Today we hear Saint Luke’s account of the miraculous catch of fish. The disciples had been fishing all night, but had caught nothing. However, when Jesus instructed them to “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch,” they nevertheless obeyed Him. They acted in faith, and, having done so, they caught such a quantity of fish that their nets started to break and they had to call others to help them bring them all in.
The disciples were “astounded” at what had taken place, and Saint Luke tells us that the Apostle Peter fell on his knees before Christ saying, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” We see here something of the awe and amazement that occurs from realizing that we are in the presence of God. But Jesus responds, “Do not be afraid. From now on you will be catching men.”
The fear of God can be a difficult concept for us to understand today. After all, we believe that God is love and God can hardly want us to be afraid of Him. But there is also another – positive – kind of fear of God that we see in this Gospel passage. We hear this repeated in the prayers of the Church, notably when the priest calls out in the Liturgy inviting us to receive Holy Communion: “With fear of God, with faith and love, draw near.”
This positive sense of fear is something like amazement, awe, or wonder. It is the awareness that we are confronted with something totally outside our normal frame of reference, which we can neither domesticate nor control. And it makes us aware of our own smallness and sinfulness, in contrast to the inexpressible Holiness of God.
This encounter with the Living God is at the heart of the Church’s life. Yet it is often all-too-easy for us to take God for granted and lose this awareness of His greatness. This is why the Fathers of the Church teach that the fear of the Lord is something that we need to cultivate and guard, being careful that we never take God’s gifts for granted.