February 7th 2016. Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Don Fabio’s reflection follows the Gospel reading ...
When he had finished speaking he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water and pay out your nets for a catch’. ‘Master,’ Simon replied ‘we worked hard all night long and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will pay out the nets for a catch.’ And when they had done this they netted such a huge number of fish that their nets began to tear, so they signalled to their companions in the other boat to come and help them; when these came, they filled the two boats to sinking point.
When Simon Peter saw this he fell at the knees of Jesus saying, ‘Leave me, Lord; I am a sinful man.’ For he and all his companions were completely overcome by the catch they had made; so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were Simon’s partners. But Jesus said to Simon, ‘Do not be afraid; from now on it is men you will catch’. Then, bringing their boats back to land, they left everything and followed him.
The Gospel of the Lord: Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ
Kieran’s summary . . . We find similar stories in the first reading and in the Gospel. The prophet Isaiah sees the glory of God and becomes aware of his own unworthiness. But God purifies him by fire and sends him on his mission. In the Gospel, Peter sees the power of Jesus revealed in the miraculous catch of fish. He realizes that Jesus is the Messiah, and that he (Peter) is unworthy to be the companion of such a figure. The fisherman declares, “Keep away from me Lord for I am a sinful man!” But Jesus does not reject him on account of his sinfulness. Instead he calls him on a mission to be a fisher of men. These stories have a lot to say to us. We are all inclined to think that God wants us to be pure and sinless before he will have anything to do with us. We think that we will be ready to fulfil our mission in life only when we get our acts together and improve our moral behaviour. And when we see someone else acting wrongly, we think that the way to tackle the problem is to accuse the person and tell them what a mess they are in. But the readings tell us that God has a different way. Both Peter and Isaiah first behold the glory and beauty of God, and then they become aware of their own unworthiness. And this sense of guilt and shame makes them aware of their need of God. They abandon themselves into his hands, allowing him to purify them and send them out on mission. In this Year of Mercy, it is important that we have a right idea of what is involved in the pardoning of sin. Pardon doesn’t just involve Jesus wiping clean a bureaucratic list of my sins located somewhere up heaven. Pardon involves first beholding the beauty of God; as a result, I recognize my own unworthiness and impurity; consequently, I allow God to enter my existence with his transforming power. Sin thus becomes the place where God’s power operates in my life. As a result I am changed and the Lord can send me on mission.
The first reading and the Gospel both recount the reactions of people who have beheld the glory of God.
The first reading describes the wonderful call of the prophet Isaiah. The prophet sees the glory of God and reacts by declaring, “I am lost! I am a man of unclean lips who lives in the midst of a people of unclean lips. Yet I have seen the Lord of hosts!” In the Gospel we find a similar situation. Peter reacts to the unexpected action of Jesus when he manifests himself as the Messiah. Peter had been fishing all night long without catching anything. But he entrusts himself to the instructions of Jesus and casts his nets again, with extraordinary results. In reaction he throws himself at the Lord’s feet and declares, “Lord, distance yourself from me for I am a sinful man!”
The best way to become aware of our sinfulness is not through accusations from others; the best way is to see the beauty of God. This leads us to recognize our own poverty
Is this reaction of shame by Isaiah and Peter a wrong reaction? In Isaiah we see that this shame leads to something important. A hot coal is touched to the prophet’s lips and his sins are forgiven. Sin becomes the place where Isaiah encounters purification and forgiveness. And from here his mission begins. So it is with each one of us. There is nothing wrong with Peter’s confession that he is a sinful man. But there is something wrong with his deduction that Jesus should therefore keep his distance from him. Jesus, in fact, insists on staying close to him, for together they can do extraordinary things. Peter obeyed Jesus’ first instruction to cast his nets again, and now the second instruction from Jesus is to abandon the nets and become a fisher of men. The central point here is that the Lord shows us a new way of looking at sin. In this Year of Mercy it is essential that we develop a new way of interpreting sin. The natural reading of sin is to say, “I am a terrible sinner. God cannot wish to have anything to do with me while I remain like this.” But let us consider how Isaiah and Peter come to understand their sinfulness. Isaiah first has an experience of the glory of God, while Peter has an experience of the power of Jesus. As a result both become conscious of their own sinfulness. How mistaken we are in our techniques of trying to educate people about sin! We think that the important thing is to explain to people where they are going wrong. God’s strategy is much different and involves showing us his beauty. Imagine that our house is in a bad state and someone comes in and starts saying, “How dirty it is here! What a mess!” But the Lord has a different approach. He invites us to his own house and shows us how beautiful it is. When we return home we realize the awful state of our own house. Our parameters are changed and we become aware that what we thought was fine is in reality far from acceptable. It is God who provides us with the criteria for recognizing our sin! We are given a glimpse of beauty. We become conscious of our poverty and of what is lacking in our lives.
Awareness of sin is a starting point for abandoning ourselves to God
This might prompt us to exclaim, “Lord, have nothing to do with me!” Many people, especially the young, believe that God wants to have nothing to do with sinners like them. We must continually battle this sadness and discouragement that lodges deep in our hearts. We think that Jesus rejects us because we have made mistakes, but the making of mistakes is the very point of departure for Jesus! It is the prelude for abandoning ourselves to him. It is the stimulus for allowing the hot coal touch our lips and make us pure. The word “purify” in Greek comes from the word for “fire”. To be purified is to pass through fire and be transformed by it. Like Simon Peter we must face up to who we have been up to this point in our lives. Our old self-perception ceases to be absolute. The consciousness of our sin is a fertile ground for renewal, for a radical openness to beginning again from scratch.
The pardon of God is not a bureaucratic wiping of the slate, but a transforming action of God that leads to mission
In this Year of Mercy it is essential that we attain a consciousness of our sin. If we do not have this consciousness, then how can we appreciate or truly welcome the pardon that is being extended to us? But it is also essential that we lead people to an awareness of their sinfulness in an affirmative way, by showing them the beauty of God, and not in an accusatory way. Unless there is a period of shame and embarrassment, of despair at our own incapacity to do good, then we will not abandon the reins into the hands of God. The pardon of God is not a bureaucratic thing; it is not like a building inspector’s report that declares that the edifice is now sound; it is not the wiping of the slate clean in the records’ office in the sky. Pardon, rather, is the transforming action of God in our lives. The Year of Mercy is the year of transformation, of using our poverty as a springboard to be carried aloft by the tenderness of God. The mercy of God is something powerful and active. Let us allow God to be the one who interprets the significance of our sinfulness! For him it is a sign of how much he can do with us. Consider that the most terrible sin of history, the killing of the Son of God, has become for us a happy fault that leads to the redemption. God saves the world using a killing as his raw material, using our unjust actions as his starting point. How much God can do with our sins! He can transform them into mission, making us fishers of men. “You were a person of unclean lips”, the Lord says to us. “Now, you are the one who can tell everyone about the Love of God”.