FIFTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2019)
Isaiah 6:1-2a, 3-8
Psalm 138:1-5, 7-8
1 Corinthians 15:1-11
The cast of supporting actors in today’s liturgical presentation all have something in common. Isaiah, Paul, and Simon Peter, all have a clear understanding that they are unworthy of any privileged contact with the divine. Indeed, their grasp of their own sinfulness is so strong and so real that it nearly keeps them from becoming the prophet, apostle, and saint that they are called by God to be.
Isaiah’s fear-inducing vision of God causes him to worry that he is “doomed,” for he is “a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.” But God purges him of his sinfulness, his fear of being God’s messenger is dispelled, and Isaiah is able to answer God’s request for a messenger with a resounding, “Here I am [God]…send me.”
In our second reading from Paul to the Corinthian church, Paul clearly has a keen understanding of his unworthiness, stating “for I am the least of the apostles, not fit 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 to me has not been ineffective.” While his personal history haunted Paul, it was not so impossibly bad that it could ever prevent God from accomplishing great things through him.
Finally, there is Peter whose personal history is displayed throughout the pages of Scripture. In our gospel passage we see the fisherman Peter interacting with Jesus in a very trustworthy way. If Peter’s speedy consent to Jesus’ request “to put out a short distance from the shore” seems reckless, we need to recall that he has already had an encounter with Jesus when He came to Peter’s house for dinner and cured his mother-in-law of a fever. That experience must have left its mark, for Peter had no trouble taking his boat back out on the lake at the request of Jesus where it could serve as a pulpit to preach to the crowds. It was what happened after Jesus’ preaching that sheds so much light on the character of Peter.
Peter and the boys were professional fisherman. This was how they made a living. The relative patience of Peter can be seen in his response to Jesus’ request to “put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” They had been fishing all night, and “had caught nothing.” Here is a carpenter from Nazareth telling the professional fishermen how to fish! After politely informing Jesus about how hard they have already worked to catch fish, Peter defers to Jesus, saying “at your command I will lower the nets.” The future apostles caught so many fish that “their nets were tearing,” and their boats “were in danger of sinking.” Peter needed the help of his “partners,” James and John, just to bring the catch to shore. So astonished was Peter at the abundant catch of fish that he fell to his knees (a posture of adoration) and declared “depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
Luke shares with us this story about Jesus’ first choosing of disciples because he wants us to see ourselves in the story. Assuming we have had an encounter with Jesus in Word or Sacrament, and faith demands a genuine encounter with the Lord, then we need to ask how has it changed my life for the better? From this nautical moment described in the gospel the lives of Peter and his partners would never be the same.
Like those of Isaiah, Paul, Peter, James and John, our encounters with the Lord are meant to change our lives, and prepare us to respond enthusiastically to God’s request to preach the good news, with lips and lives, with a hearty “Here I am [God]…send me.” Divine salvation advances because unlikely characters, like Peter and Paul, say yes to grace. The same God who came to Isaiah, Peter and Paul is still calling us in the church and beyond to encounter the living God, to be purified by his cleansing power, to cast off fear and to respond to the call to be transformed by God’s grace.
Our encounters with the divine may not be as startling or dramatic like those recounted in the Scriptures. No tongs from a blazing hot fire will purge our lips. We won’t be knocked off our horse or miraculously catch innumerable fish, but our encounter with God should leave us profoundly moved, and ready to spread God’s gracious good news regardless of the cost. The encounter with perfect goodness and abundant love will surely humble us, just as it humbled Isaiah, Paul and Peter. The encounter with “Light from Light” will illuminate our sinfulness, causing us to see our own unworthiness, while at the same time dispelling the fear that might prevent us from cooperating with God’s plan of salvation. May we be filled with gratitude that our God not only comes to us, but that He invites us to join His mission of proclaiming God’s kingdom and inviting women and men to eternal life. With the Psalmist we proclaim that all “shall give thanks to you, O Lord, when they hear the words of your mouth; and they shall sing of the ways of the Lord: ‘Great is the glory of the Lord.’”