This homily was preached on Sunday morning, August 4, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.
The Fifth Sunday after Trinity – 2013
Gospel Reading: Luke 5:1-11
“They had fished all night and caught nothing, and then at Jesus’ command, they let down their nets and brought in a great multitude of fishes.”
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is One.
These men did not fish for a hobby. They didn’t bring in their income through some desk job and then once every month or two go out on the weekends with some beers in the ice chest, just so they could catch a couple of catfish just so they could fry up for lunch, or to get a big bass that they could mount up on the wall. These were professional fishermen. This is what they knew best. This was their career. This was their livelihood. This is how they fed their families. They knew what they were doing. And yet all night they fished, using all of their skill, using all of their expertise, and nothing happened. They didn’t catch any fish. It was a complete bust.
It would be like cooking for a whole month [as a Saladmaster salesman] and not selling a single set.
It’d be like working for a whole month in the hospital, and just nothing goes right, you can’t seem to hit a single vein with the IV, you can’t seem to get anybody’s medication, just nothing goes right.
You’ve been doing your job for years. You’ve been doing it well. You’ve been feeding your families, and you just can’t get the job done. You ever had days like that? I think we all have, and there are even icons made of this miracle where Jesus simply gives the word and they throw out the nets, and these nets that for a full night had brought in nothing suddenly bring in so many fish that it nearly sinks two boats.
When I first started looking at this, thinking about the sermon for this week, one of the things that hit my mind was, “Is this really even a miracle?” It’s impressive. It shows His power, but is there anything unique or special here? Because, doesn’t God always have command over all the fish, over all the animals? Don’t they always obey Him? Don’t they always go where He tells them to go?
And I got to thinking, what about during the night? During the night when they were fishing, and they threw the net in—and this is not one of those little nets like you throw out to get a few shad so that you can have bait—we’re talking big, huge, giant nets that it takes multiple men to get out. You’re using a boat, you’re dragging it, you’re reeling it in, and finally you’re using this huge net like you see on commercial fishing boats on the Discovery Channel. It’s a lot of work to throw out this net and to pull it in. They throw it out, they pull it in, and there’s not one fish.
Has it ever occurred to you that THAT was just as much a miracle? We should have icons of the night before, like with a hundred different frames of Peter, James, and John throwing the net out and getting nothing, and then doing it again and getting nothing.
You realize Jesus was in charge of the fish that night, too? The hundred times, the five hundred times they threw the net out, and got nothing, Jesus was still in charge of the fish.
You see, it’s just as easy for Jesus to direct the fish away from your nets as it is for Him to direct the fish into your nets. It’s not as if the fish were autonomous and having no relation or obedience to God, and just going about their merry way in the sea and then finally this weird thing happens where just this one narrow point in time, “Okay, Jesus has control over the fish, what a miracle.” He always has control over the fish!
To make sure that they would be astonished, Jesus made sure that a hundred times they’d throw their nets in and get nothing. So that when He spoke, and they threw it in one more time in obedience, and then their nets were filled, they’d have just the reaction that Peter had: to fall on his knees before the Incarnate God, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, and say, “Depart from me, I’m a sinful man, I don’t deserve to even be in Your presence: I know who you are.”
Think about Elijah. Remember the story of Elijah in the Old Testament, where there had been this great drought in the land, for three and a half years. Crops, cattle were dead, parched, people were desperately in need of water, and then Elijah prays and then he sends his servant to run and go look on the horizon and he sees nothing, and he comes back, and Elijah sends him again, and he runs back and then, finally, I think it’s the seventh time he runs and looks at the horizon, he says, “I see a little cloud on the horizon. It looks like it’s about the size of a man’s hand,” and it was very shortly, later that day, that the torrential downpours came down, and we regard that as a miracle. But do you remember where the drought came from? See, three and a half years earlier, God had instructed Elijah to pray, and Elijah prayed that it would not rain, and so the drought, as well as the downpour, was from the Lord.
In our lives, we go through both. We go through droughts and we go through downpours. We go through our nights and our days and our weeks and sometimes it feels like even years, that you just sow, and you sow, and you sow, and nothing sprouts, nothing grows—at least not like you expected it. You’re fishing, and you’re fishing, and you’re fishing, and you’ve got nothing to show for it. All your years of experience bring no fruit. All of your hard labors bring no fruit. All of your fancy equipment—no fruit. And you get in despair and you get upset and you get mad at God and you start asking, “Why me, O Lord?”
But then, in His time, for His purposes, He also knows how to open the floodgates of heaven and to pour on us such a blessing that we can’t even contain it. It works that way in the Church sometimes, too.
You know, the Church for the past couple thousand years has called itself “the ark of salvation,” a boat. The flood waters are out there drowning the world in sins and in the passions, and selfishness, and destruction, and then here’s this little boat called the Church, driven by Christ–and you get into that boat through the Orthodox Church–and you’re still going to experience the storm, you’re still going to experience the waves, but you’re going to preserve your life. Your eternal soul is going to be preserved and you are going to come to dock in Paradise.
At one point in the gospels, Jesus compares evangelism and bringing people into the Church like fishing. Not like a fishing pole with bait, but with a net that you cast out wide, and you drag in all sorts of fish and you bring them all into the boat, and some are good, some are bad. Some you keep, some you get rid of. You don’t pick and choose based on what kind of bait you use; you bring them all in and then you separate them out. And we can accept that, because at least when you see a lot of people coming in, and some staying and some leaving, you figure, “Well, okay, there’s this constant influx, there’s this constant thing going on.” But how do we think about it, how do we deal with it, how do we respond emotionally?
When you go through periods of time that you’re talking to your neighbors, you’re having people over to eat, you’re having email conversations, you’re talking to people about Orthodoxy, you’re talking to people about Christ, and it feels like you’re fishing all night long and you drag the net in, and you’re exhausted, and you open the net up: there’s not one fish. There’s nothing in it.
It may be family members that live nearby or that live far away, that you’ve been trying for years to bring in, and you just keep fishing, and you keep fishing, and you keep fishing, and nothing. It may be this little boat, this little piece of the Church that we call Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha. And you go through your good days, your bad days, your good weeks, your bad weeks, but then sometimes you go whole stretches of time that you feel like, “Man, we’re just casting the net out there. We’re talking to people. We’re witnessing for Christ, for Orthodoxy, we’re advertising, we’re talking to people, we’re being nice to people, we’re doing kind things for people and well, I guess nobody new wanted to come, again.” And you feel like you’ve been fishing all night long, and there’s no fish.
But if it’s true that Jesus is always in control of the fish, then is it possible that He knows what He’s doing better than we do? Is it possible that He knows the right timing? Is it possible that He knows the changes not only that He needs to work in the fish, but also in the fishermen?
He knew that Peter, James and John needed to hit hard up against that brick wall of futility, in trying to get all the fishing done on their own efforts. They needed to be reminded that every fish they had ever caught was not just because of their experience or their fancy boats or their wonderful nets, but from the time Peter, James, and John were towheaded kids out in some swimming hole, in whatever the redneck part of Israel is, that every fish they ever caught was put in their net and put on their pole by the grace of God. Not by their own wisdom. Not by their own experience, not by their own devices. And so these grown men could find themselves unable to even provide for their families, using the best boats, the best nets, and decades, you know, years and years of experience, they could fish and fish and fish and fish and get nothing, because the Lord who is the Lord over the fish in the seas miraculously directed them away from those nets all night long.
And then, Jesus didn’t critique their nets. He didn’t say there was anything wrong with their boats. He didn’t say that their experience was invalid. He didn’t critique a single part of their fishing operation. He didn’t pick out a single flaw. He simply told them to do it again.
“Yes, you’ve thrown the net out there five hundred times, and you have not gotten one fish. Do it again.”
“What?! We just did it five-“
“Do it again.”
“Yeah, but we’re so tired. We’ve been working all night and every time we’ve done it, we didn’t even get one-“
“Just throw the net out one more time. Do it again.”
“Well, if anybody else told us to do that, we would tell them where to go, because we’re the professional fishermen around here, but since it’s you telling us, since it’s you, Jesus, yeah, we better throw the net out again, we’d better do it again. Okay, here we go…”
So they get their boat situated just right, and they get this big heavy net and these multiple big strapping men take this big heavy net and they get it and they cast it way out there and they start trying to drag it in, and it’s so full of fish that it nearly sinks two boats.
In a single cast, they get more fish than they would have gotten all night long had they been successful, had they had a good fishing night, like they were used to, with all of their experience and equipment, and know-how. If they had been pulling in fish all night, they never would have expected to get that many.
And so in one single cast, the blessing of God gives more than everything you thought you had lost.
He restores not only the food that you need right now, but it says in Scripture He even restores those years that the locust has eaten, those years of your life that you feel like were wasted, those efforts that you put forth into people’s lives that you just feel like you were casting the net a hundred times and you got nothing. In a single day, God has the ability, in His time, to give you more fruit from your labor than what you would have expected had every single cast been successful.
Now, I don’t think I need to help you struggle through how to deal with the successes. When God fills your boats with fish, when He covers your crops with rain, when He fills your bank accounts with money, you probably don’t need my help to help you bear that burden. But if you are willing to see the hand of God in the full nets, are you willing to see the hand of God in the empty ones, the night before? And are you willing to believe that if your nets are empty now, that they just very well may be full tomorrow, when the Lord sees that the time is right?
But what if they had not thrown out the net again? What if they had said,
Look, I’ve done this 500 times and nothing’s come of it.
I’ve tried and I’ve tried and I’ve tried, and by my own personal experience, I’ve just finally figured out that this doesn’t work, and I’m not gonna do it again.
If that had been their response, then their boats would have remained empty.
Now, obviously, if there is sin that needs to be dealt with, then repent of it. If there’s something you know that you’re doing wrong, then stop it. If there’s something you know that you should do that’s right, then start it. But recognize that in this case, Jesus didn’t critique anything that they were doing.
There are going to be times in your life that it’s not a sin issue that you need to repent of; it’s not something that you should have been doing that you’re not doing, but simply the Lord’s timing, that is not our timing. Because, our timing is always “now.” Have you ever noticed that? I mean, if it was always up to our timing, how often would we say, “You know what, I want to be blessed later, let’s put this off for a few years. I know that for my soul, I need a few more years of really struggling with money, so, no, Lord, hold off on that. I need a few more years of struggling with relationships. I need a few more years of witnessing the gospel and having no one reply to it in a positive way.”
See, if God gave us our timing, then we would be spoiled two-year-old children who just always get what we want immediately. That’s why He takes the timing out of our hands and He keeps that in His own. Now some of you may say, “Well, here, this was just a show of Jesus’ power. The fact that the nets were empty all night and then full with just one throw of the net, that really doesn’t apply to our personal lives. It doesn’t apply to our evangelism; it doesn’t apply to our church.” But Jesus Himself made the connection. When you read this story in the gospel of Luke, you see that Jesus Himself is the one who connects the dots. Peter had fished all night and got nothing, and then at the Lord’s command, he does it one more time, and pulls in thousands upon thousands upon thousands of fish. And what did Jesus say? Jesus said, “From now on, you will catch men.”
From now on you will catch men. And guess what? Your catching of men is going to be just like the catching of these fish. Sometimes you’re going to fish all night long and you’re going to get nothing. And you’re going to get discouraged, and you’re going to want to quit, and then Jesus is going to look you in the eye after you’ve worn yourself out, after you’ve given up, after you’ve just decided to hang your hat up and quit fishing, and He’s going to say throw the net out one more time, do it again. Do it again. And all those men that you didn’t catch are suddenly going to pour in, so that even two churches will not be able to hold all of them.
It was easy when the fire fell from heaven, for the people of Israel to say, “Oh, my goodness, God is God and Baal is not,” and to side with Elijah and to put the prophets of Baal to death. It was easy, when Elijah prayed and it rained, for all the people to glorify God. But how many people, walking through Israel for the three and a half years before that, would have looked at the dry streams and the cattle that had perished from thirst, and said, “Ah, this is the hand of God?” Even Elijah, remember, as the water dries up, that little stream he was staying beside dried up, well why did it dry up? Because he had prayed for the rain to stop, in obedience to God. God had him pray, he prayed, and then the rain stopped.
It’s easy to look at the fish, and say, “Man, God really blessed Peter, James, and John, these fishermen; He really just poured the blessings in.” But how many people, getting in a time machine and going back and walking around on that boat all night long the night before, would have seen cast after cast after cast, fruitless and zero fish pulled in, and said, “Oh, my goodness, there’s the hand of God. Look at what God’s doing. Man, no fish again. He directed those fish away from the net, and they pulled that net in the thirty-seventh time and there’s still nothing, and they’re exhausted and they have nothing to show for their work. Man, I see God’s hand in this.”
Isn’t it interesting how we always see God’s hand in the blessings, but we don’t see God’s hand in the preparation for those blessings? Because, if they had already filled their boats with fish, doing what they were used to doing, then they would have had no need to throw their net out again and pull in a big mess of fish. It wouldn’t have been that impressive. If the rain had been falling regularly, every week, for three and a half years, then when Elijah prayed and it rained, everybody would have said, “<yawn> So what? Big deal.”
In the droughts, in the fruitless seasons, in the lean times, we need to see the hand of God. We need to recognize His providence over even those things that bring us hardships for a while, recognizing that He, in doing this, is giving us something that we need far more than rain, far more than fish, far more than finances. He’s building our character. He’s building our dependence upon Him. He’s building our trust upon Him. He’s building our patience.
It’s an easy thing for Him to supply fish or rain or money any time He wants to. That’s easy. But to take a free human soul and—without violating it—to mold its character, to help that person freely choose to become more and more closely conformed to Christ, now that takes some work, even for God.
And God knows that our souls are not conformed to the likeness of Christ when the pleasures are poured upon us every day, and we are given no challenges, we are given no droughts, we are given no reasons to doubt. And so to push us towards dependence on Him, and to put us in such a situation that when the blessing finally comes, we will not just take it for granted, but recognize it as being from His hand, it is the grace of God that sends us the droughts. It is the mercy of God that sends us the seasons of fruitless evangelism, of low finances, of difficulties in relationships with certain people. It is because God loves us that He puts us in whatever environment we need to strengthen ourselves like little seedlings against the winds that blow.
And so the question is not so much, “Will we see His hand when the blessings finally come?” because if we follow Him, the blessings will come. But in the present moment, today, are we willing to see the droughts, the famines, the sicknesses, the frustrations, the financial challenges as being good things provided from His hand, to strengthen us and to help us and to set up a situation in which He can work a miracle that will bring glory to His name, and will also bring joy to us? Are we willing to trust Him even in the hard things?
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is One. Amen.
This homily was preached on Sunday morning, August 4, 2013,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.