27 June 2011


Our country now subjects 95 year old women, and young children--American citizens-- to invasive searches.

At the same time, it wanted to try terrorists in civilian courts.

Why do we treat citizens like terrorists, and terrorists like citizens?

Sermon on Matthew 4:18f--second Sunday after Pentecost 2011

When we first hear today’s gospel, we’re struck by how abrupt the call of Christ seems to be. He walks by the side of the sea and calls 4 fishermen: Peter and Andrew, James and John. Without question, without hesitation, they leave their nets and follow him.

But St. Matthew gives us, in fact, the second call of the apostles. Already they knew of Christ, already they followed him, as we learn in St. John. They followed him, but remained at their work. Now Christ meets them where they work, and calls them once more: this time, to be “fishers of men.”

See how Christ has dealt with them. When he had first called them and they went back to fishing, he didn’t forbid them. But neither did he let them go altogether. He gave them slack, but drew them back—the very point of fishing itself! In other words, first he fishes for them, then he calls them to fish for others.

Christ caught them, by his words; so they followed, convinced that those words would catch others too. We must be careful, beloved. We call others to believe: do we believe? We urge them to pray; do we call on God? The stakes are high. What will it profit someone to gain the whole world-even for Christ-and lose his own soul?

To be a leader, we must first follow. To be a teacher, we must first be a student. And to be a “fisher of men,” to do evangelism rightly, we must first be evangelized ourselves.

Let us take care to hear the good news for ourselves! This one who calls Peter and Andrew, James and John is the one who first called them—and you—from nothingness into being. He who invites them to be fishers of men is he who made fish, and water, and men in the beginning. God became man to seek and to save us in all the places we have hidden ourselves. He did not cease being what he was—God—in order to become what he was not—man. He took on himself all that we are, apart from sin, then bore our sin, in order to make us partakers of all that he is.

No wonder their response is radical. For though they were in the midst of their work (and fishing demands a lot of time and energy) when they heard His command, they didn’t delay, they didn’t procrastinate, they didn’t say, “let’s go home and talk with our families first,” but “they forsook all and followed,” even as Elisha did to Elijah.

They forsook all—they left everything. That doesn’t mean they never fished again. Even after Christ rose, Peter and the others went fishing. But they no longer viewed their time and possessions as their own. Now all that belonged to Christ, the Lord, and they were his slaves and stewards.

I’ve often wondered at the words in Hebrews, where St. Paul reminds them, “You gladly suffered the loss of your possessions.” How could that be—unless they had already decided they owned nothing, that all belonged to Christ. Like the song says, “When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose!”

Only after he catches the disciples does the Lord Jesus begin his public ministry in earnest. Then it was he went about all Galilee teaching, preaching, and healing all disease and infirmity. Why so many miracles then? Because each time the Lord introduces a new covenant, he accomplishes miracles to give credibility to what he says. In the time of Abraham He gave many signs; as his victory in the war, the plague upon Pharaoh, his deliverance from dangers. And when about to legislate for the Jews, He showed forth those marvelous and great prodigies, and then gave the law. So also here, at the beginning of the new covenant, he works wonders.

But why so few miracles now? In the first place, because the new covenant has been firmly established. It’s two thousand years since Christ’s death and rising, since the first preaching of the apostles.

In the second place, because unless and until we are fully and completely “caught,” such signs would actually be harmful. We are ever prone to change Christ from our Lord to our “buddy,” to serve our own drive for power and pleasure. “A faithless and perverse generation seeks signs,” he told the Jews, “but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Well does Chrysostom say, “If you change from inhumanity to almsgiving, you have stretched forth the hand that was withered. If you withdraw from theaters and go to church, you have cured the lame foot. If you draw back your eyes from a harlot, you have opened them when they were blind. These are the greatest miracles.”

Let us take care then, beloved, that we be caught ourselves by Christ. Let us not be content to have him as an element in our life, a piece of the puzzle, but the heart and core and center of everything we think, do and say. Let us receive him as he comes to us. In short, let us get out of the water and into his net. It will mean death for our life in this passing world; but it will mean resurrection and life for the world that never ends—the life in his Kingdom, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

(Note: Many of the underlying thoughts derive from Chrysostom's homily ad loc)