(For the First Sunday of Luke)
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In our Gospel passage this morning, Saint Luke sets before us a kind of a “picture-in-words,” in which each aspect of the story not only preserves something from the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In addition to putting before our mind’s eyes this event in Christ’s Life on earth, the details of the story capture and convey a deeper, symbolic meaning. Christ “taught the people from the boat. And when Jesus finished speaking, He said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.’” As Christ’s words tell his closest disciples to “go out into the deep,” we, too, may delve deeper into the richer, deeper meaning of this story, with the help of the guidance and interpretation given by those Holy Fathers of the Church who read, internalized, lived, and passed on insights into the Scriptures.
Many Fathers who considered this passage take special notice of the fact that the story specifically tells us that there were two boats present – the boat of Simon Peter was one of them, and it was the one which Our Lord Jesus chose to enter, embark in, and command to seek fish again, in spite of earlier failures. Saint Ephraim the Syrian tells us that the two boats stand for the two people of God’s two Covenants – the Old Covenant of the Law, the Covenant with the Hebrew people, and the New Covenant made real in Christ, in which being with God is offered to the Hebrews and to all the peoples of the earth, through the coming of God-as-Man in Jesus.
Others, including Blessed Augustine and a certain Saint Maximus of Turin – both of whom lived some 400 years after Christ – tell us, more specifically, that Peter’s boat represents the Church, the “Ark of Salvation,” even the Church existing as we experience it now – a safe haven for people, although cast into “the deeps,” setting out over all the waves and storms of this world, hoping in Christ (and Christ alone) for safety, always casting forth its nets for those who may be drawn into its walls and saved while the world still exists. Christ’s presence in the boat represents His constant presence with the Church in this world, always, even as we go about His command to cast our nets and “fish for men.” The opening of the story, which states that “on one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret,” makes clear the connection between those longing to hear and receive God’s Word and the fish caught in the nets during this “second attempt” to draw in a catch.
It is interesting that Christ, at first, asks Simon Peter to “put out a little from the land” while He is teaching the crowds, hungry for the Word. He stays close to them, imparting His words. After His teachings have been shared, He then asks the man who would become one of His closest followers to “put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” Having heard the teachings of Christ and, indeed, having encountered The Word – Christ Himself, the Logos – Simon is asked to leave safety and security behind, to go out into the frightening depths, to do the seemingly impossible, to try again where Simon feels he has already tried and failed. Many Fathers seem to assume that this passage, which at first glance seems to be a conversation between Jesus and Peter alone, also included the other disciples, mentioned later, who were clearly already “on the scene,” and were assumed to have been actively watching and participating in this part of the story. Blessed Augustine says, “they received from him the nets of the Word of God, they cast them into the world as into a deep sea, and they caught the vast multitude of Christians that we can see and marvel at.”
The very reality of time, for the Fathers considering the text, goes far beyond the scope of just the time of this event, reaching all the way back to Noah’s Ark, seen as a foreshadowing of the Ark of the Church which we find in this Gospel as Peter’s boat, and going forward from that day through all the ages of the Church until the very end of the earth.
Saint Cyril of Alexandria writes,
“Speechless from fright and astonishment, for their wonder had made them speechless – they beckoned to their partners, to those who shared their labors in fishing, to come and help them in securing their prey. For many have taken part with the holy apostles in their labors, and still do so… For the net is still being drawn, while Christ fills it, and calls to conversion those who, according to the Scriptural phrase, are in the depths of the sea, that is to say, those who live in the surge and waves of worldly things.”
The story and the words are not just about or for the people of Jesus’ time on earth, two thousand years ago. They are for all those who came after, including not only Simon, James, John, and those who followed immediately after them. They are addressed to us, each one of us. Each one of us is called to be an apostle, a “fisher of people.”
Our journey may not be easy, and the mission to draw others into the safety of the boat means that we have to have the courage to cast aside our security, to go more than “a little way from the shore.” We must plunge into the deeps, but we should do so after we have learned from The Word Himself, and taking courage in knowing that He-Is-With-Us. We can hear Christ’s teachings in the services of the Church, and when we pray, when we read the scriptures, and when we seek to live them out, every day, in our own lives.
The early commentator Saint Maximus of Turin , again sheds some light on the deeper meaning of this passage by pointing out that a boat is not a destination in itself; it is the way of making the journey. In the case of the ship that is the Church, it is, then, the safe place where we are carried through this vanishing life into true, lasting life. He writes:
“Ordinarily, people are not given life on a boat but transported. Nor are they comforted on a vessel but anxious about its journey … [But] this is the vessel that does not kill but gives life to those borne along by the storms of this world as if by waves. Just as a little boat holds the dying fish that have been brought up from the deep, so also the vessel of the church gives life to human beings who have been freed from turmoil. Within itself, I say, the church gives life to those who are half-dead, as it were.” (Maximus of Turin)
Sometimes it may seem like we are frustrated at almost every turn, in this life, and we may feel “half-dead,” not yet fully made alive. We want to have more people in our Church – … or, there is a situation in our life which we cannot seem to help or make right, no matter what we do, or how hard we try. In the darkness which this life sometimes feels like, we try all night, like Peter, in our own boat, but, as hard as we try on our own, our efforts seem like they are not achieving anything, not any immediate result which we can see.
It is interesting, though, that this very story is set at night-time, in the dark, and the attempt of Peter and his companions to gain some reward in the dark, on their own – when it is very hard to see and work – yields nothing. Another Gospel, that left to us by Saint John, tells us that Jesus said, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Let us, safe within the boat of the Church, even when life’s storms seem so overwhelming, trust in Christ, present with us, and in the teachings He has given us – even when the night is darkest, even when all hope seems gone, even when it seems certain that we may perish before we reach the other side, even when our attempts to bring in fish to the boat seemingly bring no result. Let us not be afraid to launch out into the unknown, unfathomable depths. Let us give up clinging, afraid, to seemingly safe shores.
Let us launch out, in faith, that we may draw all mankind into the boat, before it does, at the end, draw to shore on the other side. Christ is still in the world, He Is its light. Let us be present is His boat, with Him – trusting not in our own labors, but in Him, and doing what He asks of us. Then, the catch will be great.
Through the prayers of our Holy Father, O Lord Jesus Christ, our God have mercy on us.
Thanks to http://www.stnickbyz.com/?archive&id=345 for patristic references