Yesterday on our church calendar, we celebrated the feast day of St. Luke, author of both a Gospel, as well as the Acts of the Apostles, which we are currently reading and studying in our Parish Scripture Study Class, which is open to all of our parish members to attend and bring a friend.
St. Luke’s perspective was different than the other Gospel authors, in that he was a physician by trade, not a fisherman or a tax collector. St. Luke is known for a distinct style of writing and was a master of storytelling. St. Luke’s Gospel is the only place you will read of Elizabeth and Zechariah’s trials in bearing John the Baptist, and the parallel of Mary’s visit by the Angel Gabriel and her conception of Our Lord. It is the only Gospel that has the intricate details of our Lord’s Nativity, and it is the only book in the entire Bible that mentions anything of Jesus’ youth and maturity.
The entire Gospel of St. Luke is told in little vignettes, small stories that have a beginning, a major point or event, and a conclusion, and today’s Gospel reading is no exception. Now that we have made the Lukian jump on our Sunday and weekday cycle of readings, we will be treated to hearing St. Luke’s Gospel readings from now until the end of the calendar year.
So what do we make of today’s Gospel reading? You can say it is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with His select group of Disciples. In fact, today’s Gospel is the calling of His Disciples, who, as we read this morning, “when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:11)
St. Luke begins this particular story with a small piece of background information; the people were crowding around Jesus to hear him preach, and Jesus saw an opportunity to be able to share his message with a larger group of people by preaching from the boat on the Sea of Galilee. Doing this gave Jesus some personal space for his message to be amplified over the water and onto the shore. Simon Peter, tired and saddened over a long day of work that yielded no results, accommodated our Lord in his request for the boat, and he got to hear Jesus’ message up close and personal. The interesting twist in the story is that when Jesus finished teaching the crowd, he looked at Peter and instructed him to put out to deeper waters for a better catch of fish.
Now all of us know how Peter usually reacted to things; he usually ended up putting his own foot into his mouth. Today’s Gospel reading is the first instance of it – Jesus tells Peter to head out to deeper waters for a catch, and Peter’s first reaction was that he was incredulous that Jesus would even make such a suggestion. In fact, he tells Jesus, “Master, we toiled all night and caught nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets!” (Luke 5: 5) That is what Peter said, but we all know what he thought of Jesus’ command: “Who are you, a carpenter, to tell me, an experienced professional fisherman where to find the fish?” However, Peter put his pride in his back pocket and took Jesus’ advice, and boy, was he surprised. He ended up catching such a large amount of fish that his net was about to burst, so much so that he needed to have his helpers come out with the other boat to help with the huge amount they yielded, and even then, it was so much that the boats nearly sank from the weight of all of the catch of the day.
Only then did Peter realize his foolishness in doubting Jesus when he said to him, “Depart from me O Lord, for I am a sinful man.” (Luke 5: 8) Jesus’ response to Peter was the foretelling of his new found change of career when he told him, “Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be catching men.” (Luke 5: 10) From here, Peter and James and John all abandoned their careers and immediately followed Jesus. They had only just met Jesus on this particular day, but hearing him speak, and witnessing the good fortune from a tremendous catch, after an uneventful night of fishing, they instinctively knew that he was someone to be obeyed from his simple command, “Follow me.” They didn’t have any idea what was in store for them, for they were venturing into uncharted waters, but they knew that this Jesus had a plan. And indeed, my brothers and sisters, Jesus did have a plan for them. Rather than catching soles, they were about to catch souls. And sure, at times they all floundered, but their faith in Jesus allowed them to endure, from the humble beginnings recorded in today’s Gospel, to the horrible road to Calvary, to the empty tomb, to Jesus’ glorious Ascension into Heaven. Through all of this, these first Disciples gave their all bring the Good News throughout the world, even to the ends of the earth, and their legacy is passed on to this very day by the dedicated bishops, priests, deacons, and religious who have given up everything in order to walk with the Lord.
Where are you at in your discipleship? Are you spreading the Good News? Or are you floundering in your ability to catch souls? It’s okay to acknowledge if you are, for all of us go through our own trials. The desire is there to be on fire for Christ, but sometimes we come up short. What is important to remember, my brothers and sisters, is that our Lord faced trials just as we do – he was tempted by the devil in the wilderness before He began His ministry, and He faced his biggest trial in the Garden of Gethsemane, where he agonized over what was about to happen, and even went so far as to ask our Heavenly Father to spare him if at all possible. So, if our Lord was able to endure during trial and suffering, surely you and I are capable of doing the same.
And so, my brothers and sisters, as we go forward this day as Disciples of Christ, let us all vow to do our very best in catching souls for Christ. Practical examples are to invite a friend to church, not just for a Sunday, but for a holy day, or to our monthly healing service through the intercession of St. Nectarios, or to our Scripture Study class. After you’ve read your Church Messenger newspaper, give it to a friend or neighbor to read, so that they can learn something about our blessed Orthodox faith, and perhaps the Holy Spirit will cause them to want to explore our faith with more interest. I’m sure there are many other ways to bring Jesus’ message of love and salvation to the outside world that has no understanding or appreciation of faith. As a Disciple, use any and every means necessary to bring others to the faith; at the same time, you will strengthen your own faith. Our Lord requires no less of us than to proclaim his message to the ends of the earth.
As we journey on, my brothers and sisters, may our good Lord bless you to be a blessing on those with whom you encounter, this day and always. Amen.