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Fifth Sunday after Trinity
Click to read: Collect, Epistle, and Gospel
Reflection
Fr. Robert Crouse

Much of modern Christianity seems to be very world-affirming. Popular preachers often recommend religion as though it were some sort of pharmaceutical preparation designed to produce health and happiness, and maybe even social and financial success. And if it doesn't produce these obvious rewards, at the very least, it should provide us with something called "peace of mind". And on a slightly more sophisticated level, some of our leaders, and the Church press in general, speak as though the real end and purpose of Christianity were the improvement of social and economic conditions: making the world a better place. For many, that is the main justification of the Church.
 
That is a view of things which sometimes seems to find support in the Scriptures. In the Epistle for today, for instance, St. Peter quotes form the Psalms:

He that will love life,
And see good days,
Let him refrain his tongue from evil,
And his lips that they speak no guile:
Let him eschew evil, and do good;
Let him seek peace, and ensue it. 
For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous,
And his ears are open unto their prayers...

And in today's Gospel lesson, we hear the story of the miraculous catch of fish. Peter, James and John had had a discouraging night's work: "Master, we have toiled all the night and have taken nothing." But the presence of Jesus changes all that: "They enclosed a great multitude of fishes, and their net brake."  Belief in Jesus seems to have been an astonishing boon to the Gennesaret fisheries.
 
So the conclusion would appear to be that our Christian belief should reward us with a long and happy life, with all the joys of prosperity, and our world should become a utopia of peace and plenty.
 
But consider these lessons more closely: it's a strange kind of happiness they describe, and a strange kind of prosperity they promise. "Happy are ye," says St. Peter, "if ye suffer for righteousness' sake" -- happiness in suffering. And consider the conclusion of the Gospel lesson: it appears that the miraculous draught of fishes was simply a teaching device: sort of a parable in action. The point of it was not the astonishing catch of fish -- that was rather incidental. "From henceforth thou shalt catch men". And immediately convinced of the sinful futility of their lives, they forsook their occupation, and followed Jesus.
 
In the end, these lessons turn out to be very anti-worldly. And I think it must be said that the Gospel is not, on the whole, very world-affirming. Certainly, the world is God's Creation; and more than that, it is the sphere of his redeeming love in Christ: "God so loved the world..." But the end and object of God's creative and redemptive power -- the salvation of the world -- is somehow beyond this world. We are solemnly warned again and again not to set our affections on earthly things; and we are certainly not promised rewards of earthly happiness and prosperity. Rather we are promised tribulation. "Happy are ye if ye suffer for righteousness sake."
 
...
 
What we are really concerned with here is the everlasting life of the spirit, and our earthly goods are really goods only insofar as they serve that higher end. In worldly terms, their end is destruction: "moth and rust corrupt, and thieves break through and steal." Even this planet of ours must surely have an end, and our sun is, after all, a dying star. "Here we have not continuing city," "but our homeland is in heaven, and from it we await a saviour." What is saved is the harvest of the spirit -- spirits made perfect in the knowledge and love of God.

GRANT, O Lord, we beseech thee, that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by thy governance, that thy Church may joyfully serve thee in all godly quietness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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These devotionals are based on the Calendar of the Book of Common Prayer (1962, Canada)

The Missionary Diocese of St. Luke the Evangelist
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Canada

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