Today's commentary by Dr Andrew Kania is one you might want to spend a little time with. At one level he's looking at this age-old puzzle of the two natures of Christ — the Divine and the human. At a second level it is all about us. In fact his original title for the essay is "God with Us (cf Jeremiah 1:5)". Why did Jesus choose uneducated fisherman as the leaders of his movement? Does that tell us something of the nature/natures of God and Jesus? What does it tell us about us and our mission in life?
The challenge of the two natures of Christ...
One of the greatest difficulties posed by Christ for those who seek Him, or for those who first encounter Him — is trying to reconcile in one's mind, the hypostatic union; that is the teaching that Christ is both God and man. Throughout history this perplexing idea has, from time to time, led some to accentuate Christ's Divine nature, at the cost of His human nature; and conversely on other occasions, has led others to emphasize Christ as man, at the cost of virtually stripping Him of His Divinity. In both cases the fullness of the Christian message is lost; for God became man that we may be saved; but similarly man became God in order to restore humanity to its original image. St. Athanasius describes the hypostatic union and its importance for humanity in the following words:
"God became man so that man might become a god." [cf. St. Athanasius, De Incarnatione or On the Incarnation 54:3, PG 25:192B]
Among the most beautiful passages in the New Testament, is a story that exemplifies Christ's Divine and human nature — and how humanity is called to embrace both.
Christ has begun his mission, and now seeks to call to Himself a core of Disciples. As He stands on the shore of the Lake of Gennesaret, He sees two boats with the fishermen: James and his brother John, and Andrew and his brother Peter. Now it must be understood that these men, are men of the Jewish faith — but they are also in every sense of the word, simple men. They are experienced and hard-working; they know their trade. But let us remove ourselves from the stained-glass window or the venerated icon of these men, and introduce them as they would have been — flesh and blood fishermen; for only when we do so, will we discover the depth of Christ's meeting with His future disciples; men who were to become saints, but who were, at the first meeting — not quite there yet.
If fishermen of the first century were anything like fishermen of the 21st century, then these men would have been no strangers to rough speech, drinking, and a myriad of jests. Yet despite these rough edges, Christ seeks them out. A crowd is following Him, and seeing two boats on the shore, with fishermen cleaning their nets, Christ asks the owner, Simon Peter, whether He can preach from one of the boats; Simon Peter agrees, and obeying a further request from Christ, pushes the boat from the shore, so that Christ will not be crushed by the crowd. After Christ had finished preaching, He turned His attention to Simon Peter — requesting the fisherman to put his nets out once more into deep water. This is an astonishing scene, for the young Rabbi, the carpenter's son, is instructing an experienced fisherman how to do his job.
Aware of this peculiar situation, Simon Peter, replies that he and his companions have spent the whole evening trying to make a catch, but with no result. However Simon Peter has evidently been inspired by what Christ has preached — and replies that because Christ has asked, he shall obey. To Simon Peter's astonishment, the boat begins to sink with the enormity of the catch.
But how does Simon Peter respond to this event — what does he tell Christ? His words and Christ's response point directly to the hypostatic union — and its importance to humanity.
Simon Peter kneels before Christ and says:
"Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord." [Luke 5: 8, RSV]
Simon Peter has had an epiphany; through his realization of the awesome nature of Christ, he has seen his own failings; but being an honest and good man, in humility he asks Christ not to associate Himself with such as man as he. Logic would tell us that no man is worthy of God; for God is perfect. However the most perfect of all conceivable Gods — has sent His Son to express His love — and this love is a love that seeks to restore and not condemn. Christ raises Simon Peter from his knees, intimating in this action that sinful fisherman as he may be, Christ requires him to join Him, to become a fisher of men.
We are worthy of God...
Such a Scriptural passage strongly emphasizes that we are worthy of God, worthy to stand before Him, not because of some test that we have passed, but because God deems us to be worthy. We should not grovel before God — but in humility accept His affection. The hypostatic union took place, despite humanity being dis-obedient. The purpose of the Incarnation was not to reward the righteous but to give the fallen and the moribund, a sense of what they could become. Self-condemnation gave way in Simon Peter's life, to an empowerment; a confidence from being affirmed by God. One can sit in sackcloth and ash — but the hypostatic union teaches us that our very natures are not by their Created-ness filthy or low, but rather with all our failings and our spiritual inconsistencies and senescence, God loves us — and wishes us to love Him. He wishes us to be virtuous, but nonetheless He calls us, calls us, while we are caught out fornicating, as was Mary Magdalene, or rorting people as was Zacchaeus, or while persecuting His followers, as was St. Paul. He seeks us out with no less the ardour as Jonah was sought; He hopes in us, as Hosea hoped for the restoration of his wife.
In his Life in Christ, the Greek theologian, Nicholas Cabasilas, with pure poetry describes Christ, the God-made-man, and his love for humanity. Cabasilas writes:
"What could be equal to that affection? What has a man ever loved so greatly? What mother ever loved so tenderly (Is. 49: 15), what father so loved his children? Who has ever been seized by such a mania of love for anything beautiful whatever, so that because of it he not only willingly allows himself to be wounded by the object of his love without swerving from his affections towards the ungrateful one, but even prizes the very wounds above everything? Though these prove not only that He loves us but also that He greatly honours us, yet it belongs to the greatest honour that He is not ashamed even of the infirmities of our nature, but is seated on His royal throne with the scars which He has acquired from human weakness". [Cabasilas, 1974, p. 164]
Cabasilas' exposition of the nature of Christ, is of a God who cannot resist offering to humanity His love — it is of a God who by his hypostatic union, reaches out to His brothers and sisters; it is of a God, joyous even in His suffering — joyful as the lover who seeks the face of His beloved, and will suffer any hardship in order to see their beloved free of suffering. When one reads Cabasilas, one comes to understand the God in the young preacher by the Lake of Gennesaret — as one does the man who befriends the fishermen, and is befriended by them. Simon Peter's disclaim of being too sinful for Christ is thus seen as a half-truth, not that Simon Peter was not indeed sinful — but that he had now met a man, only too Divinely capable of taking him by the hand and leading him over that abyss of selfishness, and materialism, and concupiscence, to a reality that far exceeded what the fisherman had thereto known.
Dr. Andrew Thomas Kania
What are your thoughts on this commentary?
©2008-11Dr Andrew Thomas Kania