Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men. [Lk 5:10]
Have no fear of them… but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy. [1 Peter 3:15]
In this season of Trinity we are considering our spiritual ascent, our growth in Christ, our maturing in the faith. It is the removing of obstacles that are hindering our flourishing as sons and daughters of the living God, of our loving God and our neighbour with all that we are.
For the last two Sundays we’ve been looking at passions that come upon all of us, ways of thinking that need to be challenged and redirected, so that we are better lovers of God and our neighbours. We looked at the passions of pride and vainglory which trouble the rational aspect of our souls.
Pride, is an excessive love of ourselves, so that we put ourselves in the place of God, and no longer look up. The foremost antidote to pride is prayer, always important in the Christian life, a practice that grows as we mature, leading us to a kind of habitual acknowledgement of ourselves as under God. And in that humbling we make ourselves continually open to wisdom from above, to new insight, to receiving His love.
And last week we looked at vainglory, the desire to lift ourselves above others, pursuing worldly ends. The foremost antidote to vainglory is the inward turn, to continually hold our gaze there, looking at ourselves in the light of Jesus Christ. And in that gaze we see our need for mercy, something Jesus offers us freely and always, and then instead of an excessive judging of others, we find ourselves being more merciful towards all.
Both of these passions of the soul are related to a wrong way of thinking, something very natural to us as fallen human beings, something which is always a temptation throughout our daily lives. But the desire for greatness is not wrong, God wants to glorify us, to raise us to new heights, even to be like him – but true greatness comes from humbling ourselves under God and before our neighbour. In this way we are open to grace.
This morning our readings speak about another aspect of our soul – our spiritedness – that kind of energy and enthusiasm we value so much in the youth – we see it in our students – new possibilities before them – an openness to adventure, to action, to engaging in the world.
When that spiritedness is squelched in the soul, a person is dejected, withdrawn, for one reason or another, and does not flourish. It includes some of what modern psychologists would describe as depression.
God wants to free up that spiritedness in us, to release that energy. So what is it that might suppress our spiritedness?
At the beginning of today’s Gospel reading [St Luke 5:1-11], the disciples are dejected, dispirited. They know Jesus as a teacher, but they are not really engaged. But by the end of the account, they are completely committed to following Jesus, fully energized to follow – they brought their ships to land, they forsook all, and followed Him.
The disciples were dispirited because of fishing all night and catching nothing – a very common reason for us of becoming dejected, when our work does not bear fruit. God in the flesh was in their midst, and they listened, but they were attending to their nets too, it is a half-hearted listening. Jesus tells Peter to go out once again to let out the net – Peter explains his doubts, but follows Jesus in faith, not really expecting, as we see from his reaction when the nets are suddenly filled. The fishermen’s spiritedness is released suddenly as the net is filled with fish – they all leap into action.
As Peter sees God’s glory shining through Jesus in this miracle, he then shrinks back, his spiritedness is suppressed for another reason – Depart from me for I am a sinful man. Jesus assures him of forgiveness by saying, Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching men.” And they left all to follow him. Jesus has released their spiritedness by a miracle, and by the assurance of God’s mercy…they have returned to being wide eyed youth, ready for adventure, ready to gather people together into a big net.
God is drawing us together, because it is in community that we grow, it is in community that we can encourage one another, it is in community that our gifts are exercised and liberated, it is in community where we will find ourselves flourishing. Jesus has come to build a Church, a heavenly city, not individual Christians.
Now some might say, but wait, it is in community where we are hurt by others – and this can be true. How can community life, Church life, be a place of drawing out our spiritedness and not suppressing it?
In the reading from Peter’s letter [1 Peter 3. 8-15a], we see that fear of others, because of being hurt in the past, might lead us to withdraw – our spiritedness squelched. Satan dividing us from one another. Instead Peter counsels us to no longer cower, no longer withdraw, but to respond in a different way –
Have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing….But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy.
God is calling us to be together, not continually divided against one another, not trying to go it all on our own. The only way living in community will work, while we are all still imperfect, is to foster our relationship with God, inwardly and individually – in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy – and to not respond to evil with evil. Don’t respond by walking away, but respond to evil by standing firm and offering a blessing. We can do that, when we are strong in the Lord.
So to sum up:
Follow in faith Jesus’ commands, our spiritedness will be released and our lives will bear fruit. This is God’s purpose for us.
Trust in the forgiveness of Jesus, God would not have us back away but be fully engaged in his great plan to gather all peoples into His Church!
Stick with one another in the church through forbearance and active blessing, and our church community will be a place for the releasing of our spiritedness, a place of true flourishing.