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The Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Fr. David Curry

Christ Church, Windsor Nova Scotia

AD 2006

“Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing;

nevertheless, at thy word I will let down the net”


It is a wonderful and yet a most challenging Gospel story. It illustrates at once the emptiness and the futility of our lives and the fullness and the purpose of our lives. It suggests something about what it actually might mean to be “all of one mind”, as the Epistle puts it, showing us just what it means to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” It has altogether to do with our attitude and relation to Jesus and to his Word. “At thy word I will let down the net”, Simon Peter says, even in the face of the empty toil and fruitless labour of the night.


Our lives are empty and futile in themselves. This is a hard, but necessary and humbling lesson, yet it is the counter to our folly and our pretension. Only “at thy word” can we “let down the net” and discover what ‘fulfillment and purpose’ might mean for us in our lives. It is altogether about our being with Christ. And what is our attitude to finding ourselves in the presence of God revealed in Jesus Christ? It is what Simon Peter says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”


This must trouble us. Why does he say this? Why doesn’t he rejoice in the sudden abundance of a rich catch of fish, the nets breaking with the fullness of the unexpected harvest? Because of a deep and profound spiritual insight, an insight which belongs to biblical wisdom. Simon Peter is aware of a power that is more than natural and more than human. He realizes the presence of God in Jesus Christ. He gives expression to the deep biblical insight of the distance between God and man, the distance between God’s righteousness and truth and the unrighteousness and folly of human lives. The language is that of knowing oneself to be a sinner and therefore not presuming to stand on equal ground with God. It is the attitude of an humble yet philosophic piety. It is to “sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts.” You are in the presence of the Holy.


The Gospel story suggests that the real purpose of our lives and our lives as being fulfilled, to use the psychological language of our day, is about our being with Christ and acting in obedience to his word. “At thy word” is a phrase which echoes the response of Mary to the Angel, “be it unto me according to thy word” which is the condition for the richness and the wonder of the Word made flesh, the Incarnation of Christ.  We can have no fullness apart from Jesus. “Apart from me, ye can do nothing”, he says. We can only enter into the will and purpose of God in the order of creation, redemption and sanctification. Our lives, in other words, find their purpose and meaning in his word.


It is the hardest thing for our age to accept. The secular culture, which is itself a true product of Christianity, has forgotten its spiritual origins in its hostility to God and in its own emptiness, the culture of nihilism and atheism, because it has yet to rediscover the truth of God out of the vanity of itself. “We have toiled all the night” and to what end? Is there anything substantial and eternal and absolute that can be said about our lives? What does it mean to put images, for instance, of eighteen–wheelers or fishing–rods or knitting-needles on modern day tombstones where there were once texts from Scripture and the Cross of Christ? There is the tragic irony of giving attention to the particular elements of our own lives at the expense of the particularity and the uniqueness of Christ, the God made man, who alone gives meaning to such things in our lives, who alone redeems them and us, who alone sanctifies our lives when we hold ourselves accountable to his sacred truth. We find the real meaning of our lives in the story of God written out for us in the life and death of Christ.


Our work and our play have their truth, to be sure, but only when they are brought into the company of Christ, only when our lives are seen as having an end with God. Then they are meaningful and fulfilling. We are all called, in one way or another, to “catch men” for God by being witnesses to the truth of Christ, by forsaking all the idols of our lives and by following him; in short, by the quality of our life in Christ.


The Anglican Church of Canada, at the national level, has initiated a stewardship programme for the various Dioceses of the Canadian Church, called “letting down the nets”. But what does it mean to “let down the nets” when everything has already been taken from the parishes because of the aggressive folly and foolishness of a centralized and bureaucratic church which determines that only parishes which can contribute to it should even exist? What is at stake are the parishes and the parochial ministry.


In the Gospel, “letting down the nets” is not about material prosperity. It is about our obedience and commitment to Christ in his Word. Without that we are nothing and nothing worth. Right now, in the Anglican Communion worldwide, there is a real struggle about being attentive and faithful to God’s Word Written. There is the suggestion that the Scriptures are merely culturally determined and must be culturally interpreted and that the interpretative principles are governed by our social context and experience. Against the clear categories of creation with respect to our humanity as male and female, we are meant to embrace new categories as having equal weight and meaning, terms such as homosexual and heterosexual, for instance, which at best are “social constructs” and are fraught with no end of ambiguity and uncertainty in the secular culture itself.


But to pretend that such terms are the categories of creation or the categories of nature is the greatest folly, at once a betrayal of revelation and a betrayal of reason. The psychologising of sexuality has disengaged human sexuality from the categories of creation, redemption and sanctification, and the categories, too, of natural reason, the categories in and through which we discover our truth and our untruth, the truth of ourselves as sinners and the truth of ourselves as the children of God, the truth of ourselves in the dignity of our humanity.


The casualty in all of this is ourselves in our approach and understanding of Scripture and in our life with Christ. If the context is all-determining, then there is no word and no meaning to human activity. It remains a barren emptiness, the futile toil of the night.  Only in our commitment to thinking the Word, can we begin to discover the purpose and end of our lives, our true fulfillment in Christ and in obedience to his living word. For, in spite of the empty terror of our lives and even the troubles of our experiences, “at thy word I will let down the net”, holding ourselves accountable to Christ and his Word, sanctifying Christ as Lord in our hearts.


“Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing;

nevertheless, at thy word I will let down the net”