And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” They immediately left their nets and followed Him. (Matthew 4:18-20)
St Mark the Ascetic points out that sometimes our misfortunes, failures and disappointments open our hearts and minds to God’s Word. He uses as examples three of Christ’s disciples:
If Peter had not failed to catch anything during the night’s fishing (cf. Luke 5:5), he would not have caught anything during the day. And if Paul had not suffered physical blindness (cf. Acts 9:8), he would not have been given spiritual sight. And if Stephen had not been slandered as a blasphemer, he would not have seen the heavens opened and have looked on God (cf. Acts 6:15; 7:56). (THE PHILOKALIA Vol 1, pp 142-143)
St Mark is of course commenting on the call of the first disciples as reported in Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 5. It was after a night of fishing and catching nothing, according to Luke 5, that Christ issued His call to Peter converting him from a fisherman into a fisher of men. St Mark’s point is that even failures and disappointments can have a positive effect on our spiritual lives. God does not invite us to be His disciples because we are constantly successful or because we never falter. In fact Scriptures show God as having a tendency to choose those who might be overlooked by the world’s craving for strong champions. As the Lord said to Samuel when He sent Samuel to find the man to become the next king of Israel: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). And as God reminds Israel why God chose Israel to be His people: “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love upon you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples; but it is because the LORD loves you, and is keeping the oath which he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). We all can take heart that God really can use any of us to accomplish His will, even if we see ourselves as lacking power, gifts, resources, faith or success.
St Nikolai Velimirovic, commenting on the call of the first disciples, reminds us that in coming to faith, we are not going to encounter Jesus first, but rather we will encounter His followers and it is they that will influence whether or not we come to faith in Christ. We come to know Christ through His Church, specifically through Her holy members. The saints are thus essential in our coming to faith in Christ – they are essential to our salvation. However, it is not only the officially canonized saints who have this role to play, for all of us are called to be witnesses to Christ and our salvation. People will come to a knowledge of Christ and to faith through us, and what they observe in our daily lives. That is why it is so important for each of us to be united to Christ so that we can bear the fruit that others can see and thus come to faith in Christ themselves. St Nikolai writes:
Imagine for a moment that you know nothing of the Lord Jesus Christ; that you have never heard of Him; that you have never read His Gospel. And imagine at the same time that you are in a land whose only inhabitants are His apostles, saints and martyrs, men and women pleasing to him; all those who have followed Christ and lived according to His law and example. You would find yourself, then, among the disciples of a teacher unknown to you; among the soldiers of a commander unknown to you; and you would see the fruit of a tree unknown to you. Knowing nothing of Christ, you would come to know Him through His people. Through His disciples, you would come to know the best Teacher under the sun; through His soldiers and followers, you would come to know the most powerful and victorious Commander that had ever walked the earth; through His fruit, you would come to know the sweetest and most prolific tree, the Tree of Life, whose sweetness surpasses that of all other trees in the created world. (HOMILIES Vol 1, p 284)
Christ relies on us to be His witnesses in order to bring other people to faith in Him. They will know the goodness, love and mercy of the Lord through us and how we behave – a daunting thought for us to be sure.