Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Scripture Reflections: The Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time

First Reading: Isaiah 6:1-2, 3-8

In the year that King Ozias died, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne high and elevated: and his train filled the temple. Upon it stood the seraphim:
            And they cried one to another, and said: Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God of hosts, all the earth is full of his glory, and the lintels of the doors were moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: Woe is me, because I have held my peace; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people that has unclean lips, and I have seen with my eyes the King the Lord of hosts.
            And one of the seraphims flew to me, and in his hand was a live coal, which he had taken with the tongs off the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: Behold this has touched your lips, and your iniquities shall be taken away, and your sin shall be cleansed.
And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: Whom shall I send? And who shall go for us? And I said: Lo, here am I, send me.

Second Reading: First Corinthians 15: 1-11

Now I make known unto you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you have received and wherein you stand. By which also you are saved, if you hold fast after what manner I preached unto you, unless you have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all, which I also received: how that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures: And that he was buried: and that he rose again the third day, according to the scriptures: And that he was seen by Cephas, and after that by the eleven. Then was he seen by more than five hundred brethren at once: of whom many remain until this present, and some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen by James: then by all the apostles. And last of all, he was seen also by me, as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy 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 in me has not been void: but I have laboured more abundantly than all they. Yet not I, but the grace of God with me: For whether I or they, so we preach: and so you have believed.

Gospel: Luke 5: 1-11

And it came to pass, that when the multitudes pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Genesareth, and saw two ships standing by the lake: but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. And going into one of the ships that was Simon's, he desired him to draw back a little from the land. And sitting, he taught the multitudes out of the ship.
            Now when he had ceased to speak, he said to Simon: Launch out into the deep and let down your nets for a draught. And Simon answering said to him: Master, we have laboured all the night and have taken nothing: but at your word I will let down the net. And when they had done this, they enclosed a very great multitude of fishes: and their net broke. And they beckoned to their partners that were in the other ship, that they should come and help them. And they came and filled both the ships, so that they were almost sinking. Which when Simon Peter saw, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying: Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was wholly astonished, and all that were with him, at the draught of the fishes which they had taken. And so were also James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who were Simon's partners. And Jesus said to Simon: "Fear not. From henceforth you shall catch men." And having brought their ships to land, leaving all things, they followed him.


First off, I’ll deal with Pope Benedict’s announcement in a separate post, despite this being a Petrine passage.

            The Gospel today is one of my all-time favorite passages in the Bible. It perfectly encapsulates Peter’s character and the drama of his unique role in salvation history.
            What’s interesting is that, when we first meet him here, Peter actually isn’t interested in what Jesus has to say; he’s too busy washing his net (not a euphemism) and probably grumbling about the crowd that’s trampling all over and making such a racket. Then, all of a sudden, Jesus simply gets into his boat and orders Peter to put out a little ways from the shore. It’s to Peter’s credit that he doesn’t just simply tell Him to get out of his boat (though if we factor in the Gospel of John, Peter’s already met Jesus through his brother Andrew).
            There are two interpretations of Jesus getting into Peter’s boat. First, and most broadly, this is what we might call the first stage of conversion; the Invitation. The Call to Adventure, as Campbell would say. Jesus presents Himself to Peter and, as such, gives him a choice; he can either trust Jesus and do what he says, or he can kick Him off his boat and go back to his nets. Peter, of course, decides to trust Jesus.
            Personally, I like to imagine that this was less because Peter actually believed in Jesus or realized who He was, but more because he was attracted to the attention; the chance to shine and be useful in front of a crowd and, subsequently, perhaps a chance to expand his business. In other words, I imagine Peter’s initial motives for going along with Jesus were more self-interest than piety.
            And here’s the thing; that’s okay. To draw us to Him, God can use anything, even our own sinfulness. Self-interest is actually a wonderful means of drawing people into great enterprises; it only really becomes a problem if it remains our only interest once we’re involved.
            The second interpretation is that Peter’s boat symbolizes the Church, and that by choosing to enter Peter’s boat, Jesus is selecting Him as the leader of His Church. It’s interesting to remember that, in many cases, a boat is not owned by its captain, but the captain is employed by the boat’s owners to guide and care for it. In the same way, Peter is selected by Jesus to be the captain of His ship; the Church.  
            Then, after Jesus has finished teaching, He orders Peter to “put out into the deep and lower your nets for a catch.” Peter responds by noting that they had labored all night with no luck, but he will do was Jesus says. Apparently, Jesus’ teachings had a profound effect on Peter, and he realizes that this is someone he should listen to.
            Symbolically, there’s also the salvific significance that Peter, James, and John were unable to catch anything while they labored themselves, but once Jesus enters their lives they catch a tremendous abundance of fish. Alone, we can do nothing, but with Jesus we can do the impossible.
            Then comes Peter’s protestations of sinfulness, mirroring Isaiah’s wail of despair. The divine, it must be remembered, is frightening. It isn’t at all gentle or sweet or ‘cool.’ The effect (so I imagine) is like crashing against a rock; you encounter something so solid that your own weaknesses and imperfections are thrown into stark relief and, for a moment, every ounce of pride and self-regard is blasted out of you. Peter, finding himself face-to-face with the divine, can only fall to the ground and beg that Jesus abandon him, because he sees that that would be precisely what he deserved. Jesus, of course, has other plans, just as He did for Isaiah and Paul.
            This week’s passages, coming right before Lent, remind us that there is no room for self-expression or “this is who I am and I’m not ashamed” with God. An honest encounter with the divine leaves one staggered and terrified by one’s own imperfection and need for mercy. It has no proper response but complete submission.

Vive Christus Rex!

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