|41 - WATERS, TEACHING AND FISHERMEN, July 4, 2021|
This morning’s Gospel of Jesus walking by the Sea of Galilee shows the substance of the mystery of God seen by the prophets. We see the identity of the biblical image of the Way that dominates the landscape of the Torah, the Psalms and the prophets. The Way is Jesus; and the Path that He is ascends to the Father.
In the OT, the Way refers to the Exodus of Israel through the sea, of God delivering her from Pharaoh and his armies and leading her to Sinai where He gave them the Law. And so, the Way can also refer to the Law of God by which Israel is led victorious to possess the Promised Land, or the Land of her Inheritance. The Law of Moses was a ‘copy’ of the Heavenly Pattern, or an image of the Image of God, which is Christ (Ex 25.9&40 & Col 1.15). On the mountain, in giving to Moses the Law, God also revealed to him the mystery of creation. This tells us that the Law of Moses is not superimposed on Israel as a burden. Rather, the Law, as a copy of the Heavenly Pattern, is a formulation, an articulation of the essential principle of creation: creation itself is a copy of the heavenly pattern and the Law gives expression to its essential principle. Man, as the crown of God’s creation, is the supreme copy of the Heavenly Pattern, created by God as male and female in God’s own Image and Likeness (Gn 1.27). That means his essential principle is to become a partaker of the divine nature (2 Pt 1.4).
Pondering these biblical images is like walking by the sea in the mystery of Jesus Christ and peering into the sea’s watery theological depths that are beyond all things. Walking by the sea in the mystery of Jesus Christ, we are walking in that ‘snow-melt’ river that Ezekiel saw issuing from the east gate of the Temple of the Last Day [the Virgin Theotokos] and flowing all the way into Galilee and the Arabah (Arabia), which means the desert [Eze 47.1-12]. We need not guess as to the identity behind the image of that ‘snow-melt’ river seen by Ezekiel in his vision. The LORD Himself tells us through His prophet, Isaiah: “Behold, I flow out of myself [ekklino] to them as a River of Peace, and as a ‘Snow-Melt’ River, I will pour out my Glory upon the nations.” (Isa 66.12)
With this, we step into the boat in the sea of the mystery of God. And the sea beneath us in the boat suddenly becomes impossibly deep. I think the thrill of this boat ride in the sea is expressed well in the apocryphal Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus: ‘The thoughts [of Wisdom, Christ] fill the sea to overflowing, and her counsel [issues] from a great abyss. And I came forth as a brook from a river and as a channel I came forth into Paradise. [Note that ben Sirach is using different words: ‘brook’ for ‘snow-melt’, but the vision he is describing is the same that we see described in Ezekiel and again in Isaiah, not to mention other prophets. Now, a snow-melt comes down into the valley from high up in the mountains. This Snow-Melt River comes down into Paradise or Eden, which is the ‘cosmic mountain;’ which means it comes down into the world from Heaven.] I said, I will water my best garden [the garden is an a biblical image of the heart of the man God created]; I will water abundantly my garden bed [the Virgin Theotokos?]. Lo, my brook became a river, and my river became a sea [this is the same picture we see in Eze 47.1-12]. I will yet make my teaching to shine as the morning and make my light to shine afar [i.e., His words and their sound go into all the earth and to the ends of the universe (Ps 19.4); think Gn 1.3 & Lk 23.54]. Yet will I make to flow [like a river: the verb is ekcheo], my teaching as a prophecy or as a ‘proclamation,’ and leave it for all generations forever. Behold, I have not labored for myself only, but for all them that seek Wisdom [a Paschal Image of Christ ‘finishing’ the work He was given by the Father to do on the Cross, once and for all, not just for Himself but for the life of the world].” [Ecclesiasticus 24.28-34]
In the setting of this imagery of the Way now joined by the image of a river and the sea in the Wisdom of Jesus ben Sirach, there comes to my mind an especially beautiful passage from the Psalms: “Thy Way, O LORD, is in the Sea, Thy paths in many waters; yet Thy footsteps cannot be known.” [Ps 76/77.19] His footsteps cannot be known because they are the Way of His Wisdom, which is deeper than the sea for they come from the infinite deeps of God the Father which are impenetrable.
So, let’s not raise our eyes too high. Let’s be content this morning pondering the theological depths of this morning’s Gospel that we can penetrate.
In this Gospel image of Jesus walking by the Sea of Galilee, we see the Way, the Path of God incarnate. He has descended, like a Snow-Melt River, from His heavenly heights, higher even than the summit of Sinai. He has poured Himself out, He has emptied Himself to descend all the way down to where we are, to the shore along the ‘sea’ of this life; that is, to where we live on this earth flowing, like a river, into the sea of our death which is itself a depth we cannot penetrate even though it is not as deep as the unfathomable depths of God. Note this image of the River or of the Waters, the Sea, alongside the image of the Way. This image of the waters, of the sea, of a river, is another biblical image that is perhaps often overlooked; yet, this image of the Waters or of a River or a Sea dominates the biblical landscape together with the image of the Way or the Path. These two images come together as images of the Exodus which is the Way that leads through the Sea out of bondage and through the River [Jordan] into the Land of Promise or of Israel’s Inheritance, the Land given to Israel by God.
It is I think well known that there are two paths in the bible. There is the broad way that leads to death and there is the narrow way that leads to life. But there are also in the bible two ‘waters’ or ‘rivers’ or ‘seas’. There is the ‘sea of life,’ the life of the flesh, the biological life of sexuality, that comes from the dust and returns to the dust, filled with all kinds of suffering and miseries. This is the sea whose waters overwhelm the Psalmist and from whose depths he cries out to the LORD to deliver him and save him. And there are the “Living Waters” of the Holy Spirit; and, as we hear in the prophets, Ezekiel and Isaiah, for example, the image of the snow-melt River of Peace, identified as the LORD Himself in Isaiah and the Wisdom of Sirach. It issues from the east gate of the eschatological temple, the Virgin Theotokos and also the Tomb of the LORD’s Sabbath Rest. It flows all the way into Galilee, giving life and healing to every creature it touches as it makes its way all the way to the “outlet of the sea” (Eze 47.9). What might be that outlet of the sea in the vision of Ezekiel if not the waters of creation over which the Living Waters of the Holy Spirit were moving in the beginning? But, on the ‘micro-cosmic’ level, that ‘outlet of the sea’ I think is the heart of man where man opens out onto the deep that is beyond all things. Its waters are the waters of creation that have become the waters of death; but when the snow-melt River that is Wisdom, the LORD Jesus Christ, pours Himself out into those waters in the Great Paschal Mystery of His Sabbath Rest, they become waters of life, the divine, uncreated life of God; for they are filled to overflowing with the Living Waters of the Holy Spirit. They become holy waters, living waters, sanctified and deified waters, even the incarnation of the Holy Spirit. These are the waters that we are immersed into when we descend into the baptismal font; they are the waters we drink in Holy Eucharist so that we are given to “receive the Heavenly Spirit” as our drink, together with the Living Bread, the precious Body of Our LORD and Savior, Jesus Christ, the medicine of immortality—i.e., the food and drink that heal and give life to everyone who eats and drinks it in faith, that is, in the fear of God with faith and love.
I am thinking that the image of the living waters, of the unfathomable seas, even of the snow-melt River we find in the prophets, is an image of the Holy Spirit; and the image of the Path or the Way is of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Note how the waters of creation in the beginning, brooded over by the Living Waters of the Holy Spirit, bring forth light, an image of the Incarnation when the Holy Spirit overshadows the Virgin and she conceives in her womb and brings forth the Wisdom, the Light of God, in whom is the Life of men, so that the Son of God when He is incarnate is called the ‘Christ’, the Bearer of the Holy Spirit. Can you see how ‘Christ’ and the ‘Snow-Melt River’ of the prophets are synonyms?
But note also how the teaching of Wisdom, as given in the Wisdom of Sirach, is not a dry set of concepts. It is a River that waters the garden bed or the human spirit, the heart of man and makes it verdant with life. And this is the very WORD proclaimed by the apostles who become, by means of this WORD, fishers of men.
I think we tend to see the Christian Faith as a set of doctrines alongside other doctrines, distinguished from them only by the different ideas they contain. We see the life of the Church as just another mode of this earthly life with rules and a certain code of conduct imposed on it. The mysteries of baptism and Chrismation and of marriage are for us simply ceremonies marking graduation to another stage of life. When we perceive the Christian Faith in this way—as a set of ideas or as a way of life with rules, and its ceremonies simply as marking the different stages of our earthly life—then the worship of the Church becomes an inconvenience because it interrupts our earthly life in the flesh. Or it is subject to ridicule because it is not of this world. Its substance is rooted in a Virgin Birth and a Resurrection from the dead!
But the apostolic doctrine or teaching of the Church is not a lifeless set of ideas about the WORD of God one must believe intellectually. The Christian Faith is not this earthly life modified by rules or a code of ethics. The Christian Faith is itself the snow-melt River of Peace that is Christ God Himself who issues from His Father in Heaven and into the womb of the Virgin as into His Temple, and then from the ‘east gate’ of His Temple and into the world in the mystery first of the Virgin Birth and then from the Tomb in His Holy Resurrection, His Glorious Ascension and Pentecost. The apostolic teaching of the Church shows forth the only-begotten and uncreated Light of God incarnate, anointed as man with the Living Waters of the Holy Spirit to become the Christ, the Snow-Melt River of Peace foreseen by the prophets. The doctrine of the Church sets before us a life that is altogether different from the life of this world. It sets before us the divine, uncreated Life that is of the Spirit of God, not of the earth. It is the divine, uncreated Life of God that flows like a mighty river through the Church, the Body of Christ, and into the world to fill the life of this world with itself, sanctifying it, vivifying it, deifying it, and raising it to heaven as a ‘partaker of the divine nature.’ The copy is taken up into the Heavenly Pattern to become itself heavenly.
To receive the Christian Faith, then, is far more than receiving a belief ‘system’ or a distinctive set of ‘beliefs’. It is to receive into one’s earthly life this altogether different Life, into this life born of flesh and blood here below the uncreated Life of God that is born from the Spirit above, filled with uncreated Light and eternal Life.
One therefore does not receive the full substance of the Church’s teaching and doctrine without receiving, in the mystery of baptism and Holy Eucharist, the Spirit of Christ so that the living waters of our body, the waters of our sexuality, are filled with the Living Waters of the Holy Spirit whose mighty current carries us on the Path that ascends the mountain to the deep that is beyond, above, the top of the mountain—if, that is, we strive to ‘walk’ that Path in the Spirit of Christ, the Wisdom of God, and not in the spirit of our own wisdom.
When we wrap our mouths around the ‘bait’ of the apostolic fishermen, then, we are eating and drinking the Heavenly Spirit. If we chew the Light that is in the Living Waters of the Holy Spirit, i.e., if we ponder it so that it is this teaching and not the teaching of the world that shapes and fills our mind; if we swallow the Light, i.e., if we walk in the Light and not in the darkness of this earthly life that returns to the dust it came from, then, when we pass over through the outlet of the sea, our death, we will find ourselves being carried into the deep that is beyond the top of the mountain into the eternal Life of the uncreated Light of God. Amen!