Boniface was born in the year 675 and served as a missionary to Frisia (Netherlands) and later, Germany, where he would rise to the position of Archbishop. He was held in high esteem by the German princes and came often to give counsel, leading to one of his crowning achievements (no pun intended here) when he anointed Pippin as King of the Franks. Pippin’s son was Charlemagne, who’s efforts brought Christianity back to western Europe. Later, when Boniface retired as Archbishop, he returned to Frisia as a missionary. The following year, as he was waiting on a large group of converts to arrive for baptism and confirmations, he and his party were attacked by pagans and Boniface was martyred.
St. Willibald, Bishop in Germany, is the one who recorded much of Boniface’s life in a short book, The Life of St. Boniface. It is a fascinating read (you can find it online). In it, Willibald points to one of the primary reasons behind Boniface’s successes: the study of Holy Scripture. Willibald writes:
To such a degree was [Boniface] inflamed with a love of the Scriptures that he applied all his energies to learning and practicing their counsels, and those matters that were written for the instruction of the people he paraphrased and explained to them with striking eloquence, shrewdly spicing it with parables. His discretion was such that his rebukes, though sharp, were never lacking in gentleness, while his teaching, though mild, was never lacking in force. Zeal and vigor made him forceful, but gentleness and love made him mild. Accordingly he exhorted and reproved with equal impartiality the rich and powerful, the freedmen and the slaves, neither flattering and fawning upon the rich nor oppressing and browbeating the freedmen and slaves but, in the words of the apostle, he had “become all things to all men that [he] might by all means save some.” (Source)
Through his love and study of Scripture, Boniface learned that the most effective way to speak to people was through the language of God that he read in the Bible and the same can be true for us, but in order for this to happen, we need to pick up the Good Book. A recent “study found only 45 percent of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. Over 40 percent of the people attending read their Bible occasionally, maybe once or twice a month. Almost 1 in 5 churchgoers say they never read the Bible—essentially the same number who read it every day.” (Source)
Even if it is only a short devotional, we all need to be in the Word daily. You don’t have to become a Bible scholar and you don’t have to memorize every verse. You only have to take the time and allow God to speak to you in his own words. What you will discover in the process is what Boniface discovered: the wisdom and grace you find within the Sacred Text will begin to find its way into your life and into your communication and relationships. You will become a greater reflection of God.
It has been several years since I’ve worked on this project, but…
THE LONGINGS OF OUR HEARTS MUST BE EXAMINED AND MODERATED
THE VOICE OF CHRIST
MY CHILD, it is necessary for you to learn many things which you have not yet learned well.
What are they, Lord?
THE VOICE OF CHRIST
That you conform your desires entirely according to My good pleasure, and be not a lover of self but an earnest doer of My will. Desires very often inflame you and drive you madly on, but consider whether you act for My honor, or for your own advantage. If I am the cause, you will be well content with whatever I ordain. If, on the other hand, any self-seeking lurk in you, it troubles you and weighs you down. Take care, then, that you do not rely too much on preconceived desire that has no reference to Me, lest you repent later on and be displeased with what at first pleased you and which you desired as being for the best. Not every desire which seems good should be followed immediately, nor, on the other hand, should every contrary affection be at once rejected.
It is sometimes well to use a little restraint even in good desires and inclinations, lest through too much eagerness you bring upon yourself distraction of mind; lest through your lack of discipline you create scandal for others; or lest you be suddenly upset and fall because of resistance from others. Sometimes, however, you must use violence and resist your sensual appetite bravely. You must pay no attention to what the flesh does or does not desire, taking pains that it be subjected, even by force, to the spirit. And it should be chastised and forced to remain in subjection until it is prepared for anything and is taught to be satisfied with little, to take pleasure in simple things, and not to murmur against inconveniences.
A soldier fighting over in Iraq received a letter from his girl friend that said she was breaking up with him. She also asked him to send the picture she had given him when he left because she needed it for her bridal announcement. The soldier was heart broken and told his friends of his terrible situation. After discussing it with them, he eventually just got angry about it. So his whole platoon got together and brought all their pictures of their girlfriends and sisters, and put them in a box and gave them to him. So he put her picture in the box with the rest along with a note that said, “I’m sending back your picture to you. Please remove it and send back the rest. For the life of me I can’t remember which one you are.”
If you were to ask a room full of people to provide you a Bible verse to use at a wedding, I’m guessing many would quote you 1 Corinthians 13 (4-8b) “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” And the bride and the groom look deeply into each others eyes and say, “I do.”
How was it that this bride and groom fell in love? Robert Fulghum of All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten also wrote, True Love. In it, he tells how many brides and grooms come to find themselves standing in front of friends and family, declaring their love. He writes, “We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness—and call it love—true love.” I like that. Go find someone who is your flavor of weird, fall in love, and be happy. Not bad advice.
But those who have been in relationships for many years can tell us: It ain’t easy. Why? The love of Jesus is always patient, our love… not so much. The love of Jesus bears all things, but forget to take out the garbage on garbage day… you in big trouble. The love of Jesus never dies, but we know with certainty that our love can die, and it is never really pretty when it does. From her diary, Anaïs Nin, friend of Henry Miller, writes, “Love never dies a natural death. It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.”
That is true with our most intimate relationships, our relationship with God, family, friends, and the world in general. Love dies. And just like in relationships, when it dies in all these other situations, it is not very pretty. For what was once love has turned into bitterness. What was compassion slides into indifference, kindness into cruelty, patience into intolerance, hope into despair.
It is in the midst of all this: falling into love, being in love, the death of love—whether in relationships or in our work in the world—that Jesus speaks to us: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” So how do we do this?
Before we can begin, we must recognize that our ability to love one another does not start with us. St. John teaches us in his first epistle: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” And then, a few verses further he states, “We love because he first loved us.” The love that we have for one another does not begin with us. It begins with God and it is a grace that he pours out on his people who love him in return for His love. He loved us. We love him. He gives us the grace of love so that we might love others. His love for us never dies, but ours… remember the words of Anaïs Nin, love “dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source. It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds; it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.” Our love for others dies, because our love for God fades.
We enter into a relationship with Him and we experience this overwhelming goodness and love of God, but over time, we drift. God doesn’t drift, but we do. Through our indifference to his calling on our lives. Through our neglect of maintaining a closeness with him through prayer, study, and meditation. And finally through our sin, which tarnishes and breaks the relationship we have. When we limit or cut ourselves off from the source—God—then we cut ourselves off from the replenishing grace of love. When it dries up, not only are we no longer able to love God as we should, but we fail in our other relationships, because we no longer have the capacity, the grace, to love one another as Jesus has commanded.
So how do we begin? How do we learn how to practice this commandment to love? The only answer I have is to point to the cross. A few chapters on in John’s Gospel, Jesus will restate this commandment to the disciples: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Jesus then says, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” And he lived this greater love out on the Cross. In order to love as Jesus commanded, we must ever keep this love, his cross, before us.
I think that this is one of the holy ironies of the Eucharist that we celebrate every week, but especially at the Great Vigil and during the Season of Easter, because no sooner have we said, “Alleluia, Christ is Risen” and then a short time later, within the context of the service we read those words, “He stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself, in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world.” Alleluia, Christ is Risen… but remember, he was crucified. We’re never allowed to forget—thanks be to God—that he died for us and in the process, we never forget the cross. It is in keeping the singular event of the cross ever before us, that will allow us to love as we are commanded, because the moment we truly see it is the moment that we finally understand how to love. And from there, if you will continually see the cross and understand it, then you will take that vision and understanding into every aspect and relationship of your life and your love will be patient, and kind, and filled with hope.
Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Prove to all that you are his disciple. Through the Cross of Christ, love one another.
Let us pray: God, our Father, You have promised to remain forever with those who do what is just and right. Help us to live in Your presence. The loving plan of Your Wisdom was made known when Jesus, your Son, became man like us. We want to obey His commandment of love and bring Your peace and joy to others. Keep before us the wisdom and love You have made known in Your Son. Help us to be like Him in word and deed. Amen.
Relationships and marriage can be a bit tricky, just ask any kid. For example: What is the right age to get married? According to Camille, age 10: Twenty-three is the best age because you know them FOREVER by then. Freddie, age 6 sees it a bit differently: No age is good to get married at. You got to be a fool to get married. How can you tell if two people are married? Derrick, age 8 has a good system: You might have to guess, based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids. How would the world be different if people didn’t get married? Kelvin, age 8 says, There sure would be a lot of kids to explain, wouldn’t there? Finally, Ricky, age 10, has it all figured out for how the fellas can make a marriage work: Tell your wife that she looks pretty, even if she looks like a truck. (Source)
Relationships are tricky and when we begin to talk about our relationship with God, it becomes even more difficult. As we’ve talked about in the past, we have a tendency to apply human characteristics to God: we can be petty and grouchy, so we expect God to be petty and grouchy. The same principle applies to our relationship with God, we apply human relationship characteristics to it. William Paul Young is the author of the novel The Shack that came out several years ago. We could spend a lot of time poking holes in his theology, but the man has some really great points in his writings and interviews, and in one interview on NPR, speaking of his relationship with God, he says, “My dad was a preacher. My relationship, for example, with my father—very difficult, and very painful, and it took me 50 years to wipe the face of my father off the face of God.” We look at our earthly relationships and believe our relationship with God works in the same way. We forget that “God is love” and that he is “the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” Which means that God is not out looking for ways to smite you. Instead, God is seeking ways to reconcile you, to draw you closer, to love you, and to invite you to participate in this great work of love. And that is exactly what our Gospel reading is about.
Peter and the gang have seen Jesus twice, but they’re still floundering a bit. They know what Jesus taught and what he did. They also know that he died and rose again. They believe, but they don’t know what to do with their belief, so they go back to what they do know: fishing. All night they fish and with no luck, but then someone calls out to them from the shore, “Try the other side of the boat.” They do and catch a great haul of fish. This immediately reminded John of the last time someone told them to try again and they had a miraculous catch: it was when Jesus called them in the very beginning of the ministry. John put two and two together: “It is the Lord!”
Peter, being the impulsive one that he is, doesn’t wait for the boat to take him back. He dives in and swims to shore (ever wonder why Peter didn’t try running on the water? He walked on it once before. Anyhow…) He swims to shore, they all have breakfast, and then we have the three questions: “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”. One question for each time Peter had denied him. Was Jesus trying to rub Peter’s nose in it? “You’ve been a bad bad boy, Peter!” No. Jesus was reconciling Peter to himself. The three questions were not for Jesus’ sake, they were for Peter’s, so that he would know that Jesus had forgiven him and so that Peter would know that Jesus still wanted… desired him to be a part of God’s ongoing mission in the world. And in saying to Peter after the three questions: “Feed my lambs.”, “Tend my sheep.”, “Feed my sheep.”, and finally, “Follow me.”, Jesus wasn’t commanding Peter to do these things, he was inviting him to join him, to be a part of him in this resurrected life. As we said, the disciples were floundering, they weren’t sure what all everything meant, or what to do; so Jesus answered the question for them: be reconciled to me and accept the invitation to join me, to follow me. Why?
We have this idea that God wants us to join him so that he can use us in some way. That almost sounds like God wants to play us out on a chess board and that we’re as expendable as any other pawn, but that simply is not the case. Remember, God seeks us so that he might love us, not so that he can mark one more point up for the good guys, use us up, and then move on to the next person who chose to follow. God invites us to participate in love because it is truly about the relationship. William Young – The Shack – in his book, Lies We Believe About God, put it this way:
“God is a relational being; that is who God is. The language of God is about partnering, co-creating, and participating; it’s about an invitation to dance and play and work and grow.
“If God uses us, then we are nothing but objects or commodities to God. Even in our human relationships, we know this is wrong.
Would any of us ever say to our son or daughter, “I can’t wait for you to grow up so that I can use you. You will be Daddy’s tool to bring glory to me”?
“The thought is abhorrent when we think of those words in relationship to our own children, so why do we ascribe that language to God and how God relates to us? Have we so soon forgotten that we are God’s children, not tools? That God loves us and would never use us as inanimate objects? That God is about inviting our participation in the dance of love and purpose?
“God is a God of relationship and never acts independently. We are God’s children made in God’s image! God does not heal us [… reconcile us to himself…] so that we can be used. God heals us because God loves us, and even as we stumble toward wholeness, God invites us to participate and play.”
How brilliant is that! Got invites you into a relationship so that you may participate in his great act of love and God invites you to play, to enjoy the blessings and richness of heaven and earth. It is a tough life, but someone’s got to live it. Might as well be you!
Jesus says, “Follow me.” Accept the invitation. Be reconciled to God and the resurrected Lord and joyfully participate in God’s love and mission.
Let us pray:
Father of love, hear our prayers.
Help us to know Your Will
and to do it with courage and faith.
Accept the offering of ourselves,
all our thoughts, words, deeds, and sufferings.
May our lives be spent giving You glory.
Give us the strength to follow Your call,
so that Your Truth may live in our hearts
and bring peace to us and to those we meet,
for we believe in Your Love,
the Christ you sent into the world,
Your one and only Son,
You’ve probably already picked up on the fact that I’m not Mr. Sportsman. I played football and basketball up through junior high and I was on the fencing team while in high school, but that was really about it. Fencing I was pretty good at, but for the rest… not so much, except for one of my last games before I aged out in Little League baseball.
In the town I grew up in, Springhill, Louisiana—it was a paper mill town—every summer you signed up for Little League. My team was the Indians and I played right field (that’s where the put the guy with the least amount of talent). Games were on Saturday and every Sunday following the game, the newspaper would write them up, however, you only got your name in the paper if you did something remarkable. Well, my name got a mention maybe once per summer, but the last time, I got an entire sentence to myself. I remember it to this day: “Big Bat John Toles hit three doubles.” Can I get an ‘Amen.’
It seems it is that way in most team sports. We can read all day about Tom Brady and how many touchdowns he threw and yards he passed—and good on him—but the left guard on the front line who protected Tom Brady all the way through the game… you would be lucky to even know his number, much less his name, however, I would put money on this one: we may not know that left guard, but Tom Brady—Tom Brady knows his name, he also knows his wife and kids’ names, all their birthdays, what his favorite drink is, the color of his eyes, and what day of the week he prefers to cut his toenails on. Why? Because Tom Brady knows that he is absolutely nothing without that left guard and Brady wants to be able to show that left guard all the appreciation he has earned for taking such good care of him.
Why the talk about football and the left guard? In reading through the New Testament, you are going to hear about Jesus, Peter, Paul, James, John, and a few others, but the two we celebrate today, Philip and James, and so many others are rarely even mentioned.
Philip is number five in the lists of Apostles that we receive and he shows up a few times in John’s Gospel, but James (and this is James the Less / James the Younger, meaning he is not James of Jerusalem or John’s brother) other than a possible mention of him Mark’s Gospel, simply disappears from the records. Because they are so rarely mentioned, it is easy to think of them in the same way we think of that left guard, which means, we don’t think of them much, but ask Jesus. Ask Jesus what significance they played in the early Church and I’m guessing you will hear a very different story.
When it comes to our work in the Church, we may at times see ourselves as the right fielders and one of us may occasionally get the ‘Big Bat’ mention or we may see ourselves at that left guard, but in the eyes of Jesus, we can be seen as the Philips and the James, or the Phoebe and the Joanna. We can be seen as servants of our God, faithfully fulfilling the individual call Jesus has placed on each of our lives. And remember, we are not alone in this great work. We have Jesus and we have one another. As St. Josemaría Escrivá writes, “Do you see? One strand of wire entwined with another, many woven tightly together, form that cable strong enough to lift huge weights. You and your brothers, with wills united to carry out God’s will can overcome all obstacles.” (The Way #480) Together, accomplishing the will of God.
The Judge, a character in The Stand by Stephen King, talks about his life and gives his thoughts on encountering God: “I like to creep through my daily round, to water my garden… to read my books, to write my notes for my own book… I like to do all those things and then have a glass of wine at bedtime and fall asleep with an untroubled mind. Yes. None of us want to see portents and demons, no matter how much we like our ghost stories and the spooky films. None of us want to really see a Star in the East or pillar of fire by night. We want peace and rationality and routine. If we have to see god… it’s bound to remind us that there’s a devil for every god—and our devil may be closer than we like to think.”
I think the Judge is onto something there. A Star in the East, pillar of fire, virgin birth, water into wine, sight to the blind, crucifixion, empty tomb… life is much simpler without all these things. We live and we die and whatever we choose to do between those two events is of our own making. But if these things do exist, then we are obligated to try and make some sense of the events that will unfold over the next week in the life of our Savior. In order to make some sense of them, we can’t just be passive observers. We must enter into the story and walk with Jesus.
My friend St. Josemaría Escrivá writes, “We can’t let Holy Week be just a kind of commemoration. It means contemplating the mystery of Jesus Christ as something which continues to work in our souls.” (Christ is Passing By, #96) Therefore, today, I invite you to join in this most sacred time of the Christian year and walk with Jesus as he enters the Holy City of Jerusalem, institutes the Holy Eucharist, lays down his life, and rises to Glory.
Let us pray: Assist us mercifully with your help, O Lord God of our salvation, that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby you have given us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This past Sunday, I shared with the congregation that Fr. Matthew of St. Nino’s Russian Orthodox Church presented our church with an icon of St. Edward the Martyr and King of England in thanks for us allowing them to meet here on the last Friday of the month; and it just so happens that this coming Sunday is the feast day of one of the most significant Russian Saints to have been active in the Russian Orthodox Church in America: St. Tikhon the Patriarch of Moscow, and Enlightener of North America. In light of our relationship with St. Nino’s, it seems only right that we should know more about them.
Tikhon was born Vasily Ivanovich Belavin on January 19, 1865 in far northwest Russia. He was the son of a priest and grew up as a well loved child, which carried on into his seminary years where he was known by the nickname of ‘bishop’ and ‘patriarch.’ I doubt his classmates knew how prophetic those names actually were, but on November 5, 1917, Tikhon became the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, which included the church in the United States. Regardless of the high position he held, he was seen as very humble, simple and modest. Perhaps it was these traits that assisted him in navigating the times, for this was also the time of the Russian Revolution and the rise of the Communist and Soviet Union.
Speaking of these days, Archpriest Vladimir Vorobiev said, “There are firm grounds for speaking about the universal significance of Patriarch Tikhon’s heroic labor. The twentieth century is one of the most difficult epochs in human history, when materialism, atheism, and communism spread all over the entire globe, like a plague; when revolutions and antichristian persecutions started happening everywhere. Science claimed that Christ was a legend, a myth, that He never existed. And during this very time a giant of the Christian faith arises! A true Christian, who manifests Christian sanctity on the Patriarchal throne! A flame of confessing faith stood on a candle stand seen by the whole world, and glorified our Heavenly Father.
“Patriarch Tikhon is the image of an Orthodox saint, who stood alone against the hurricane of bloody evil: revolution, civil war, mass violence, executions, and murders. They threatened to kill him also, and sent assassins on several occasions. He did not run away from death.” (Source)
Jesus said, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
Today we give thanks for the witness of Tikhon, who in the midst of the chaos, when tens of thousands of believer were being executed, stood as a symbol of that bright burning Light of Christ and through his witness and faith, gave others the strength they needed in order to stand firm.
Prior to the Revolutionary War, our denomination and the Methodist were still a part of the Church of England, so all the clergy, whether they practiced as a Methodist or not, were also a part of the Church of England. However, during the war, it became very unpopular to be associated with anything English, and so many of the Anglican / Church of England clergy fled back to England or to Canada. This left a void in the colonies, because there were so few priest who could provide the sacraments; therefore, some of the Methodist who opted to remain in the colonies—in the words of an Anglican priest—began, “to ordain themselves and make priests of one another. This I remember,” he recalls, “they called a step—but I considered it a prodigious stride; a most unwarrantable usurpation, and a flagrant violation of all order.” He didn’t like it, but this set into motion the eventual formation of the Methodist Church as a separate denomination in 1795.
In the midst of all this, a former African slave, Absalom Jones, and his friend, Richard Allen, began ministering to the needs of the black population of Philadelphia, utilizing St. George’s Church as home base. They were successful… too successful in the eyes of the white members, who eventually forced the black congregation to sit in a section of the balcony. However, one day, Absalom and Richard sat in the wrong section and were forcibly removed, so they left St. George’s and took the entire black congregation with them. They went on to form the Free African Society. At the same time, the Church of England in America was breaking away and in 1789, became the Episcopal Church. So, the Free African Society was a part of the Episcopal Church as were the Methodist, but just to make sure you’re thoroughly confused now, this is also the time when the Methodist began their formal break from the Church of England and from the Episcopal Church, once again, leaving everyone to decide who’s side the would join: the Methodist Church or the Episcopal Church.
The Free African Society also had to decide, but even here there was a split. Richard Allen wanted to stay with the Methodist and Absalom Jones wanted to go with the Episcopal. They agreed to go their separate ways on this decision, but continued to work together.
All of this left Absalom Jones in charge of the Free African Society. So he petitioned the Episcopal Church to become a church of the denomination and this was granted. The following year, he was ordained a deacon and in 1802 he was priested. The first black priest in the Episcopal Church. He remained a priest at the church that was formed, St. Thomas’, and while there, doubled the size of the congregation and baptized 1,195 individuals.
Also of interest: Richard Allen would eventually leave the Methodist Church with several members, along with a few members from Absalom Jones’ Episcopal Church and go on to form the first African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, the denomination of our friends over at St. Stephen’s.
Clear as mud?
Jesus said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Given the amount of fracturing we see in the Church, you would think that we don’t do a very good job at loving one another, but running through the veins of every denomination is the blood of Christ. We may appear different in so many ways, from the color of our skin to the ways we worship, but together, we are The Church, the mystical Body of Christ.
A lawyer had a wife and twelve children and needed to move as his rental agreement was coming to an end for the home where he lived, however he was having a difficult finding a new home.
When he said he had twelve children, no one would rent to him because they were afraid that with so many children the home would be destroyed. He could not say that he had no children, he could not lie, after all, lawyers cannot and do not lie.
So, he had an idea. He sent his wife for a walk to the cemetery with eleven of his children. He then took the remaining one child with him to see homes with the Real Estate Agent.
He liked one of the homes and the agent asked, “How many children do you have?”
He answered, “Twelve.”
The agent asked “Where are the other eleven?”
With a sad look, the Lawyer answered, “They are in the cemetery with their mother.”
And that’s the way he was able to rent a home for his family without lying.
Nathaniel Hawthorne writes, “Words—so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become, in the hands of one who knows how to combine them!”
I want to talk about one particular word: if, but before I get there, I have to give you the backstory and why this word is important to us.
John’s Gospel seems to indicate to us that Jesus, walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, saw Peter, and called him, to which Peter dropped everything and followed Jesus. However, Luke provides us with a good bit more detail of their meeting.
We know that Jesus was going from place to place preaching in the various synagogues and at some point he came to the synagogue in Capernaum. Peter was from Bethsaida, but he lived in Capernaum, and given that he was Jewish, it is very likely that he attended the synagogue there (at the time there was only one). Given that Jesus will very soon go and stay at Peter’s house, it stands to reason that Peter would have heard Jesus preaching in the synagogue and would have witnessed the healings and the casting out of demons—which came out screaming at Jesus, “You are the Son of God.”— that Jesus was accomplishing.
Leaving the synagogue, Jesus then goes to Simon Peter’s house where he healed Peter’s mother-in-law (I’m sorry, I can’t help myself: Why did Peter deny Jesus three times? Because Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Moving on….). That night, while at Peter’s house, many more were brought to Jesus and were healed. Again, Peter was witness to all these things. Later that night Jesus goes off to a quiet place to pray, but the people find him and want him to continue performing miracles so they try and hold him, but Jesus says, “I must proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to the other cities also; for I was sent for this purpose.” He leaves, and scripture says, “He continued proclaiming the message in the synagogues of Judea.” This is where our Gospel reading picks up. We don’t know how much time has passed, but Jesus is clearly walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee near Capernaum, because Peter and his fishing crew are there on the beach tending their nets after having fished all night.
The people, learning that Jesus was there begin to gather, so much so that he is unable to speak to them properly. To solve the problem, Jesus used Peter’s boat to go a short ways from shore and then began to teach. That sounds a bit unusual, but near Capernaum, there are a number of small inlets that form these perfect amphitheaters, so it would have been possible for Jesus, a short ways from the shore, to have been heard by everyone present, even while speaking in a normal voice. After teaching, he tells Peter to go out to the deep water and cast the nets. Peter’s response, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” And there’s our word: if. “Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.”
I don’t know how many times I’ve preached on this text, but I’ve always interpreted this text and read that “if” in the same way. How does that look? Peter is saying, Look, Jesus, you don’t know anything about fishing. I do. My father was a fisherman and my father’s father was a fishermen. In fact, we’re fisherman all the way back to Adam, so you really don’t know what the heck you’re talking about, but look—he’s almost whining at this point, because he’s tired and he wants to go home, put his feet up, and have a nice kosher brewsky—if you want us to go out again, we’ll go out, but preacher man, its pointless. However, after spending some more time with this text, I think that is an entirely inaccurate picture. And you know what? I’ma tell you why.
Peter has heard Jesus preach. Peter witnessed first hand the healing of his mother-in-law. Peter saw many other healings and heard the demons coming out shrieking, “You are the Son of God.” Peter did not say, “Hey, preacher man, you ain’t no fisherman and you don’t have a clue what you’re asking.” So, what did Peter mean when he said, “Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” For starters, and it is curious, but the version of the Bible we use for our readings, NRSV—New Revised Standard Version—is about the only version that includes that “if.” And, if you go back and look at the original Greek, it is not there. Instead, most of the other versions say, “At your word I will let down the nets.” Maybe this is just me being tedious this week, but for me, there is a heck of a difference between, “If you say so” and “At your word.” If, to me, implies contingencies, options, a way out. Not only that, it also suggests that you begrudge the one asking. “At your word” implies great faith in the one who is giving instruction. For Peter, “At your word,” says, I have heard the preaching and seen the miracles, there is no doubt, and the great catch of fish was the final piece to Peter not only having faith in Jesus, but beginning to truly understand what he would later be able to confess and articulate: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
Now, again, you may think I’m making a big deal out of one little word, but here’s the thing, I think we like the word “if.” Why? For the same reasons I stated a moment ago. “If” gives us contingencies, options, a way out, and at times, it can state our displeasure at being asked.
I told you a few weeks back that my superhero would be Roland Deschain from Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. At one point in book five, Roland is making plans with Father Callahan. Roland asked if Father Callahan thought the plan would work. Callahan responded, “Mayhap. If all goes well.” Roland’s response, “If… An old teacher of mine used to call it the only word a thousand letters long.”
Jesus asks us to do things—whatever they may be—in the same manner that he asked Peter, and we can say to Jesus, “If you say so,” and in saying that, we are conveying a clear message, I’m keeping my options open in the event I need a way out, and oh, by the way, I’m not too pleased with being asked. But, now, try it the other way: Jesus asks you do do something and you respond, “At your word,” and without hesitation you act. Through your faith in the one speaking to you, you do not need options or a way out, and through your love and obedience to your Savior, you respond to his request.
Like Peter, you have heard the teachings of Jesus and you have witnessed the miracles in lives changed. When he comes to you, he is not a stranger, he is the bridegroom approaching the bride, and he knows you just as intimately. When he asks, whatever he asks, say to him, “At your word I will do as you ask.”
The Lord declares:
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”
We are the instruments of his hand, and through his word and our actions, his works are accomplished.
Let us pray: We adore You, O God, present in the holy Eucharist, as our Creator, our Preserver, and our Redeemer. We offer You all that we have, all that we are, and all that depends on us; we offer You our minds to think of You, our hearts to love You; our wills to serve You; our bodies to labour and suffer for Your love. We are Yours, we give ourselves; we consecrate ourselves to You, We abandon ourselves to You, we wish to live and die for love of You. Amen.