14th Sunday after Pentecost – Orthodox Homily on the Great Commission

We see today another miracle of our Lord that bears particularly and personally on our faith and on our Mission church.  Christ once again reveals Himself as God incarnate in this calling of His foremost disciples: Peter, James, and John to become “fishers of men.”  It’s noteworthy that Christ doesn’t call them in the Synagogue but on the water, in their boats, while fishing!  In other words, He calls them where they’re at, where you’d expect to find pious Jewish fishermen—on the sea, fishing!  In other words, the Gospel comes to them.  Christ calls them to follow Him, to grasp hold of Life—the life He is. But it’s not enough for them to change their own lives, becoming followers of the Way, the Truth, the Life that God has revealed through His Son.  What it means to followChrist is also to share that Life with others.  It’s no extra for the faithful Christian.  Christ God says to them, “Do not be afraid, from now on you will be fishers of men.”  

And what faith! Having just seen the miracle of the great catch of fish by Him who called those fish into being where there weren’t any before, the disciples are ready to leave all else behind to follow Him.  Christ God gives them a miracle that, as fishermen, they can truly appreciate and which gives them the courage they need to follow Christ. The same energy and passion they’ve devoted themselves to in order to become proficient fishermen, they are now called to wholeheartedly devote to  ‘catching’men and women for the Gospel, the new life in Christ.  This is even more the case because “catching men” is about saving lives, calling people to recover their “first beauty,” to be born anew by water and the spirit, to become deified humanity.  

All of us are certainly likewise beckoned to follow Jesus Christ, to become inheritors of true and everlasting Life with Christ God.  The reality is though, that this journey of salvation, what we call deification or theosisin the Church, our increasing participation in the Life of the Holy Trinity, means by definition that we’re never just saved on our own, but as part of the Church, in communion with Christ and all the faithful where God has us now; it is never just about ourselves and our own desires.  If we think that the Christian life is just about Jesus and me, well, we’ve missed something vital of what it means to be a Christian, a true follower of Jesus Christ.  

In other words, part of that growth in participation in the life of the Holy Trinity is achieved only by coming outside ourselves to love and to serve Christ by witnessing to His truth in this world around us, just as the disciples were called to do.  We become a witness to the truth of Christ in our own age and culture. The word, “witness” is from the Greek word, “martur.”  This is the same source for the English word, “martyr,” someone who gives their life or is put to death for the sake of Christ.  When we use our gifts of time, talent, and treasure to build up the Body of Christ, to minister the Gospel where God has us, we too become  “martyrs” in the original sense of the word, that is, a witness to the truth of Christ, life lived in and for Him, as well as our willingness to act on it to help others to come to the same faith, healing, and salvation that we ourselves are experiencing in Christ.  

The Lord’s final instruction to His Apostles is called the Great Commission. Christ says, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them all things that I have commanded you…” (Matt. 28).  This call to “make disciples” isn’t an ‘optional’ part of being a Christian, but a command of the Lord; nor is it a calling just to the priests and bishops, but to all baptized Orthodox believers.  

St. Tikhon of Moscow asks in this regard,“But who is to work for the spread of the Orthodox Faith for the increase of the Orthodox Church? Pastors and missionaries, you answer. You are right; but are they to be alone? St. Paul wisely compares the Church of Christ to a body, and the life of a body is shared by all members. So it ought to be in the life of the Church also…The spread of Christ’s faith ought to be near and precious to the heart of every Christian. In this work every member of the Church ought to take a lively and heartfelt interest.”

By virtue of our putting Christ on in baptism (Gal. 3:27), becoming a new creation in Him (II Cor. 5:17), we become His ambassadors, His witnesses (martyrs) to the world around us, His “fishers of men”.  Today’s Gospel reading from Luke 5 is read every year to remind us of what our responsibility is in Christ to evangelize, to witness to His truth, to re-prioritize our life in Him, our calling to make disciples and help others to come to the knowledge and love of Christ.  When was the last time you invited someone to church, to “come and see.”  If it’s been a while, rekindle that love for God and your fellow man. Love God first and you won’t fear man.  

It’s incumbent on us as Christians to examine how we live our lives, how we speak, how we think, what we do or refrain from doing, how we prioritize our communal life together, but also how we perceive our fellow human beings.  Are we in any way indifferent toward their spiritual plight?  Do we fear witnessing or being open about our faith for fear of rejection? Are we ashamed of Christ and His Church in what He calls, “this sinful and adulterous generation”?

What compels us to model our faith, to come outside of ourselves to boldly witness to Christ and strengthen and grow the Body of Christ, to become a ‘martyr’?  The Lord reminds us, saying, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and all your strength and your neighbor as yourself … On these two commandments hang all the Law and the prophets.” (Matt. 22:37, 40)  

This truth, this summary of the Law and the prophets, is the basis of our evangelistic efforts.  It’s for love of God and our fellow man that we strive to be a witness of what it means to be a Christian, even if it costs us (again, martyrdom, using our gifts, talents, everything God has entrusted to us to His glory).  St. John’s Gospel also urges us to such love: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”   Love means we desire for others what God desires for them, that all may come to the knowledge and love of Him, put Him on in baptism, to become His disciples too just as Saints Peter, James and John did when they saw their nets full of large fish to the point that their nets were breaking. 

God’s goodness and mercy to us when we are faithful in using our gifts and talents, time and treasure to serve and glorify Him, to become a martyr, a true witness, is like this: our cup runs over—just as the fish were overflowing the nets and breaking them—so too God fills us to overflowing with His grace and love when we step forward in faith to give of ourselves to build up the Body of Christ and witness to the timeless Truth He is.

Every time we prioritize the worship of Christ at Church, our daily prayers at home, our witness in the world, every time we come outside our self-focus to love and serve to God’s glory, we witness to and help make disciples of others through the offering of ourselves, our sacrifice.  We are participants in this work of Christ’s Church, its fruit and glory: those who grow in their faith in Christ, those who return to their faith in Christ, those who come to the fullness of faith and life in Christ through His Church.  Those before us were not afraid or ashamed to witness to the truth of Christ in their generation—even at great cost to themselves.  Through much sacrifice, the Church has spread in North America.  Brothers and sisters, may the spread of Christ’s faith be near and precious to ourhearts too.  Fear not, Christ reassures us, for “I am with you to the end of the age.”  May our love for God cast out our fear of man as we glorify God the Holy Trinity with our whole hearts, with all we have to offer as witnesses to the Way, the Truth, and the Life. 

Fr. Robert Miclean

Holy Archangels Orthodox Church

September 22, 2019—Fishers of Men 7

Epistle:            II Cor. 6:16-7:1

Gospel:            Luke 5:1-11