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  • Christopher Orr
    *Difficulties with the text **from Second
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 17, 2008
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      *Difficulties with the
      text<http://janotec.typepad.com/terrace/2008/10/difficulties-wi.html>
      **from Second Terrace<https://www.google.com/reader/view/feed/http%3A%2F%2Fjanotec.typepad.com%2Fterrace%2Fatom.xml>by
      Jonathan
      Tobias*

      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
      attempt.

      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"
      program.

      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
      church.

      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
      glossolalia.

      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
      organism.

      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
      Pentecost).

      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
      Son.

      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
      Salvation.

      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
      a storm.

      I was caught, you see, because only *Apostles *can fish.


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