – in the darkness of their own wisdom. Their nets are not able to descend into the deep, to the core of being, in order to pinpoint precisely the inner essence of man or of the world so that they can fix the world and eliminate suffering, wars and evils. Indeed, their doctrines, their nets, as history has shown, when cast out into the world only produce more evils, more suffering, more wars. They confuse and darken the human mind; every answer only yields more questions. They cannot pinpoint the inner essence of man because their nets, their doctrines or their words, are not large enough to catch the Great Fish himself – Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, the very Word of God the Father. Their nets, their doctrines, are woven from the wisdom of human opinion. They toil in the darkness of the night of this world because they are not enlightened by the Word of God who is the Wisdom of God and the Light of God, in whom is the Life of the world, the Holy Spirit. To catch God the Word – i.e. to express the fullness of the mystery of Christ God, one needs a net, one needs a doctrine a word that is sufficient to convey him who is himself the Word of God. And the only doctrine sufficient for such a catch is the doctrine, the net that is woven from the light of the Word of God himself, both the Person of the Word of God and his teaching, which alone conveys the word of God, the doctrine of God because it alone comes from the Word who is the Wisdom of God, Jesus Christ. And that word, that doctrine, is the preaching of the Church, the body of Christ, the fullness of him who is all in all.

It is only when the “Master” commands the fishermen to cast out into the “deep” and cast their nets into the sea that their nets are able to penetrate into the “deeps” of the human heart, to the center of human being and make such a great catch of fish, and yet their nets do not break. They do not break because now their doctrines are no longer governed by the dark and empty wisdom of human opinion; they have been subjected in obedience to the “word” of the Word of God who is himself the Wisdom of God and the Image of God in whom man was made. Only when they are united to the Word of God himself are the words of human speech enlightened and made able to convey to the world the mystery of man not as a highly evolved animal, but as a creature made in the Image and Likeness of God and destined to live the very life of God in Christ Jesus as a partaker of the divine nature, a communicant of life eternal.

But we have not yet explained really why, when the fishermen subjected their nets to the word of God given them by Christ, the Word of God, and made such a great catch of fish, why they suddenly “brought their boats down to the earth, and came to their senses, and leaving everything, followed him” when only a few moments before they had been so terrified of his absolute goodness and holiness that they were begging him to depart from them. They must have seen something else when the Savior said to them, “Do not be afraid. Henceforth, you will become fishers of men.” What did they see?

Beloved faithful, what do we see? What does the word of the Church set before our eyes? What did it set before our eyes only two Sundays ago as the Church made ready to follow the path of time to Christmas, then to Theophany and finally to the Pascha of the Lord?

We saw the Cross, and the image of Christ crucified. And what do we see when we behold the image of Christ crucified? We see the ineffable love of God for us. This is the word of God that fills the word, the doctrine of the Church – the Church who is the body of Christ, Christ incarnate here and now and present in our midst. It is the word, the doctrine of the Word of God who is Himself the Love of God who so loved the world that he emptied himself and became obedient to the Father even to the point of death on the Cross,[2] that he might become one with us in all things, and destroy him who held over us the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver us from our bondage to death.[3] Why did he do this? That he who made the light to shine out of darkness might shine in our hearts the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ.[4] Why did he want to do this? So that beholding the love of God in the face of Jesus Christ, we might come “down to earth”, that we might come to our senses and realize who we truly are, creatures made in the image and likeness of God,[5] and in that soberness of mind, leave everything and follow him who so loved us that he gave himself for us and did not cease to do all things until he had brought us up to heaven and clothed us with his Kingdom which is to come, so that we might become partakers of the divine nature,[6] communicants of life eternal.

Beloved faithful, this is the word of God, the Gospel of the Church. It is the proclamation of a God who is love. If God is love, that means that the principle of the universe is love; the truth of our being is love – not the love of man that is fickle and subject to change and to death and corruption, but the love of God that is life-giving and eternal. Who, touched by the light of this Gospel radiating from Christ crucified on the Cross and suddenly enlightened to see that we are each one precious in the sight of the Lord because we are each one made in the love of God and for the love of God, would not want to bring his boat down to earth and rise up to leave behind the empty wisdom of his own ideas, his own opinions of right and wrong, his own religious philosophies and theories, his pursuits after the empty riches of the world and rise up to follow after this Savior, this Word of God, this Love of God incarnate, Jesus Christ our Lord and Master? This love for God is who we are. This is what the word of God, the doctrine of his holy Church, reveals to us. Beloved faithful, let this be our New Year’s resolution as we prepare to take up our Cross – the ascetic disciplines of prayer and fasting and charity – and follow Christ now to his holy Pascha: let us strive from this day, from this hour, from this moment, to come down to earth, to come to our senses, and to follow Christ as disciples, students, of his word that we may be found faithful disciples of this Love of God, and become ourselves fishers of men, loving each other and even those who hate us as God our Lord and Master has so loved us; and, in the love of this word of God set before us in the image of Christ crucified, that we might draw others – our family and friends, our neighbors, our co-workers, even perhaps our enemies – to Him who is the Lord and Master of all, Jesus Christ, the Word and Love of God. Amen. 

[1] Heb 1:3

[2] Phil 2:6-11

[3] Heb 2:14-15

[4] II Cor 4:6

[5] Gn 1:26-28

[6] II Pt 1:4