10 February 2013. 5th Sunday of Year C.
Is 6:1-8. When Isaiah is cleansed of sin, he responds to God’s call with enthusiasm.
1 Cor 15:1-11. Paul, among the witnesses to Christ’s resurrection, is “the least of the apostles.”
Lk 5:1-11. Overwhelmed by the miraculous catch of fish, Peter accepts his call to follow Christ.
Theme: When Jesus told Peter to put out into the deep he was encouraging him to have trust. Trust in God is a virtue not only for fishermen but for all Christians. We need it more than ever, today.
First Reading: Isaiah 6:1-8
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel, which you received, in which you stand, by which you are saved, if you hold it fast-unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.
Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.
Gospel: Luke 5:1-11
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.
But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.
What was God thinking?
This week we meet some great “call stories”. Last week we heard the call of Jeremiah. This week we hear the call of Isaiah and Peter. Further, this week St. Paul makes an allusion to the unworthiness of his apostleship because of his sinful actions before his call (The persecution of Christians).
Here we have a group of people who claim to be too young, too uneducated, too unworthy, and too wretched to be called to do anything for God whatsoever, and two of them were common laborers: Peter the fisherman and Paul the tent maker.
One might ask: “Why these guys? What was God thinking? Well, it is really nothing new for God. Old Abraham is made a new father; young David is made a king, slow tongued Moses takes on Pharaoh, and a young, lowly Jewish girl gives birth to our Saviour. It is clear that God does what God wills.
Mary may have been sinless; but the cast of characters that God has chosen throughout salvation history to be his instruments of justice, mercy, love and compassion have been colorful, earthy individuals. We often do ourselves the disservice of disqualifying ourselves from ever considering ourselves to be called by God to be his instruments. We may understand intellectually that God has chosen many people like ourselves to be his workers; but it ends there. Spiritually we lower our heads, walk into the darkness, and jump on the ever-revolving merry-go-round of unworthiness that never stops for the hope of being called.
We may say to ourselves: “Where is my burning ember to purify my mouth? Where is my vision? Where is my voice from God? Where is my miraculous conversion moment? All these folks were called in a really big way. Where is my big call? A big call wipes out unworthiness. Wrong.
There are a few foundational blocks that I am convinced need to be in place in order to feel loved by and connected to God. One of them is seeing oneself as an instrument of the love and goodness of God.
Here is how it works for me: God is love. God gives us all good things. If you buy those two premises, and I wholeheartedly do, then it follows that anytime we have an impulse to love or do something good, then we recognize that it comes from God.
Every tugging, pulling, pushing, and little voice in ones head prompting to do something beautiful for another person is a call. Every prompting to share something good is a call. We are sinners. We are characters. Yet, we are still called. We are still instruments. God does what God wills.
If we get stuck in the rut of thinking: “I do these loving actions simply because I am a mother, father, wife, husband, family member, caregiver, teacher, mentor, CEO, nurse, doctor, social worker, etc., and these actions are just expected of me, then we dismiss from where these impulses come from and from where the source of all love flows, God.
In God’s Net
An Irish hymn of Sean O Riada, often sung in the liturgy, contains the prayer “I líontaibh Dé go gcastar sinn” – “may we be gathered into God’s nets.” It is a fine prayer in view of the many other nets that are spread to catch us in these times. There is the delusive net of consumerism tangling us in a mesh of artificial need, and ever increasing worry about ability to pay. We seem to be “pressurised into buying things we don’t want, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like!” What about the net of image-building and lots of hype about the success ethic, with its exclusive focusing on the outward self to the detriment of human and spiritual values? Also, the net of drug and alcohol culture, and the net of depression, despair and suicide for those for whom life loses its meaning?
We pray that we may be taken taken up in God’s own net where life, even with its faults, holds out a promise of goodness, acceptance and hope. We must also involve ourselves in spreading this net. In the story in John 21 the spread net caught 153 fish – every type was taken in the net. Like Peter we are commissioned to “be fishers of people” and if we spread the net at the command of the Lord we too can take every type of person into God’s net of forgiveness, meaning, love and hope. This is our vocation and duty as Christians. To really do it, however, we must make sure we are not trapped in one of the other nets.
I’ve always been fascinated by the number of references to fish in the gospel. In Matthew, Christ says: “The kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind.” When he miraculously fed the multitude he used fish as well as bread. He even found the money to pay his taxes in the mouth of a fish. Fish figured so prominently in the gospel that the early Christians in Rome, chose the symbol of a fish to designate their tombs in the catacombs. The letters which make up the Greek word for fish, “ichthus” came to signify “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.”
There were a lot of other people in Palestine in the time of Our Lord, besides fisherman. Yet when it came to picking his apostles, he showed a marked preference for them. He made “the big fisherman’, Simon Peter, their head. And he reserved his special miracles, such as the transfiguration and the raising to life of the little girl, only for him and his two fishing partners, James and John.
“Put out into deep water’, he told Peter. Peter knew, as every fisherman knows, that fish only feed in shallow waters. Jesus was testing him. After a whole night covering the best feeding grounds on the lake, it was asking a lot. But Peter complied, almost as if to humour Jesus. His compliance was amply rewarded. More importantly, he had passed the test. “From now on,” Christ told him, “it is men you will catch.” (Or as Mark phrased it: “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”)
The one virtue, above all others, that fishermen need, is the virtue of hope. To cast a small hook into a large expanse of water in the expectation of catching a fish, is an act of hope. And to do it time after time, hour after hour without catching anything, without even the tiniest bite, is to hope beyond hope. It was the one virtue Christ needed in the person he chose to lead his followers. He was, as history has shown, launching Peter into deep waters indeed. But he knew what Teilhard de Chardin expressed almost two thousand years later, that “the world belongs to him who will give it its greatest hope.”
The Very One I Want!
Jesus has begun to recruit followers, whom he will inform, form, and, eventually transform, so that they will be able to continue his mission when he returns to his Father. Today’s gospel presents a beautiful and simple picture. There is something special about a lakeside, and the presence of the odd fishing boat makes it even more attractive. By now, Jesus had begun to attract crowds, who gathered to listen to his message. (Remember, this was in the days before megaphones, amplifiers, or public address systems!) The nearest thing to a pulpit he could find was a boat, and, so, by pulling out a bit from the shore, his voice would carry much better on the water, and he was free from the pressing crowds.
The next scenario is both simple and central. Peter was beaten, without a fish to show for his work, and, so, the scene was set for a miracle. As usual with Jesus, the result was pressed down and flowing over, as with the wine at Cana, or the baskets of loaves and fish left over after everyone had been fed. Peter made the first of his many many mistakes. He asked Jesus to leave him, because he was a sinful man. That must surely have brought a smile to the face of Jesus, because it was for such sinful people that he had come. Jesus ignored Peter’s remark, by implying that you ain’t seen nothing yet. He invited Peter and his friends to join him full-time in the mission he was undertaking. There was something magnetic about Jesus, and, immediately, they abandoned ship, and set off down the road with him.
Christianity is about attracting, rather than promoting. Throughout history, we read about founders of communities, of Congregations, of Orders. These were people with a vision. They were dynamic, filled with zeal, and had a powerful sense of mission. Such enthusiasm is highly contagious! Such people always attract attention, and this leads to attracting followers. In recent years, we have seen horrible and grotesque aberrations of this, in the form of cults, that was based on mind control, and that led hundreds to their deaths through suicide pacts. It is the duty of leaders to lead, but it is also their responsibility to know where they’re going. Like Moses headed for the Promised Land, Jesus was totally open and definite in the direction of his life. He came to do the Father’s will, and he was led by the Spirit. Thank God for the many wonderful leaders and founders with which the Lord has provided us down the centuries. Thank God, for the many such people who are alive and active among us today.
Something worth noting: Jesus is spoken of as teaching rather than preaching. There is a difference. The art of teaching is to bring the learner from the known to the unknown. Jesus speaks of fish, of sheep, of vines, of trees, of water, etc., all of which would be there within the view of his listeners. The Acts begins by telling us that Jesus came to do and to teach. A cynic described education as a process in which information is transferred from the notebook of the teacher to the notebook of the student, without having passed through the heads of either! Jesus spoke and taught from the heart, and what comes from the heart of the speaker always reaches the heart of the listener. In himself, Jesus was the message, and that was what gave weight and power to his words.
Did Peter make a mistake when he judged himself unfit and unworthy to be in the presence of Jesus? He had failed to understand that Jesus came to call sinners, and Peter should actually have said, “Lord, stay with me, because I am a sinful man.” In the past, the church has not been good in its dealing with sinners. What with pulpit thumping, hell-fire, and open condemnation, sinners were left in no doubt that they did not belong! The message that came across to them was “Depart from us, for you are a sinful person.” Thankfully, because of the renewal that is going on in the Church, we are beginning to recapture the mind and the message of Jesus.
Language can mean so many different things to many different people. In our language, to fail, to be powerless, to be totally unable to deal with a situation, all of that is weakness, failure, and cause for shame. In God’s language, the same situations are extraordinary opportunities for grace, and for God to show his power. Peter had failed. He was a fisherman, and, after a whole night’s fishing, he hadn’t caught a fish. That is failure in anyone’s language, especially in the language of a fisherman. The situation was ideal for Jesus to step in, just as he had done at Cana. He is the God of the hopeless, the God of the helpless, and the God of the powerless.
Jesus came to seek out sinners and bring them safely home. If he had a hundred sheep, and one went astray, he would leave the ninety-nine to go after the one that is lost. Peter totally failed to grasp that, when he asked Jesus to leave him. The correct prayer would be Lord, please stay with me, because I am a sinner. Please don’t leave me, because, apart from you, I’m totally lost. And, of course, the whole message of Jesus is to reassure sinners that he is always there for them. Peter was only too well aware of his brokenness, and several later episodes confirmed that fact. It is significant that Jesus made Peter head of the apostles. The principle of evangelising is that one sinner tells another the good news, just as with Alcoholics Anonymous, where one recovering alcoholic helps another achieve sobriety.
Each one of us could come up with something specific in our lives, when, like Peter, we have fished all night and caught nothing. Some area in which we encounter repeated failure. This could be anything from an addiction, to resentment, an inability to forgive, to a scar of mind or memory, which has never healed. This has the potential for a miracle, if I am willing to hand it over. Let go, and let God. There is nothing impossible with God…
On the theme of Miracles
A nice reflection from Prof./Sr. Maureena Fritz, N.D.S. from the Bat Qol website
The Evangelist’s concern in recounting the miraculous catch of fish is not the miracle itself, but Jesus’ call to Peter (Luke’s account may well be an embellishment of the story recounted by Mark 1.14-20, a gospel that preceded Luke’s gospel). What interests me is the miracle. Both the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures abound with miracles.
What is a miracle? Two broadly contrasting streams of thought exist on the topic. According to the first stream, a miracle is an event attributed to divine intervention, the results of which are inexplicable by the laws of nature. Though Peter fished all night and caught nothing, he is now suddenly able to fill two boats to sinking point, at Jesus’ command. Similarly, Moses, at God’s command, waves his magic staff and the waters at the Reed Sea part to allow the Israelites to pass through on dry soil (Ex. 14.16). These two events appear to be events of divine intervention that upset the laws of nature!
According to the second stream, miracles are everyday occurrences that do not upset the laws of nature: “We acknowledge with thanks…your miracles that we experience every day and for your wondrous deeds and favors at every time of day, evening, morning and noon” (Amida, Mishkan T’filah). According to Rashi the waters parted not because of Moses’ staff but because the Israelites stepped into the waters at God’s command. “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward” (verse 15) precedes “But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it” (verse 16). According to Jewish Midrash, Nashson, knowing it was the right moment, stepped into the water. The Israelites followed him. His bravery reflects the origin of his name, “stormy sea waves.”
Emil Fackenheim, a modern Jewish philosopher, agrees that a biblical miracle is not a deus ex machina event where God breaks into history and solves a problem. A miracle has three elements: a natural event (i.e. tidal waves), God’s presence, and the ability to wonder. If any of the three elements is lacking, it is not a miracle in the biblical sense.
A careful reading of the miraculous catch of fish suggests that Peter’s boat ‘in the deep’ was close enough to shore to call for help, which means that Jesus may have seen the large shoal of fish while he was teaching. Tabgha, not far from Capernaum, is known as the ‘Place of the Seven Springs’; these springs produce warm water, which increase the production of algae, which attracts fish. Hence, a miracle that contains the three elements: a natural event, God’s presence, and Peter’s awe.
Those who believe in miracles recognize them everywhere. A writer looking for a publisher meets an editor at a coffee shop; an immigrant to Israel sees a sign offering lessons in Hebrew; a woman released in the early hours of the morning finds a lone taxi waiting at the hospital entrance. Miracles are the daily diet of poets who hear roses singing, violets whispering and honeysuckles murmuring. Dark incomprehensible miracles exist when one can pray thus: “But show me one thing; show it to me more clearly and more deeply; show me what this, which is happening to me at this very moment means to me, what it demands of me, what you, Lord of the world, are telling me by way of it. Ah, it is not why I suffer that I wish to know, but only whether I suffer for your sake” (Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, quoted in Buber). And what a miracle it is, when in incredible pain, one can utter, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23.46).”
Yes, miracles occur but they are earthly happenings not deus ex machina events. I encounter life in all its varied hues, knowing that I am never alone: “Don’t you sense me, ready to break into being at your touch? (Rilke, I.19).