Willingness, Openness, Receptivity
Sermon preached by Fr. Antony Hughes on Sunday, September 25, 2016 at St. Mary Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA.
The Reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke. (5:1-11)
That is what happens in today’s Gospel reading. Peter comes face to face with God in Christ. It happens not all at once. Jesus reveals himself little by little. Peter could not have handled that any more than he could stare at the sun with unaided eyes.
First, Jesus is the rabbi teaching the crowds by the lake who asks for Simon’s help.
Second, he is a prophet, predicting that if Simon goes back out he will catch some fish, after failing to all night long. Not catching any fish for a man whose life was fishing and whose family depended on him was disastrous. This clearly was a miracle prompted by a prophet.
Then Simon wakes up. This rabbi is different. He cares about me and my life. He has the power to turn sadness into joy.
The Light was shining on Simon and his response was the response of a grateful man in shock. He is great! Who am I? I am a sinful man! I am not worthy to be in his presence. He was afraid. “Depart from me,” he cried.
I am reminded of the verse in Hebrews (10:31) It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:31) Simon, whether he knew it fully or not, had, on this very day, fallen into the hands of the living, incarnate God. Not only was the Lord’s identity revealed, but Simon’s was as well. That can be a scary thing! What we do not want to know about ourselves, we bury inside. The Light of God searches the heart and reveals the hidden things we might have hoped would never see the light of day. So seeing himself in the Light of the Lord’s Presence, Simon is afraid. At some time or another, all of us, I think, have experienced this or will.
And the Lord’s response is amazing. “Do not be afraid!” Jesus takes note of his fear and sweeps it away with compassion. “Do not be afraid.” Those words, in one form or another, appear 365 times in the Bible; one for every day of the year. Jesus says it in some variation 21 times in the Gospels. That is more than enough to make it a major theme. It is one of the things that make the Lord’s Gospel “good news.” It is very Good News that we do not have to be afraid!
Christ says it so often because he knows we are afraid and knows how fear paralyzes us. He does not want us to be afraid, not of him, not of God, not of death or of anything else. We were created for freedom, not for slavery. For joy and not for fear. Jesus came to wipe away all our fears.
The encounter of Simon and the Lord is meaningful for us because it tells us what we can expect from Jesus and his Father. We can expect this: we are accepted as we are, not as we think we should be or would like to be or pretend to be, but as we are. If you remember, this same theme appeared in last week’s sermon and I do not worry about repeating it because we are taught to fear by family, by society and sometimes even by the church and must learn that we do not have to. After all, Jesus repeated it and often for good reason!
Those who teach that worthiness is a prerequisite to mercy are sadly mistaken. There are no prerequisites. Worthiness is not the issue. It is willingness. Those who say that it is possible for God not to love us unconditionally, do not know him. They may have read the scriptures and yet they do not know what they mean. It is about willingness, openness and receptivity, not about worthiness.
If those who peddle fear were right, then Jesus would have said something far different to Simon today than he did. It is not about worthiness, it is about willingness.
Had Simon refused Jesus his boat, as well he could have, and refused the Lord’s invitation to go back out to fish again, which would have been reasonable, then perhaps this miraculous encounter would not have taken place. In the same way the Blessed Virgin could have said no to the angel Gabriel and refused to bear the Son of God in her womb. We can always say no to God…or yes. I recommend yes.