In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The apostles fish for men. They gather men out of the deadly sea with nets. They don’t use bait. It isn’t a trick, a deception. The fish aren’t promised a tasty meal or some spectacle and then given a hook in the mouth and a box of offering envelopes. The net is dropped without discretion, in stupid places, even after it has failed when the best of man’s wisdom has been brought to bear. The net is dropped not because the fishing is good, but because the net is good.
Because it is good, a miraculous catch occurs. The net is filled with good and bad, young and old, expensive and junk fish. They are all drawn in. The net brings other creatures as well. It brings crabs and bugs, poor and noble, sharks and guppies. The net is indiscriminate. It does not care what it pulls. The Lord has said to pull and so it does. Our sinful flesh feels the net as a trap and tries to escape. It does not want to be caught. Thanks be to God, the Lord does not heed our cry that He depart. He is faithful and steadfast. He gently pulls us to safety.
The net draws by the voice of the apostles in the Scriptures. The net is the Church. It holds all these diverse fish and strange creatures of the sea together – even when they are natural enemies. The Lord seeks to reverse the strange and cruel punishment of the Romans for parricide. The Romans would scourge a man who had murdered his parents. Then they would sew him into a stout leather bag with a dog, a snake, a rooster, and a monkey. Then they would throw the bag into the Tiber so that the scourged murderer would be ripped to shreds as he drowned.
The Lord finds us in that bag, on the way down, scourged and being ripped to shreds, drowning. He seeks to pull us out, but the trip up often feels the same as the trip down. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, and yet, blind in our sinful panic, we lash out and claw at one another.
This is not because we are not Christians. This is because we are still in this fallen flesh. In this life, all of the Baptized are of two minds. We are forgiven and redeemed by Christ. We have been claimed and named by Him. He is pulling us out of death and to Himself. And yet, we do not do the good that we want to do. Instead we do the evil things that we despise. We betray ourselves and hurt our neighbors with gossip, greed, and gluttony. We think of ourselves, our pleasures and our felt needs, the stuff we wish we had and all the past injustices we have suffered, all day and then we dream of them again at night. We sin against our consciences. We know better but we are afraid that we will miss some small ill-gotten gain, some fleeting good time, if we refrain from sin. We do not trust God to provide. We do not believe that He actually wants us to be happy and joyful and that we do not need to take these things for ourselves. We love the dark. We fear the light above. We long to be free of the net and reenter bondage. Like Peter in his fear, we want the Lord to depart.
Thanks be to God: the Church is the net and the Lord Jesus Christ does not depart. He is patient, persistent, and full of pity.
The Law stays in the boat. It cannot save us. It can merely point out that we’ve done this to ourselves and we should have done what it said. The Lord does not stay in the boat. He dives into our death, is infected with our disease. He climbs into the sack and lets us claw Him to bits even as He applies healing balm to our wounds and puts air back into our lungs. He places Himself between us and the sharks. He fills the jaws. He stops the demands. He drowns the grave with His own, precious blood. We are drawn out, through the Apostolic Word, safe and sound, rescued, alive and free. Though we are murderers, we are received as heroes, as He sinks to the depths, dead as dead can be.
God be praised! The Church is a net. Jesus has died and we are saved.
Still, there is more. For death could not hold Him or keep Him away. The Lord does not depart, no matter how much we ask Him to or how dead He is. Having been sacrificed in our stead, He finished what could never end, He stopped eternal death in its tracks and left it dead. Thus He takes up His life again in order to abide with us and not depart.
So here we are, clawing and scratching, afraid to believe this good news for its goodness. We’ve been drawn out despite ourselves, despite our sins, despite our craven passions and desires. We’ve not behaved. We’ve sinned, in terrible ways, with great frequency, but we’ve heard the Voice of our Shepherd in the words of the Apostles. He has called us by the Gospel, caught us in His net, promised to be Our God. We could jump back overboard. But we have come for something good, been drawn up out of the saving waters of Holy Baptism in the Church’s net. We have been drawn from the midst of our own sin and we do not want to go back. W need help. We need strength. We need grace. So He says we are His, the sea cannot have us, the sack is split open and sinks beyond the reach of the devil. Even the dog, snake, rooster, and monkey, which have been groaning in the pain of our sin, are redeemed and become peaceful friends of man, restored also to what they were meant to be. He says that we are worth it, that we are good, and that He loves us. The net has pulled us to the boat.
This is what Baptizing with water indicates. It indicates that the old Adam in us should be drowned by daily contrition and repentance, along with all evil desires, and that the new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever, as St. Paul writes in Romans chapter 6: “We were buried with Christ through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”
Our sinful flesh tries to escape the net in fear, yet God patiently, mercifully pulls us to heaven. He will not depart. He abides. And soon – Thanks be God! – soon, we shall be drawn out for good and be in the rooms He has prepared for us.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.