The Apostolate of the Laity

Waxing philosophical in communion with one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

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Location: Portland, Oregon, United States

I am just a sinner who holds fast to the notion that every human being on the planet is the result of a thought of God.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Courage to Follow

"Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord."
Luke 5:8

St. Peter, then known as Simon, exclaimed those words to Christ in the middle of the lake of Gennes'aret after following the instructions Jesus had given him, and he caught a seemingly impossible number of fish; so many that the nets were at risk of breaking. Simon's response to this miracle seems to capture the reaction many have upon first realizing that this Jesus of Nazareth is not just a story, but a reality that redefines previous notions of one's existence.

Consider that Jesus was not a complete foreigner to Simon. His brother Andrew had likely been a follower of John the Baptist. No doubt the prophesy of John about the impending arrival of the Messiah must have at the very least made everyone in the area stop and wonder the implications of the actual coming of the savior. One can only imagine the conversations that the two brothers might have had regarding this incredible possibility. So when the Teacher with his following came to Simon's fishing village, it is not hard to imagine that he paid attention.

At the time of this account of Luke's Gospel, Simon does not seem to be one of the crowd that was pressing in upon Christ to hear his teaching. Rather he was tending to his nets after a fruitless night of fishing. When Christ climbed into his boat and asked that he put out a little ways, Simon did not hesitate. Scripture does not reveal his motivation at the time. There was no "be it done unto me according to thy word" going on here, at least not yet. He simply complied with The Lord's desire and soon found himself closest to the Master sitting with him in the boat as he taught the people on the shore.

Nor does scripture reveal what the Teacher taught to the people who had gathered, but when he had finished, and asked Simon to put out to deep for another try at catching fish, again there was very little hesitancy. Oh the fisherman explained to the Christ that he had been at it all night with nothing to show for it, but then he unwittingly uttered his own affirmation of faith when he said, "But at your word I will let down the nets."

This would not have been a simple act of humoring the Rabbi. Simon did not let down his nets in an exercise of "See, I told you so." It was a decisive act of faith following a series of smaller ones. First he listened to the man called Jesus. Then he let him into his boat. Then he listened some more. Then he followed His command to head for deeper water. He accepted the proposition of Christ and was rewarded in such a way that he needed the help of his fellow fishermen to bring in the haul. Finally, in realizing the implications of what had just been revealed to him; that the Savior was not some distant hope but rather in the here and now, he was overwhelmed and expressed his unworthiness.

"Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord."

How easy it is to assess oneself as not being meritorious enough for Our Lord. How many people stay away from Christ not because of a lack of belief in the possibility of a savior, but for the simple reason that they feel unworthy to profess being a Christian. They might even boast that they refuse to be a hypocrite like the rest of those church going people, but that is a shallow ruse attempting to mask a broader concern. To approach the idea of Jesus as an integral part of life means a critical coming to grips with one's all to sinful nature. It's easier to respond to the Son of God with Peter's first rejection of Our Lord.

And yet The Son of Man did not browbeat the fisherman for his sins. He did not lecture him on how he should behave. He did not threaten, taunt, or tease. He did not lord his authority over this man who would one day be given the keys to the kingdom of Heaven. No, Jesus spoke to Peter four simple words that God had spoken to his servants throughout the ages. Moses, Joshua, Eli'jah, Zechari'ah, Mary, and later Paul all heard these words of The Divine:

"Do not be afraid."

Those words from the Teacher, along with no doubt a fair amount of grace, gave Peter the courage and will to leave behind the vocation he inherited from his earthly father for a new divine call to life as a disciple of this new master of contrariety. This too, proves to be the stumbling block for many who resist association with Jesus. To be with Christ in this modern age of scientific reason means a movement into the counter cultural part of society replete with all of its potential stereotypes, many of them pejorative. It means setting aside the fearful "what ifs" and embracing the more excellent way.

Let all people ask for the grace to find the courage to follow this Prince of Peace as Peter did.


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