When He had stopped speaking, He said to Simon, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” But Simon answered and said to Him, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” And when they had done this, they caught a great number of fish, and their net was breaking.
In today’s gospel of the miraculous haul of fish, the disciples had to launch their nets into the deep water for this extraordinary catch. These were fishermen who knew well their trade and it was not to be expected that a large number of fish should be gathered from the depths where the water was cold and the nutrients less rich. Nonetheless in obedience to Christ they let down their nets and the superabundance of fish became a parable of their subsequent success of drawing the whole world into the net of God’s love. All the elements of this gospel story are important not just as historical detail but for their deeper meaning. Let us look today at the significance of the fact that the fish were to be found in the deep reaches of the lake. What does it mean therefore to launch out into the deep when we consider the mission of the Church?
Firstly, we have a depth of empathy or fellow feeling. If we wish to help another person we all know how important it is to try and share, compassionately and attentively in their condition. There is an old American Indian saying that one cannot understand a brother or sister until one has walked for some time in his or her moccasins. Our identification with our brother or sister, our fellow feeling, must be deep and true. Shallow friends who are not prepared to walk with us, to be with us and share our joys and sorrows, our difficulties and triumphs are no friends at all. We recall that out of his great love of mankind God himself came amongst us in Jesus Christ and showed his deep and inexhaustible love for his creation by participating in it deeply and in the most intimate way by sharing our flesh, that is, the fullness and depth of the human condition. St Paul teaches us to: “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) this is Christ’s way; to reach down deeply into our humanity, heal it from within and bring forth an abundance of life. This he will not do, however, unless we voluntarily ask him to reach down with the net of his love and draw us to himself. Our Lord committed this task to his Church that many should be sweetly caught in this net, not as it is with fish, to struggle vainly and to die but rather to find perfect freedom and life. This is a strange paradox of being captive to Christ the Great Fisherman: to be held fast in God’s love is to be truly free. The great Orthodox saint of the West, St Ambrose, teachers of St Augustine commented thus on this passage:-
“What is so deep, as the knowledge of the Son of God! But what are the nets of the Apostles which are ordered to be let down, but the interweaving of words and certain folds, as it were, of speech, and intricacies of argument, which never let those escape whom they have once caught. And rightly are nets the Apostolical instruments for fishing, which kill not the fish that are caught, but keep them safe, and bring up those that are tossing about in the waves from the depths below to the regions above. But he says, Master, we have toiled the whole night and have caught nothing; for this is not the work of human eloquence but the gift of divine calling. But they who had before caught nothing, at the word of the Lord enclosed a great multitude of fishes.”
The deep refers not only to that extent which God is prepared to go in order to set us free but also to the wisdom that is to be found in God. This deep wisdom of God is to be found in all creation and not least in the depths of our hearts if we seek it there. The Holy Spirit is the one who will impart this wisdom, and grant us understanding concerning God and ourselves if we seek it. As St Paul teaches in his first letter to the church at Corinth, chapter 2 and verse 10:
“10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God.”
“Them” here refers to the things that God is prepared for those who love him.
So if we desire these things we will ask the Holy Spirit to search them out for us, to teach us daily concerning the deep things of God and thereby we shall find out much more about ourselves and the rich inheritance that God calls us to in Christ. We follow the same spiritual principles in mission. When called upon to do so we impart to others the deep things of God that we have discovered in our own search and experience. We cannot convey these things directly but perhaps we may lift the veil on their glory to such an extent that others are drawn to the light of Christ as little moths are drawn to a lamp. And so shall all God’s children come to know him in love and through this intimate knowledge a revelation of creation itself.
If then we acquire by grace and depth of empathy and a depth of understanding in God for our own humanity in all persons there remains yet one more vital aspect of the deep loving action of God in our lives. If we let God into the deep recesses of our heart to teach us and heal us there will begin a deep transformation of our lives as we learned through repentance to live our lives in him. This keyword repentance, however, can be misleading. It is usually used to translate the Greek word “metanoia” and this is fair enough but the meaning of metanoia, which is the true meeting of repentance, is a “change of mind”. It is accompanied by sorrow for sin which is contrition and a true measure of ourselves which is humility but repentance itself is simply this, a change of mind which comes from turning to God. This change activates when we are plunged into the depths of God’s love through baptism and the faith that it sustains. We re-emerge from those depths transformed, resurrected, clothed in Christ and with the abundance of the gifts of the Spirit; a net fit to burst through the superabundant generosity of God, his grace and his love.
The gospel that we have heard today, as with so much else in Christ’s work and teaching, is an enacted parable, an event full of meaning for our Christian lives. It cannot simply be read as an amazing and even inspiring story of what happened on a Middle Eastern lake to a group of fishermen some 2000 years ago. God is teaching us here what it means to be caught up in the net of the gospel as we are raised from the depths to the heights and thereby into the kingdom by the expert hands of the apostolic fishermen. To this end I leave you with one of St Paul’s great prayers from his letter to the Church in Ephesus, chapter 3 and verses 14 to 21:-
14 “For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height — 19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”