“And they straightway left their nets”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Today, on the Second Sunday after Pentecost, we celebrate the memory of all the saints of Russia who have enlightened that land and shown their light on top of the hill instead of under a bushel. What is it that makes a saint? We’ve talked about this last week. We read part of the same reading today as we read last week also.
When Jesus called His disciples, they left immediately, left their nets, and they didn’t look back. They left with many weaknesses. We can see them. Their warts are shown in the scriptures: they argued with one another, they jousted with one another to see who would be the greatest, they had lack of faith, they even denied our Lord, and not just Peter, by the way; all of them were afraid, even St. John, who followed from a distance. They all had human frailties. But they did as the good farmer that our Lord speaks about in a parable: you put your hand to the plow. And no man who wants to plow a field looks back, because then the furrows will be not straight, and you will not get as much fruit from the ground.
This is the key, brothers and sisters. Have you left your nets? Our Lord called James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and straightway they left their nets. The “nets” are the “world”, in this context. The spiritual, the inner meaning, of the nets is this: all the things which entangle us. Have you left your nets? Or do you still keep nets around?
I’m not talking about whether or not you fall into sin. We are sinners. We should not be surprised when we sin. I’m not talking about if you have weaknesses, passions. I’m talking about your priorities. Have you left your nets? Do you understand? Do you live your life in accordance with the fact that Christianity must be a continual ascent, away from the earth, into heaven? A continual change, a continual changing of one’s mind. Warfare till the last breath. This is what Christianity is. You must leave your nets.
If you set your face towards Jerusalem, as the Lord did, meaning, if you don’t let the world get in the way of what your life is for, and then God will strengthen you and will help you. You’ll have many problems. You might have many sins. In fact, you might sin wretchedly and continually, but God will help you if you have the right priorities, and if you beg Him to help you.
Christianity is not what we believe; it’s how we act, it’s what we become. It’s not possible without belief, but belief is only the beginning, just like when the grain of mustard seed is put into the ground. That is only the beginning. That is only the start. Then the seedling starts to grow. Many things endanger the seedling, but eventually, with care, it becomes a great tree. This is what we must do. We must have the priority to grow, to change. This is Christianity. This is the essence.
Our Lord called His disciples; they straightway left their nets. They’d been waiting for the Messiah. At this point they didn’t really understand. He was a charismatic man, and there was something about Him. Those with sensitive souls would see such a thing. They might not understand it, but they saw it and they desired to follow it. They gave up everything in order to follow it. Everything. And they didn’t look backwards. Now they still brought along their baggage, and their sins, and their passions, and their pride, and … everything else. But their desire was to change.
And look what God has done, with twelve men! He didn’t come to twelve kings, twelve princes, twelve great ones, twelve scholars, but twelve simple men, uneducated for the most part. Simple. Men of the sea, men of the earth. And look what happened. Because they desired to follow Christ, they left their nets. And anything that was imperfect in them would be, eventually, healed because of their desire.
It is so important to understand the purpose of the Christian life. We can talk about it, but to really understand it is to live it. Perfection. Self-amendment. Change according to the One Whom we say we love. Leaving behind those things that shackle us. As St. Paul says, “We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” Let’s leave behind sin which so easily entangles us. But the first step to leaving behind sin which entangles is to leave your nets.
The sin may still come with. We see that from the apostles. The sin may still come with. The weakness still comes with. But if God sees a man who wants to change, He will help him. Grace will descend upon him and will warm him. This is the key. You must desire to change. You must desire to become like Christ. You must desire to be all fire. And all these imperfections, they’ll just be a memory some day. All the things that are wrong with us, they’ll burn away, and all that will be left, if we live according to desire for Christ, will be the pearl, all burnished and shining because of our efforts, because of God’s grace which has descended upon us.
Don’t lament so much out of proportion about your sins that you commit and your difficulties with passions; don’t lament about those more than you lament about your attitude and your desire. A lack of desire, a lack of proper priorities, a lack of faith and belief in the resurrection is what really makes those sins which entangle you still hang around. They will be burned away by the grace of God, but you must leave them. You must struggle with all of your might to leave them.
Now after having been a priest for I think over five years now, I am well aware of the great grace of God and the great weakness of men. Unfortunately, I’ve learned it autobiographically, but also by observing my flock whom I love. But mostly by observing my own weakness and seeing how God takes an imperfect vessel and bestows grace upon it. Most of the grace is wasted, and is not made fruitful, like the water that flows into the ditch and into the sewer and is not retained in the orchard. But some of it is retained. And I’ve learned, and I wish you to know: God desires your heart, and not so much today that you don’t sin but that you desire to not sin, and that you order your priorities according to what God has done, and the grace the God-man gives us. If you leave your nets, everything else will follow.
Certainly, God who has created us for a good work will complete it in the day of Christ Jesus. Of course He will. But He will complete it for those who endure to the end. Not for those who make a beginning, but for those who endure to the end. He will not leave those who struggle with their sins. And I tell you boldly; He will not leave those who fail when they struggle against their sins, who continue to sin. He will not leave them, if they struggle, if they desire.
This is the key. This is the pearl. This is the inner knowledge a Christian must possess. God will not abandon you, but you must not abandon Him. You must struggle to abandon all that is not of Him. Whether you are successful or not, in this life, in this world, in being free of every sin is not as important as if you are successful in ordering your priorities and your desires. Leave your nets.
There are many of them in the world today. Sometimes we think that some of these things, the vices and passions and difficulties, have been invented by our generation. They’ve been around a long time. But now we have a terrible affliction in our society: lukewarmness of belief. It affects us, makes us make excuses, and makes us to have false priorities, to arrange for our retirement, but not for the keeping of the church. To take care of this, or that, but to not say our prayers.
Don’t be entangled by the world. The world offers you nothing. The world pushes you to the abyss, and then you fall off. Leave your nets. And then you’ll be like the saints.
We can share in something that they have obtained. We all, I tell you boldly — every one of us, no matter how sinful, are capable of becoming as the saints. And that is an arrogant statement; that is the truth. We are made of the same stuff, and the same grace is shed upon us.
But the reason why we are moribund in our sins, and why there is little fruit in our lives, is because we have not left behind our nets. We still have the wrong priorities. Then let us obey the apostle Paul, “seeing that we are compassed about by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside sin, which so easily encumbers us.” Let’s strive for the goal. Let’s struggle. Let’s desire. Let us leave our nets. God will not abandon us. God will help us.
This is glorious news. The saints, you know, are the resurrection in action. The saints are living examples of the resurrection, and even in our life we should experience living examples of the resurrection, if we are able to turn aside from the sins that once beset us, if we are able to make the right choice, instead of the wrong one that we’ve been making for so long. This is the resurrection at work in a man. And it is a glorious thing. It is a privilege, and an honor to be a creature of God, for He dwells within us, an amazing thing. Let us leave our nets, and let’s truly experience what God desires for us. Amen.