Friday, November 11, 2016

Patristic Wisdom: Looking to Sunday

After these things Jesus showed Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and in this way He showed Himself: Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together.  Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.”  They said to him, “We are going with you also.”  They went out and immediately got into the boat, and that night they caught nothing.  But when the morning had now come, Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  Then Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any food?” They answered Him, “No.”  And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”  So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish.  (John 21:1-6)

Our Lord Jesus Christ once more gladdens His disciples with the enjoyment of the sight of Himself, Whom they so greatly longed to see, and entrusts unto them a third visit, in addition to the other two, in order that He might confirm their minds, and render them unchangeably steadfast in faith towards Him.  For how after they had seen Him not once, but now for the third time, could they fail to have their minds released from all wavering in the faith, and to become faithful instructors of the rest of mankind in the doctrines of the religion of Christ?  Peter then goes forth with the others fishing.  For when he was bound on this errand they hurried with him, and doubtless our Savior Christ is here seen working for their good.… In order, then, that He might convince them by a palpable sign that every Word that He had spoken would surely come to pass, and that His promise would result in complete fulfillment, He draws a convincing proof from the trade at which they were at work.  For the blessed disciples were practicing their art, and were fishing, but yet they had caught nothing, though they had toiled all the night.  And when it was already early morning, and the dawn was beginning to break, and the sun’s rays to appear, Jesus stood on the beach.  And they did not know that it was Jesus.  And when He questioned them whether they had any fish fit for the table in their nets, they said they had taken nothing at all.  Then He bids them cast down the net on the right side of the boat. And they, although all the night they had spent their toil in vain, replied: “At Your word we will cast down the net.”  And when this was done, the weight of the fish that were caught overpowered the strength of the fishermen who were hauling it up.

Such is the narrative of the inspired Evangelist.  As we have just observed, the Savior, by the actual performance of a palpable miracle, satisfied the holy disciples that they were destined to be, as He had said, fishers of men.  Come, then, let us convert, so far as in us lies, that which was fulfilled in type into the truth of which it is symbolic; and let us bear witness to the truth of the Savior’s Words, and, according to our ability, unfolding the meaning of everything that took place, let us put before those who may light on these pages what may serve in some measure, I think, to start a spiritual train of thought.… I think, then, that the fact of the disciples fishing all the night, and taking nothing, but spending their labor in vain, signifies that no one, as we shall find, or very few, would be wholly won over by the teaching of the first instructors of old, and caught into their net to do God’s pleasure in all things.  We may regard what is very small in amount as equivalent to nothing, especially when it is taken out of a great multitude.  And, surely, we must regard the number of mankind scattered throughout the whole world as exceedingly great.  What hindrance, then, or obstacle was there in the way which rendered the labor of the pioneers of the faith fruitless?  And why did their preaching fail to bear fruit?  There was still night and darkness, and a kind of mental mist and devilish deceit brooding over the eyes of the mind, not allowing men to perceive the true light of God.… The inspired disciples, then, without hesitation, obeyed the bidding of our Savior, and let down the net.  And the meaning of this is, that they did not seize for themselves the grace of apostleship, but at His bidding went forth to capture the souls of men.  “Go therefore,” He said, “and make disciples of all the nations.”  The disciples themselves say, that at the Word of Christ they let down the net.  For they fish for men only by the Savior’s Words and, commandments in the Gospels.  And great was the multitude of fish within the net, so that the disciples were no longer able to haul it up.  For they who have been caught, and believed, are innumerable, and the marvel thereof seems in truth to surpass, and be out of all proportion to the strength of the holy Apostles.  For it is the working of Christ, Who gathers by His own power the multitude of the saved into the Church on earth, as into the net of the Apostles.

Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on John, XII

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