Difficulties with the text
- *Difficulties with the
**from Second Terrace<https://www.google.com/reader/view/feed/http%3A%2F%2Fjanotec.typepad.com%2Fterrace%2Fatom.xml>by
This is not a sermon, so don't worry. It is, rather, a tale of difficulties
on the way to becoming one.
The Gospel reading for this Sunday is Luke 5.1-11. The story is familiar.
Jesus preaches to a crowd on the beach from Simon Peter's fishing boat.
After the homily, the Lord tells Simon Peter to go out into the deep and let
down the nets for a catch. The fisherman protests, because all through the
previous night they had been letting down the nets and failing on every
But Simon Peter relents, and hauled in such a great catch that the nets were
breaking and the boats were sinking. The fishermen are astonished. Jesus
says, "Do not be afraid; henceforth you will be letting down your nets for
people." They quit fishing for fish, and became fishers of men.
This is a simple story, but it resists modern and conventional
interpretation. The usual homiletical "take" on this story is to outline
some rhetorical syllogism (i.e., an enthymeme) which goes like this: we can
all identify with Simon Peter in failing at some goal (like evangelism, or
institutional development, or even employment). Jesus is present, and
commands us to "try again," and we obey. This time, our efforts are blessed
with success. Because we are in the situation of the fishermen, we can
benefit from the same happy ending. We can boil down the narrative and come
up with a conclusion -- a peroration that, undoubtedly, involves some
"action" that involves a stewardship pledge or a "friendship evangelism"
I have heard many orations follow this structure. The particular
applications differ, of course. For one instance, evangelism experts love
this text, because it looks self-evident as a formula for success: "we are
all called to be fishers of men, so we should evangelize Jesus' way and
we'll succeed." Other folk, wishing to go beyond church growth strategies,
cast this text along a "personal development" (i.e., self-help) trajectory:
"with Jesus you can do so much more and fulfill your wildest dreams."
Many of these interpretations might find actual purchase in
*other*scripture and, occasionally, even in the context of Orthodox
dogma. But the
interpretation fails immediately at the point of the first premise of the
syllogism -- the unsaid argument of the usual sermon: while we often assume
that what is said to the Apostles is said to us, we really have no right to
position ourselves as the Apostles in the Gospel, because *they* are the
Fishers of Men: not everyone, nor anyone.
Under the *sola scriptura *rubric, just about anything can happen in
hermeneutics (i.e., interpretation). And just about everything *does* happen
in homiletics (i.e., preaching). One of the most harmful of these happenings
is the anti-Apostolic hermeneutical bias that is rife in the culture of
protestant oration. In this culture, the Apostleship is confused with "the
priesthood of all believers." Since there is no sacramental priesthood, all
references to the Apostleship are immediately applied to all believers.
Consequently, Christians wonder whether they should leave their homes and
families for some inchoate, restless suspicion that they should be doing
something if they are truly sincere about being Christian, simply (and
errantly) because they assume that the Apostolic commission in Luke 10
applies immediately to them. The same Christians wonder how they should go
about, in their individual experience, "binding things on earth" so that
they will be "bound in heaven." They wonder how they can apply the
discipline of Matthew 18 to their everyday relationships, and they develop
complicated syntheses of Bible verses and pop psychology � even chimeric
devices called "relational theology" and "purpose-driven philosophies."
Apostles (and monks) are called to leave the familiar. The priesthood also
requires this separation from secular culture, but to a lesser extent. But
most Christians are expected to "stay in their calling" (1 Corinthians
7.17). The "binding" of "things on earth" applies to sacraments in general,
and the Mystery of Reconciliation in particular. It has nothing to do with
"naming and claiming," especially in the context of ecstasy. Furthermore,
Matthew 18 applies to a discipline and church order that is possible *only *in
a culture of sacramental hierarchy. It becomes insubstantial, unmoored and
outright dangerous (think the "discipling movement") when practiced in a
democratic, secularized polity that is unavoidably the case in the
reformation milieu. And, God knows, it is not all that useful in common
relationships: I am often guilty of not listening to valid complaints about
my behavior -- complaints that are expressed by my close friends: I am
overjoyed that they do not take their criticisms to the publicity of the
The Pentecostal ecstatic experience is no substitute for true Apostleship.
One cannot become an Apostle by taking some "spiritual gifts inventory." One
does not ascend to Apostleship no matter how practiced he is in the art of
Apostleship is not and cannot be confined to the letter of Scripture itself.
The oxymoronic multiplicity of the protestant rhetoric, in the centuries
since the modern age began in the 1500's, proves the impossibility of *sola
scriptura*. Accordingly, Fundamentalism cannot long survive as a Christian
On the other side of the anti-Apostolic spectrum, the mainline Protestant
attempt at ridding themselves of the Apostleship ends, also, in frustration.
Committees and conferences attempt to speak with Apostolic voice, but they
end up sounding like my cackling prurient Jr. High Choir of Rockwood 1971,
compared to the voices under Robert Shaw. No consultation or convention has
ever occupied the place of the Council of Acts 15 or the Ecumenical
Councils, no matter how much they pretend or claim to be.
In Orthodoxy, there is a "priesthood of all believers," but it is understood
as the blessedness of prayer, the privilege of participating in the Holy
Mysteries and the possibility of consuming the Eucharist. Every Christian
has the Eucharistic vocation of turning his world, in thanksgiving, to the
Light of Christ.
But this universal potential for baptized Christians does not apply to the *
particularity* of the presidency of the assembly, to the celebration of the
Mysteries, to the establishment of the Church in the world. This is an
obvious reference to Apostolic Succession, and it is the Apostleship that
persists in the world through history, harboring the treasury of Holy
Tradition. And out of this Tradition, and the mystical contemporaneity of
the Apostolic *theoria, *the Apostles and their legatees still speak with
the Beautiful Rhetoric "whose net catches the entire world" (Troparia of
The Orthodox Church exists today as a culture of Holy Tradition, and as the
means by which the ongoing rhetoric of the real Apostles continues to
scandalize the world.
Over that "scandal" � Who is Christ the Cornerstone � we stumble and come to
our senses in the dark. In our mental leprosy of sin, the Word of God
articulates Wisdom, which we receive as the fullness of psychic health. The
Apostles and their progeny, the bishops and the priests, sail out into the
deep, which is recognized as the unsearchable Name above all Names. But into
that apophatic Sea they sail with the Word of Stillness, the Mystery of the
After a long night of testifying the Old Covenant, the teachers of the Law
are changed into the Apostles who draw in nets of repletion, now in the
morning of Christ the New, and the catch is hauled into the Ark of
The Apostles are the Fishermen, because they are called and not
self-invented or self-appointed. In Trinitarian Peace and Beauty, the Gentle
Christ calls His Friends through ties of familiarity. Fishermen are called
through fishing. Tax-collectors are called through one of their own number.
The Magi are called through the stars.
They are called, set into place, ordained in pre-ordainment for the Day of
Salvation, positioned in infinite particular wisdom at the moment of
repentance for the coming to one's senses when the casino is transformed
into a pigpen, and the plastic banquets of the world's urgent party is
revealed as husks and pods for the swine. At that moment, the net of the
Gospel is let down.
And at that moment, I care nothing for programs or evangelism, or
philosophies and modern hermeneutics. I care nothing for semiotics and
constructions, consensus statements and reports.
At that moment, on that Day, I am simply glad for allegory.
I am glad for Orthodox exegesis and interpretation.
Because I know, then, that I am a fish.
Caught in a net, hauled in after the night, plucked from the void, abyss and
I was caught, you see, because only *Apostles *can fish.
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