metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

"Depart from me, for I am a sinful man."

Theme: Gospel parables   Place: London Parish   Period: 1971-1975   Genre: Sermon

In the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

I would like to attract your attention to two features of today’s Gospel. First, Christ had been preaching on the shore for quite a time, surrounded by a thick crowd that pressed on Him on every side. He then decided to ask Peter to give Him refuge on his boat to be able to speak freely without being so pressed, and He spoke again, and Peter and the other disciples listened. But it is only when Christ commanded them to go out into the sea, and when they brought an incredible, unexpected catch of fishes that suddenly Peter became aware of Who had been speaking all the time in his presence, then Who was in his boat.

Before that, words which make us spell-bound, words which make our heart burn within us, words which possess intrinsic convinciveness and power of life had been heard and yet, somehow, he had missed something essential; he had not recognized the greatness of Whom was speaking.

Is not this something that happens all the time with us? It is only when something materializes, becomes a physical event, that something which was words, and life, and truth, and divine power becomes of a sudden tangible that we become aware of God Who is speaking? Before that time we were listening to words which we welcomed, and somehow we missed Him Who spoke.

The second thing is the phrase used by Peter when he became aware that He Who was speaking was the living God: he fell to His feet and said, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man’. He was so overwhelmed by the holiness, the greatness of Him Who spoke that he felt he could not abide in His presence. This is also an experience which is quite uncommon in our midst. We claim God’s presence, we clamour for it: He must come because we have chosen to call upon Him. He must make His presence tangible, perceptible for us, because we have chosen a given moment to meet Him. Does not that come from the fact that we are extraordinarily unaware of the holiness and the greatness of Him Whom we call into our presence, when we should shyly, diffidently, worshipfully come into His presence? If more often than we do, we came to God shyly, not recoiling self-consciously, but aware of the greatness and His divine freedom to come and go, that matches our human freedom to come to Him or turn away from Him, if shyly we came to Him and having heard a word we took away in our heart, saying, ‘this is enough for me, this can fill not only my day, but many a day’; if once Christ is in our presence in a way that is perceptible for us, we said, ‘Lord, a word would have been enough for me’; if we did what the Gospel says, if we took the last seat and were called to come and seat nearer the Lord our God, it would save us from so much greed and from so much frustration.

If we realized the greatness of God and the extraordinary richness which is ours even when we are touched as it were from afar off by His words, when from afar off we can see Him passing among others, if we said, ‘this is enough, I have seen as much as my heart can hear, as my mind can grasp, as I can hear while remaining alive’ greed would die within us, this spiritual greed that makes us say, “God, more, more, give more, come closer’ while we are incapable of enduring His presence, while we are too blind, too heavy to perceive the closeness there is, exactly like Peter who sat there, listened perhaps for hours and never was moved to say to the Lord, ‘Depart’ while words of truth and of life were beating against his heavy heart, and his still unenlightened mind. We could also escape so much frustration because the more greedily we expect, the less we can receive, not because it is not given, but because our grasping attitude does not allow us freely to receive and let go, to live by what was given and to bear fruit of a first sowing before the next harvest comes. If only we could say more often than we do, ‘I am fulfilled, o Lord, fulfilled and it is enough, depart from me, more would be too much’ we would learn this shy humility of the saints, we would learn gratitude, we would learn the sense of wonder, we would be so happy with what we possess, in spite of the longing which is both natural and God-given, which is within us to have more, to come closer.

And this could apply not only to our relationship with God, but also to our human relationships, if we could say, ‘how rich I am in what I possess, how wonderful to have so much’, and shyly, humbly wait for a gift, for a gratuitous, free gift of love, of understanding, of charity, of friendship, we would always be rich and every moment would make us richer and more amazed at the generosity that surrounds us, with so much love which we take for granted while we long for more.

Let us think again and again about this event in the life of Peter; we are as blind, as heavy, as unperceptive; we wait for material evidence, for the brutal shook of material evidence and we pass by the quiet still voice of the evening breeze in which God is present, and in our greed, with our sense of insecurity, we increase the sense of frustration when we could be so gratefully rich, so happy, so worshipful. Amen.

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