Article by His Grace Bishop Kyrillos
Today, on this Second Sunday of the Blessed Month of Babeh, we see St. Peter in the boat after a long night of struggle, of failure, of waiting for God to work in his life (Luke 5:1-11). He emerged from the sea, greatly discouraged. The Lord sat in his boat delivering a message of hope to the multitudes. We unfortunately do not know what that message was about, but when He concluded, He commanded St. Peter to “Launch out into the deep!” He promised that there was a catch awaiting.
St. Peter, with both faith and doubt, responded, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless at Your word I will let down the net.” I know there is no fish. I have tasted bitter failure, empty struggles, and painful difficulties in life. But because You have commanded me, I will obey. Their labor would not go unrewarded, as St. Cyril of Alexandria says. They didn’t delay or procrastinate upon hearing the words of the Lord, but were faithfully obedient, as St. Augustine reflects.
This gospel provides for us a powerful message of hope, especially in our service. God reminds us not to get discouraged, neither in our service, nor in our toils and struggles in life. One of the key reflections of the paradox in life, is the word “nevertheless.” This phrase is used. The seminal word St. Peter uses to reflect this paradox of both faith and doubt, is the unassuming, yet powerful “nevertheless.”
In Greek, the very small word “de” (δέ) is labeled a weak adversative participle because it contrasts what comes before it, “Master, we have toiled all night and caught nothing; nevertheless (δέ) at Your word I will let down the nets” (Lk. 5:5). We put our trust in You, our hope in You, our faith in You. Not in our nets, not in our wisdom, not in our experience. For the fish do not come at this time of day, in this place, or in this manner. It is only because You commanded do we respond, because You promised the catch do we act.
This seemingly insignificant adversative participle appears hundreds of times in various contexts throughout Scripture, however its mention requests deeper meaning and significance. While one of the smallest words in the New Testament, it calls for a powerful shift of perspective. In the Old Testament Hebrew, it often does not even appear as a full word, but rather, a conjunction, similar to the Arabic.
An example where the word appears is in descriptions of the righteous and merciful God, with unfaithful people. As when God declares, “…they despised My judgments and did not walk in My statutes, but profaned My Sabbaths; for their heart went after their idols. Nevertheless (لكن) My eye spared them from destruction. I did not make an end of them in the wilderness” (Ez. 20:16-17).
Also, when the people of God break His covenant, God responds, “I will deal with you as you have done, who despised the oath by breaking the covenant. Nevertheless (ولكني) I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed…” (Ezek. 16:59-61). The Arabic here reflects the very subtle Hebrew conjunction.
The Psalmist declares the same thing in his voice, often times declaring how sinful he is but at the same time, God blesses him. “I was so foolish and ignorant; I was like a beast before You. Nevertheless (ولكني) I am continually with You; You hold me by my right hand. You will guide me with Your counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (Psa. 73:22-24). This is the psalm of ordination, which admits personal sinfulness and ignorance, yet God brought him to glory! St. Peter declares the same thing here, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” Instead of rebuke, our Lord promises him that He will make St. Peter a fisher, an apostle, a great leader! St. Peter declares, “I don’t deserve to be in Your presence.” Our Lord responds, “I will make you My Apostle.” Likewise, our Lord reveals to St. Paul that he is persecuting Him and His church, and moments later, entrusts him to be His Apostle to the Gentiles! What is this paradox, this great transformative work only God can do and promises to do with and for His servants?
Saint Paul, the great Apostle often reveals this paradox in his pastoral epistles when he writes about the struggles related to the service. As he explains in the comforting second epistle to the Corinthians: “For indeed, when we came to Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were troubled on every side. Outside were conflicts, inside were fears. Nevertheless God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming, but also by the consolation with which he was comforted in you, when he told us of your earnest desire, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced even more.” (2 Cor. 7:5-7). How comforting are these words for us in our service today. The great Apostle tells St. Timothy, how he suffers, “nevertheless I am not ashamed” (2 Tim. 1:12).
In the same way, Nehemiah faced many challenges in the service, yet he was not shaken. He led his people to prayer and reliance upon the God of all hope. He recounts “…all of them conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion. Nevertheless, we made our prayer to our God, and because of them we set a watch against them day and night.” (Neh. 4:8-10). As we know, Nehemiah was a victorious servant of God who will be always remembered for his courageous leadership, empowered by God to lead a generation to repent and rebuild the city of God.
Let us reflect on this small word, “nevertheless,” in our own service and dedication to God.
- We don’t have time…nevertheless we will do what we can so God may bless. Because the importance of our salvation, for others, for the church, and for the calling we have.
- We don’t have much knowledge…nevertheless we will share what we have so God may bless. We will read, we will study, we will examine, and we will ask others, so our knowledge may increase and what we have we share with one another.
- We don’t have much holiness…nevertheless God will bless us. We ask for His sanctifying power, and through our service, God may enrich our lives and those around us. Make us worthy to pray, to serve, and to love.
- We don’t have much money…nevertheless let us give our two mites, which is more valuable than the thousand others may give. Let us give from our weakness, our shortcomings, our livelihood, trusting that God will accept our humble offerings and use it for His glory.
- We don’t have much success, in fact we may find ourselves surrounded by overwhelming failure. Yes, we labored and toiled; we struggled, we wept, we suffered. NEVERTHELESS we will let down the net. We have had difficulties in our service and experience, but now that You have spoken to us, have commanded us, and guided us in the service, we will do all that You ask. As long as You bless us and remain with us in our little boat, the Church.
May the Lord richly bless our lives, lead us to repentance as He did for St. Peter, to a glorious service as He did for St. Paul, to a successful ministry as He did for Nehemiah, and to a glorious end with all the saints!