16th Sunday after Pentecost
In the Gospel reading for this Sunday, our Lord is preaching to the people from the fishing boat of Simon Peter. After He had finished speaking to the people, our Lord asked the Apostle Peter to cast out into the deeper parts of the lake so that they might cast their nets for fish.
Peter, who was an experienced fisherman, replied that they had been fishing all night and had caught nothing… nevertheless, Peter exclaimed, ‘At Thy word, I will let down the net.’ In other words, ‘Thy will be done’. Against what might be considered his better judgment, Peter was willing to subject himself to the will of the Lord. So, they cast off from their place near the shore and went out into the deeper waters of the lake and they let down their nets. The Gospel tells us that the nets were so full of fish that they could hardly bring them into the boat.
Certainly, one of the key lessons that we learn from today’s Holy Gospel is the power and importance of trusting God and submitting ourselves to His holy will. Our pride and self-will and sense of ‘knowing better’ are the root cause of so many of our sins and miseries. And yet, we cling to them so jealously.
St Silouan of Mt Athos wrote, ‘The proud and self-willed do not want to surrender to God's will because they like their own way, and that is harmful for the soul.... The proud man likes to be his own master and does not see that man has not wisdom enough to guide himself without God.’
When we live our lives dictated by our pride and self-will, it inevitably sets us up to become frustrated or angry or despondent when things don’t go our way. St Silouan goes on to tell us, ‘The man who is discontented with his lot and murmurs against his fate, or against those who cause him offense, should realize that his spirit is in a state of pride, which has taken from him his sense of gratitude toward God. But, if it be so with you, do not lose heart but try to trust firmly in the Lord, and ask Him for a humble spirit, and when the lowly Spirit of God comes to you, you will then love Him, and be at rest in spite of all afflictions.’
Our modern minds tend to equate humility with weakness and pride with strength. This is completely upside down. Which requires more strength... to keep silent in the face of an offense or to react with passionate anger? It takes no strength or self-control to just react. And how often do we get ourselves into troubles and conflicts – even inflating those troubles and conflicts - by our reactions?
Humility requires tremendous strength. The strength of humility allows us to keep our peace when offended, to not just react to real or perceived offenses or obstacles to our own will. As our Lord exhorts us in the Gospel of Luke: ‘In patience possess ye your souls.’
This humble submission to the will of God is no easy task. We are fearful that we must always be the ones in control – if we are not in control, then the only other alternative is that things must then be ‘out of control’. This is not true… When we acknowledge and submit to the will of God in our lives, we are not casting things into chaos, we are handing things into far more capable hands.
It is a stumbling block of pride to demand that we understand everything. We cannot understand all the ways of God. As God spoke to Job: ‘Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell Me if you have understanding.’
Many people are in great distress these days over the state of the world. And there are certainly plenty of reasons to be concerned… pandemics, losses of freedom, the normalizing of immorality, droughts, fires, and other natural disasters, and the list could go on and on.
What is our response to all of this? Do we waste every spare moment browsing through the internet for the latest news? Do we feed our curiosity and our pride by running down the rabbit holes offered by all the self-proclaimed ‘experts’ who think they have things figured out? Do we wring our hands in despair having surrounded ourselves with a distorted picture of the world… a picture of the world created by others, whether on the right or on the left?
Where will we find peace in all of this?
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ… Our Lord Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And the task of our salvation remains the same no matter what is happening in the world around us.
If your heart weeps for the misery and the sin that you see in this world, then there is one true and noble and impactful thing that you can do. Stop sinning yourself! As our Lord said to the angry mob surrounding the woman caught in adultery: ‘Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’
Unless we are willing to repent and to get down on our knees and accept our responsibility and our contributions to the weight of the sin that exists in this world, then we must stop looking elsewhere to blame. Do you see evil and injustice in this world? This is not a call to indignation and pharisaical judgment, nor is it a reason for despair… it is a call to prayer and fasting and seeking to place the greatest care that we ourselves do not contribute one additional drop to the evil that is in this world. Every unkind thought, every unkind word, every act of impatience and judgment and self-righteousness that we commit simply heaps additional weight to that repository of evil that spills out into this world.
You can make a difference! Stand up for the truth. Be involved where it is appropriate and where you may be moved to do so. But above all, do not underestimate the power and the impact of a humble soul… living a life of piety and kindness toward all and praying with a pure heart for the salvation of all. As St Seraphim of Sarov famously said: ‘Acquire the spirit of peace and a thousand around you will be saved.’
Let us face our Christian responsibility and accountability with courage and with trust in God. Just as the Apostle Peter thought Christ was asking the impossible when instructed to cast out his nets, just as he may have been tempted to think he ‘knew better’ about the possibility of finding fish… so too may we convince ourselves that all is lost and that our sins are insurmountable.
You and I cannot stand against the weight of the sins of this world. But there is One Who can, and Who has already done so, and has already emerged victorious. That is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. As Christians we are called to unite ourselves to Him and to His victory.
The world suffers indeed from sin and alienation from God – the source of life and peace. Let us resolve to not contribute to that sin, to not add even one more ounce to the weight drawing things down. With God all things are possible. Let us pray and place our trust in God.