Author: Fr George Dimopoulos
Source: Orthodox Sermons for all the Sundays of the Year – Volume I
Publisher: Christian Orthodox Editions
“From henceforth thou shalt catch men”. (Luke 5:1-11)
Dear brethren, in this passage we are carried by St Luke to the Lake of Genesarret. We picture two fisherman returning from their work with empty nets. As usual, there were many people gathered at the lake. The fishermen customarily took their catch and brought it into the house of Anna and Caiaphs, and to the Roman authorities, after which they sold it in order to buy bread and other necessities for their families. But as the Gospel says, on that night the fishermen were in great despair as they sat washing their nets for the next day’s work.
The task of a fisherman is hard and very painful. Nevertheles, for Holy Scriptures it is a very symbolic work. In the science of theology there is a branch called “alieftike”. In order to catch fish, the fisherman must be experienced and well-prepared. The same must be said about every fisherman of logical soul. In other words, every preacher, in order to attract human souls into the net of Christ, needs to be well-prepared and experienced. A fisherman must be patient and calm. Many times will he cast his net, and the results desired will be few and far between. The same can be said for the preacher. Many times he will preach, and oftentimes without favourable results. Yet, he will not give up. He will continue with greater fervour. The job of a fisherman is a trying one, what with the salt and brine; the dashing waves and freezing waters; the cold wind against the warm rain.
The mission of the preacher is equally difficult. Man is very much like the sea-capricious. When a fisherman takes in a good catch, he rejoices until he begins separating the edible from the non-edible and ends up throwing most of it back into the sea. Then comes despair. The same thing happens to the preacher. He preaches in Church and captures his audience in his net, as long as they are in Church. Later he worries because many of the people caught in his net are later to become his enemies. We have so many examples of like situations in history and our past experiences. How many despise the grace and return the gift.
Amongst the multitude at the lake stood our Lord. He boarded the ship of Simon, who he later surnamed Peter (Luke 5:3). Jesus asked Peter to take his ship a little further out into the lake, that all might see. Jesus transformed the boat from a ship into His pulpit, and He began to teach… “and He sat down and taught the people out of the ship”. This might very well serve as an example for us, that the Gospel of Christ, the Word of God, “is not bound” to only one place, nor is limited to the pulpits and places of worship. But the action of preaching is designed for all places, as St Paul wrote to Timothy… “preach the Word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine” (2 Timothy 4:2).
To be sure, the very office in which I am sitting and receiving people is a pulpit. The restaurant wherein I sit and eat my meal can very well serve as a pulpit. When I walk through the streets, or in the shops where people work, these too can become pulpits. Whatever I say must be guised in the edification of a sermon – a sermon that will benefit my fellow man. So many times people say to us, “What a kind man he is”, “How nicely he speaks”. However, kindness in the Christian concept is quite different from any other. The real Christian is always careful about his language and is never flexible to the point that harsh words will follow or be substituted for kind words. The honest and genuine Christian never changes, no matter what threatens to damage his social behaviour and contacts.
After the end of the sermon Jesus begged Peter to anchor his ship in a deeper part of the lake, and to cast his nets for one more try. Peter immediately raises the objection… “Master, we have toiled all the night and have taken nothing”. This same pessimism afflicts many people nowadays, especially at the outset of a new task. Some familiar phrases: “It is impossible to do that. We should not have started this way. We should not have built such a huge church, we are a small community. The bishop or the priest had no right to do that”. What great mistake! The position of the Christian in society must be a positive one. Christianity is a positive experience, not a negation. The only area in which the Christian can afford negation is in his attitude towards sin. But for progress, he must believe positively that God is always with us. We trust in His providence, in His love, and in His paternal affection.
The Lord insists, and Peter casts his nets into the sea… “nevertheless, at Thy word I will let down the net”. The net, no sooner had it submerged, began to tear… “and when they had this done they enclosed a great multitude of fish and their nets broke”. Peter is astonished. Yes Peter, but do not be surprised. Last night you toiled endlessly in pain, but without Christ. Today your nets are cast with His blessings. How would it be possible for the nets to remain empty?
This lesson is also for us. Oftentimes we cast our nets without ever remembering Christ, not even seeking His blessings. Many of us try to use force in working with the blessing of God. Undoubtedly, our efforts are in vain, our expenditures lost, our hopes hardly ever realised. Actually, without God and Christ, we can never achieve fruitful ends.
Peter’s first reaction to this marvellous thing was a realisation of his unworthiness. He said to Jesus, “Lord, I am a sinner. Leave my ship, please. It is not a place for you. You are clean”. No, Peter, your are wrong. The Lord came for the sinners. It is the ill afflicted that have need of a doctor, He has said once, and not those that are well. Perhaps this is the strangest thing with the sermons of Jesus – the sinners become the greatest preachers.
Brethren, let us rejoice and celebrate. The sinners are becoming preachers, apostles, and fathers of the Church. “Simon, fear not, from henceforth thou shalt catch men” Dear brethren, come forth, Jesus Christ waits for you and me. Come, He has a place for you, that you might stand up in your own particular pulpit and preach about the greatness of God. He accepts, as St John Chrysostom reiterates, the last with the same manner as the first. He rewards the first as abundantly as the last. His job is indeed easy, and His burden is light, Amen.