11 June 2007

Being Fishers of Men, Not Keepers of the Aquarium

In last Sunday's gospel lesson, we heard St. Matthew's account of the calling of the first disciples, Peter and Andrew.

"As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter and Andrew his bother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And he said to them, 'Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.' Immediately they left their nets and followed him" (St. Matt. IV:18-20).
It must have been something, seeing the Christ walking about, teaching in his earthly ministry. Such a new and radical interpretation of the messianic vision as that taught by Jesus was certainly earthshaking; to leave one's life and livelihood, chasing after some itinerant rabbi from Nazareth...well, even to those of us who are convinced that Jesus was, in fact, the long-awaited savior of the world, this seems hard to fathom.

And yet, such was the faith of these men that they did just that.

In the Beattitude verses, also part of the lectionary readings from Sunday, we hear Jesus' teachings on the mount. This episode of Christ's public ministry draws inescapable comparison to the teachings of Moses that were delivered to Israel from Mount Sinai. On the new mountain of Israel, Christ, as the new Moses, delivers the new teachings that distinguish the New Covenant from the Old. Of all of these verses, one that stands out the most, at least, when juxtaposed against the account of the calling of the disciples, is "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled" (St. Matt. V:6).

Righteousness, though, is a tricky thing. How do you know if you have it? The Fathers teach us that it is dangerous in the extreme to think that we might be righteous, because we will inevitably believe that we have been filled. Being filled in this manner, however, is not truly filling; it is like gorging on candy--it leads only to spiritual nausea, although it does leave the belly uncomfortably "full." We often feel very full from all that we "do." We attend services and do our daily prayers, we have icons in our houses, our offices, our cars. When coworkers ask why we are only having dressing-less salad for lunch, we announce with a posturing (that we hope sounds like the model of meek humility) that we are Orthodox Christians and it is a period of fasting for us. We "do things for the Church," and consider this the fullness of our experience as Christians following the True Way.

We do not stop to consider that we are, often as not, doing a very poor job of fishing for men--and settle for merely keeping the aquarium.

We go about our own lives, busying ourselves with our day-to-day concerns--temporal as well as spiritual (because we easily forget, living in the world of Western dichotomies, that this division is merely illusion, not reality)--and forget that we are called to do more than to just preserve the fullness of our ancient faith. Christ did not deliver the revelation of himself, of the fullness of our salvation, for the disciples to pass along only to those "worthy" of the revelation. Far from it! Thank God that we who are unworthy are able to be brought into the Truth! But we forget, to our great chagrin, that not all those who are seeking know where to look. It is a great sin if we make the mistake that our Protestant Evangelical neighbors make, and focus solely on our "own personal salvation" at the expense of our community.

What is truly unique, truly outstanding, and truly ministering to the soul about the Orthodox faith is that we are not out for our own salvation; the Church recognizes that we cannot be saved apart from our families, our friends, even our enemies. We are saved in the context of our actions--what might even be called the our "Web of Interactions." As such, we cannot afford not to share the Truth with those around us; as St. Paul reminds the fledgling Christian community of Ephesus, "In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive'" (Acts XX:35). We must remember that it is our duty not to merely be the city on the hill that cannot be hid, but that we must carry our light out into the world--that we must show Christ glorified and lifted up, so that he may draw all men unto him.

This is the hook by which we will bait those seeking after the Truth, if what we really want is to share the revelation of our faith with those in our communities, and in our families. Otherwise, we are failing at the commission of our God, and settling for doled out pieces of fish-food to those that are swimming in the aquarium.

May the Lord Jesus Christ our God, through the prayer of his all pure Mother and of all the Saints, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

Pax vobiscum.

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